Research on Social Studies and Special Education Students

After this segment, teaching staff will understand the importance of teaching social studies to students with special needs.

Teachers will be able to explain why we must adapt our teaching to accommodate the needs of all students.
Teachers will engage in discussion about the importance of social studies for all students.
Teachers will be able to identify why social studies is a difficult academic area for students with special needs.
Teachers will reflect on what they are already doing in their classrooms to accommodate the needs of all students and brainstorm ideas among the teaching staff.

Rationale for this segment:
It is important for students to understand the value of social studies. Although important, social studies should not be taught exclusively in terms of knowing historical trivia like names, dates, and events. It is vital to understand larger themes in social studies such as human interactions, movement, time, and places. While the 5th and 6th grade curriculum are United States and World History, our main goal should be to help students learn to think like historians. Historians analyze multiple sources and try to piece together a story. Almost all people have a schema or knowledge base in history (whether it be their own history or history according to the textbooks). Whenever we come across new information, we need to analyze, summarize, and either adapt our understanding or reject the new information. This higher level thinking task is difficult to accomplish, let alone teach.
General education teachers have a great deal of curriculum to cover over the course of the school year. Students with identified special needs almost always receive services only in Math and/or Language Arts. However, these students are often sent to general education classrooms for science and social studies. General education teachers are responsible for teaching content to ALL students, yet many of these teachers have not had training or courses in special education. This segment (and the following segments) aim to give general education teachers strategies and ideas on how to make the social studies curriculum more accessible to students with special needs.
As general education educations, it is important for us to understand the difficulties ALL students must overcome in order to learn how to be historical thinkers and to internalize history. In this segment, several factors are listed as being “problem areas” in social studies instruction. As teachers reflect on their own experiences in history classes, many of these “problem areas” will probably parallel their own. Once these areas are brought out in the open, teachers can collaborate to come up with ways to overcome these obstacles. In the field of education, “best practice” is constantly changing. New research is always questioning pedagogy and often times, teachers become overwhelmed with new programs, curriculum changes, and practices. This segment also encourages teachers to reflect on the work they are already doing for students with disabilities. It serves almost as a “pat on the back.”
Teachers will have a chance to collaboratively work on a lesson they would normally teach and come up with a new plan to teach it with accommodations in place. This segment serves as an introduction to some very powerful elements of social studies pedagogy.


Introduce the topic by asking teachers: Why is Social Studies important? Ask teachers to talk at their tables and share out answers.

View the following Youtube clip for the first 3mins50 seconds:

Ask teachers to share their thoughts on this videoclip of this young man who feels so passionately about social studies.

STATE: "General education teachers are responsible for teaching ALL students content area curriculum. While we have solid programs in place for Language Arts and Mathematics disabilities, most of our students with special needs stay in the general education classroom. We are held accountable for student learning of social studies and science curricula. Sadly enough, we are not given many supports on how to effectively teach these content areas to students special needs. This means that it is our responsibility for the general education and special education teachers to work together to accommodate our diverse learners. These following professional development sessions aim to give general education teachers insight on how to effectively teach these exceptional students."

Ask: Why is history so difficult for some of our 5th and 6th graders? Brainstorm ideas with people around you. If it applies, explain why it was a difficult subject for you.
  • Traditional teaching: stress on memorizing names, dates, and events (no conceptual understanding)
  • Difficult vocabulary
  • Textbooks can be dull, dense, and disconnected from the students.
  • Many social studies classrooms run on teacher lecture and/or the textbook alone.
  • It's difficult to perceive the past, abstract events and to see the whole picture of why certain events occured.
  • History requires a great deal of interpretation, synthesis, inferential thinking, examining multiple (and conflicting) perspectives and sources of information that may be confusing.

So....what do we overcome these obstalces in teaching history? We know that teachers have the obligation to adhere to NCLB, IDEA, and RTI. Not only that, we owe it to these students to provide them with rich social studies strategies and experiences like examining multiple perspectives, problem solving, critical thinking, and synthesizing new information. As educators, we know that we do not work ina vacuum. However, it is easy to forget the expertise of those around us. Please answer the following questions in a quite write, then we'll come back and share.
What are some ways you accommodate diverse learners in social studies?
How do you adapt curriculum for students with special needs?
Show the video clip on Big Thinkers Howard Gardner on Multiple Intelligences (8minutes)

With multiple intelligences in mind, ask students to complete a task. All teachers will use the Teacher Edition of the textbook A Young Nation, Chapter 12, lesson 1 to plan an interesting way to teach the French and Indian War as a team of 3-4. Have teachers use this TE to share how they would (or already do) make accommodations for their diverse learners. How do you extend curriculum? How do you simplify it? What are some ways you deliver the content? What are some ways students connect to what they learn? How do you assess what they have learned?

Use this lesson plan form:

"Science and Social Studies for Students with Disabilities" by Thomas E. Scruggs and Margo A. Mastropieri, Cynthia M. Okolo (The introduction and the section on social studies). Ask teachers to jot down at least three interesting points, ideas, or reflections.