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Practical Strategies for Teaching K-12 Social Studies in Inclusive Classrooms

reviewed by Gayle Thieman - July 12, 2012

coverTitle: Practical Strategies for Teaching K-12 Social Studies in Inclusive Classrooms
Author(s): Timothy Lintner & Windy Schweder (eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1617355879, Pages: 112, Year: 2011
Search for book at Amazon.com

A perfect storm of demographic change is impacting social studies teachers and students in the U.S. today.  First, an increasing number of secondary schools are providing options for high achieving students in social studies (College Board Advocacy and Policy Center, 2011).  Second, many students with high incidence disabilities (learning disabilities, speech and language impairments, intellectual disabilities, emotional/behavioral disorders, and other health impairments) are mainstreamed into the required general social studies courses (Steele, M., 2007, 2008).  Consequently, social studies classes are likely to have a high number of students with special needs.  Third, the average class size in US schools seems to be increasing as schools cope with budget shortfalls (Sparks, D., 2011).  It is not uncommon for secondary social studies classes in the urban districts, where this reviewer works, to have 35+ students per class, one-third of whom have IEP’s or are considered “academic priority”.

Given these challenging dynamics, it is essential that social studies teachers have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to teach all students well.  The editors of Practical Strategies for Teaching K-12 Social Studies in Inclusive Classrooms, Timothy Lintner and Windy Schweder, address this need for practical, authentic strategies to support student learning in inclusive social studies classrooms.  The book is organized into nine chapters, all written by scholars in special education and social studies education.

Passe and Lucas provide a brief review of the literature in three areas: instructional strategies for inclusive classrooms, teachers’ attitudes and practices, and textbooks. Prior to the early 1990’s there was a paucity of research on teaching social studies to students with disabilities.  Since then, researchers have identified specific strategies to teach higher level thinking skills.  However, the research on social studies teachers’ attitudes and practices is not so encouraging; too many social studies teachers lack the knowledge, skills, and disposition to effectively teach students with disabilities.  Analysis of social studies methods textbooks further reveals inadequate discussion of instructional strategies for students of diverse abilities.

Schweder contrasts teacher-centered and student-centered classrooms and identifies the skills for success in each environment.  While students need one set of skills to read and comprehend textbooks and listen, understand, and take notes during lectures; they need a different set of skills for inquiry-based and cooperative learning, and other skills to study and complete homework assignments and pass traditional and performance assessments.  Not surprisingly students with disabilities lack many of these skills.

To address this issue, Pawling recommends educators implement principles of Universal Design for Learning.  Because students differ in their ability to receive information and need multiple means of representation, teachers should provide information in multiple formats to support comprehension.  Multiple means of action and expression help students express their learning in different ways including oral, written, performance, and technology-enhanced assessments.  Multiple means of engagement tap into students’ need for choice and challenge.  Pawling provides specific examples of how to implement the three principles in social studies classes; many of the suggestions incorporate technological tools.

Matthews relates her experience as a special education co-teacher in social studies and recognizes the challenges of individualizing curriculum for student success in inclusive classrooms.  Her favorite strategies include student-created historical stories, timelines, graphic organizers, concept maps, games, group work, and varied assessments.   In contrast to the dominant practice in many social studies classrooms, Matthews does not recommend or use lectures, note-taking, text-reading, or worksheets.  Nor does she explain how she supports student development of literacy, which the Common Core State Standards now require of social studies instruction (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2012).    

Scruggs and Mastropieri offer strategies to support student learning of academic content.  Class-wide peer tutoring involves students working in pairs to review teacher-created Q & A sheets.  Students also practice mnemonic strategies to support memorization.  These activities emphasize mastery of content rather than skills, so I was heartened to read that the researchers also include strategies to support comprehension, including summarizing main ideas, text structure analysis, and graphic organizers.  The researchers report increased learning gains of special needs students using these techniques.

