Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Teaching for Historical Understanding in Inclusive Classrooms

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Teaching for Historical Understanding in Inclusive Classrooms

Article excerpt

Abstract. Fifth-grade students with and without mild disabilities participated in an eight-week project-based, technology-supported investigation about the 19th century westward expansion in the United States. A narrative framework was used to organize and support students' understanding of the experiences of three emigrant groups. During their investigations, students analyzed primary and secondary sources to understand the experiences of these emigrants. The analysis of these sources was preceded by teacher-led discussions about the possibility of bias in evidence that affects the trustworthiness of historical documentation. Students designed a multimedia presentation about the experiences of one emigrant group and presented their work to their peers and parents. Quantitative analyses showed that these investigations were associated with gains in students' knowledge about the period of westward expansion, a better understanding of historical content and historical inquiry, and improvements in their self-efficacy as learners. The gains in knowledge and understanding of historical content for students with learning disabilities (LD) were not generally as large as those for their nondisabled peers, but both groups showed comparable gains in their self-efficacy as learners and their understanding of historical inquiry. Qualitative observations documented some of the challenges faced by teachers and students in meeting the demands of rigorous curriculum in addition to some of the opportunities afforded for all students by this project-based investigation. The implications of our findings for improving the historical understanding of students with LD are discussed.

During the last decade, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP; 1990a, 1990b, 1990c) has documented how little general education students know or understand about social studies concepts and content. The NAEP findings are disturbing because most social studies educators seek to ensure acquisition of the disciplinary knowledge and the critical habits of mind that students need to participate as informed citizens (Barr, Barth, & Shermis, 1977; Brophy, 1990; Carnine, Bean, Miller, & Zigmond, 1994). Students with disabilities are expected to participate in democratic decision making and owe their guarantee of a free, appropriate public education to the application of democratic processes (Curtis, 1991; Ferretti & Okolo, 1996). Unfortunately, students with disabilities have traditionally been excluded from social studies instruction (Patton, Polloway, & Cronin, 1987). Consequently, they tend to perform worse than their nondisabled peers (Carnine et al., 1994).

In light of these findings, the textbook, which is the de facto social studies curriculum (Brophy, 1992), has come under increasing scrutiny. Social studies textbooks often lack conceptual coherence, sacrifice depth for breadth of coverage, attempt to cover too much information in the allotted pages, and fail to provide contextual information and other conceptual scaffolds that would facilitate comprehension (see Okolo & Ferretti, 1997a). The recognition of these limitations has led some (e.g., Carnine et al., 1994) to recommend improvements in the coherence and "considerateness" of social studies texts. These recommendations are consistent with the goal of improving students' knowledge of disciplinary content, but they fail to address the goal of developing the critical habits of mind that students need in order to participate in a representative democracy (Ferretti & Okolo, 1996).

Understandably, these contrasting goals for social studies instruction are reflected in different conceptions of historical understanding. As it turns out, the codification of the social studies curriculum nearly coincided with the emergence of a psychology of the teaching and learning of history (Wineburg, 1996). At its inception, the pioneers of this scant literature wrestled with competing conceptions of historical understanding. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.