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Social Studies Education for Students with Disabilities

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

The U.S. Department of Education has interpreted the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to mean that the regular classroom in the neighborhood school should be the first placement option considered for students with disabilities (Riley, 2000). IDEA requires that, to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities “are educated with children who are not disabled, and that special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular environment occurs only when the nature and severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be attained satisfactorily” (IDEA, Sec. 612(5)(B)).

Students with disabilities who are placed in the regular classroom must have appropriate supports and services to succeed, including instructional strategies adapted to their needs. Some supplementary aids and services that educators have successfully used include modifications to the regular curriculum, the assistance of a teacher with special education training, special education training for the regular teacher, the use of computer-assisted devices, the provision of note takers, and the use of a resource room. In these classrooms, students are viewed not as separate groups, disabled and nondisabled, but as students with shared characteristics who also vary.

Teaching resources continue to play a crucial role. Five areas that are examined to help students comprehend social studies resources are vocabulary level; content in terms of conceptual complexity (concrete versus formal ideas); writing style; organization of materials; and special features such as illustrations and graphics. The following is a list of appropriate classroom strategies in social studies for special needs students:

  • Activity-oriented instruction
  • Instruction related to students’ everyday experiences
  • Interesting social studies activities
  • Appropriate linguistic and conceptual social studies content demands
  • Efficient classroom management, establishing ground rules and procedures for social studies activities
  • Focus on skills development throughout social studies activities
  • Examination of textbooks for the impact they may have on students

A primary reason for including students with special needs in the regular classroom is to increase their contact with a broader range of students. Excellent opportunities exist during social studies activities to promote such contact. Most social studies curricula hold the potential for a wealth of activity-centered small-group experiences appropriate for a wide range of students. When students work together to achieve a social studies objective, the potential for positive interactions within the group increases. Constructive interactions in the context of a group experience reinforce the interaction skills of all students and develop an appreciation of differences among peers. Other positive results of having students with a varying range of attributes work together cooperatively include tolerance, better appreciation for what a person can do, and opportunities to perform services that help others.

Meeting the personal needs of students with special needs requires thoughtful consideration of many factors. The identification of conditions needing accommodation may require modification of the learning experience to most fully benefit the student. Student abilities and characteristics, combined with the specifications of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP), determine the degree of modification of instructional strategies, curriculum, and evaluation procedures necessary to best serve the student.

General Instructional Strategies for Inclusive Classrooms

Many teachers have successfully adapted social studies curriculum materials to meet individual needs (Klumb, 1992). Adapting social studies materials for students with disabilities is accomplished through six general steps:

  1. Identifying the learning needs and characteristics of the students
  2. Identifying the goals for instruction
  3. Comparing the learning needs and goals to the teaching materials to determine whether the content, instructional techniques, or setting require modification
  4. Determining specific modifications of the teaching materials
  5. Modifying the materials
  6. Conducting ongoing evaluation as the materials are used

As you plan a specific lesson or unit, you need to ask and answer four specific questions:

  • What does the task/assignment/activity require?
  • What physical, sensory, and cognitive skills are needed?
  • What components of the task require accommodation?
  • What accommodation options exist?
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