Minarik and Hicks advocate collaboration when planning instruction to put learner needs at the forefront, recommending two frameworks for instructional planning: Understanding by Design (UBD) and SMARTER.  UBD involves a three-step process of selecting content and skill outcomes, choosing assessments, and then developing instructional plans.   SMARTER is a seven-step process that begins with developing the essential unit questions and analyzing learner needs before selecting strategies, assessments, and evaluating student mastery.  The authors provide detailed examples of graphic organizers: unit/lesson organizers, framing routines, and Venn diagrams.

Usher emphasizes active participation strategies that enable elementary students to hear, see, and do social studies.   While none of the strategies are unfamiliar to most elementary teachers, these tools are also appropriate for secondary students:  learning centers, video, poetry, music, art, multiple textbooks, trade books, anchor charts, role playing, readers’ theatre, and learning museums as well as websites, webquests, SMART board lessons, and assistive listening devices.

Technology provides additional ways to support students’ acquisition of social studies content.  Okolo, Bouck, Heutsche, Courtad, and Englert describe digital literacy applications that support students’ comprehension of texts.  The authors review the supportive features of audio and digital texts and provide a list of sources while cautioning that these texts are not a panacea for all students.  Browser extensions, such as dictionaries, translators, and text to speech converters, make webpage content more accessible.  Students who struggle to retain information benefit from additional access to instructional materials through teacher-created web pages, bookmark collections, and information archives that include video-based activities. Teachers also need to develop interactive activities that enable students to benefit from these applications.  The authors go beyond student acquisition of content to focus on inquiry-based instruction, e.g., simulations and the Virtual History Museum that help students learn the processes of social science and develop problem-solving and decision-making skills.

In the final chapter Lintner advocates the integration of big ideas to anchor content and develop connections.  Similar to essential questions (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005) these big ideas focus students’ attention on key concepts and skills.  Lintner provides three models incorporating deductive (“inside-out”), inductive (“outside-in), and multiple perspectives.   

The nine chapters are uneven in sophistication and depth of treatment and somewhat disconnected.  A concluding chapter by the editors summarizing central themes and suggesting areas for further development would strengthen the text.  However, the book’s major contribution is a succinct explanation of a plethora of instructional strategies for practitioners, and this was the editors’ purpose.   The book serves as a reminder of good instructional practice for veteran teachers and a solid introduction for novices.  It is an excellent introductory text for social studies methods courses.


College Board Advocacy and Policy Center. (2011). Percentage of public high schools offering AP® or IB courses in the four core subject areas.  Retrieved June 30, 2012 from the College Board website.  http://completionagenda.collegeboard.org/percentage-public-high-schools-offering-ap%C2%AE-or-ib-courses-four-core-subject-areas

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2012).  English Language Arts Standards-History/Social Studies.   Retrieved June 30, 2012 from the Common Core website. http://www.corestandards.org/the-standards/english-language-arts-standards/history-social-studies/grades-6-8/

Sparks, D. (2011, November). Class sizes show signs of growing. Education Week.  Retrieved June 30, 2012 from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2010/11/24/13size_ep.h30.html

Steele, M. (2007. March-April). Teaching social studies to high school students with learning problems. The Social Studies, 98(2), 59-63.

Steele, M. (2008, May-June). Teaching social studies to middle school students with learning problems. Clearing House: a Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues, and Ideas. 81(5), 197-200.

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design-2nd Edition. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 12, 2012
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16823, Date Accessed: 12/4/2021 5:50:30 AM

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About the Author
  • Gayle Thieman
    Portland State University, Oregon
    E-mail Author
    GAYLE THIEMAN, Ed.D. is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Education at Portland State University, Oregon. She teaches and supervises pre-service teachers in a secondary teacher licensure program, specializing in social studies methods, curriculum and instructional design and technology. Currently she is researching the integration of technology in secondary schools and student teachers’ integration of disciplinary literacy strategies in social studies lessons. She is a past president of the National Council for the Social Studies.
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