The Effects of Cognitive Organizers to Facilitate Content-Area Learning for Students with Mild Disabilities: A Pilot Study

Article excerpt

The purpose of this pilot study was to examine the effects of cognitive organizers using Inspiration 6 software to improve and enhance content-area learning in social studies for students with mild disabilities. Using a one-group, pre-posttest design, ten students with mild disabilities received instruction with the integration of technology-based strategy instruction. Dependent measures included a pretest, posttest, delayed posttest, and student satisfaction survey. Results indicated the students significantly improved from pre- to posttest measures and retained the declarative social studies knowledge for a period of one week. In addition, the students stated they enjoyed using the software in social studies instruction.


Many students with learning disabilities in secondary content-area classrooms are challenged to meet the increased academic and curriculum demands, especially in social studies instruction (DiCecco & Gleason, 2002). According to previous research, students with learning disabilities often exhibit poor reading abilities, lack effective strategy instruction and have deficient study and organization skills (Boyle et al., 2003; Mastropieri, Scruggs, Spencer, & Fontana, 2003). In addition, Maheady et al. (1988) suggests that these students may not have developed sufficient work-related habits to compensate for such skill deficits. Thus, these students often have difficulty reading and learning content-area information independently from expository textbooks (Kim, Vaughn, Wanzek, & Wei, 2004). In spite of these difficulties, textbooks are the most commonly used tool to present social studies information in secondary content-area classrooms for students with disabilities (Harniss, Dickson, Kinder & Hollenbeck, 2001).

Despite such shortcomings, recent research has revealed some promising strategies to facilitate declarative social studies knowledge for students with disabilities in secondary social studies classes (see De La Paz & MacArthur, 2003 for review). For example, the use of computerized study guides (Higgins & Boone, 1990: Higgins & Boone, 1992; Higgins, Boone, & Lovitt, 1996; Horton, Boone. & Lovitt, 1990; Horton & Lovitt, 1994; Horton, Lovitt, Givens, & Nelson, 1989), project-based learning activities (Edyburn, 1991; Ferretti, MacArthur, & Okolo. 2001; Glaser, Rieth, Kinzer, Colburn, & Peter, 2000; Okolo & Ferretti, 1997a; Okolo & Ferretti, 1997b), and computerized map tutorials (Gleason, Carnine, & Vala, 1991; Horton, Lovitt, & Slocum, 1988) has been demonstrated to facilitate the learning and performance for students with and without disabilities in social studies instruction. In addition, the integration of computer-assisted instruction (CAI) has improved the academic performance, comprehension, and motivation for students with disabilities (Ferretti et al., 2001). However, there is limited research on the impact and effectiveness of technology-based practices in social studies instruction at the secondary level (Maccini, Gagnon, & Hughes, 2002). Therefore, the purpose of this pilot study was to examine the impact of Inspiration 6 software to facilitate the learning and academic performance for students with mild disabilities in high school social studies instruction.


Sample Description


Students. The students included 10 tenth grade high school students with mild to moderate disabilities, including eight students with learning disabilities, one student with mild mental retardation, and one student with emotional disabilities. All students met the federal and state criteria for inclusion in special education for specific disability classification. Five of the students were male and five were female. The total number of students included live Hispanic American, lout Caucasian, and one African-American student. The students with learning disabilities were an average age of 15. …