OK, here’s my bias. Reading, writing, and math are core subjects to me, as are social skills and classroom behavior. At least one of these five subjects lies at the heart of needed remediation for special needs kids. I believe reading and social skills are primary. They both allow access to the realms of the typical learners who may never give a second (negative) thought to their abilities. Lack of these two fundamental skills can lead to all manner of distress, anxiety, relational conflicts, and isolation. Social skills and behavior are cousins, so the same consequences apply. Math and writing follow closely behind as factors determining academic success and basic life skill acquisition.
The good news? Science and social studies are often areas of interest for kids with the above weaknesses, the kids with autism, dyslexia or dyscalculia, and those labeled twice exceptional. These content areas provide a footing upon which to build reading skills and a toolkit for incorporating social skills and behavior instruction through science/social studies investigations with peers.
The bad news? With the pressure to improve test scores, teachers may devalue those benefits of instruction in science and social studies, unless kids are also tested in science, which occurs in grades 5 and 8 in North Carolina. With time constraints, elementary teachers may shortcut the experiential and authentic aspects of content area instruction. Worksheets and memorization of facts may become an expedient alternative for authentic exploration. Special ed teachers are often under similar pressure to produce higher rates of achievement; this can happen in a relative “vacuum” if teachers aren’t careful.
The solution? Incorporate science and social studies into reading, social skills, math, and writing instruction. Take advantage of the special interests of kids described above. Many of them are awesome problem solvers, with creativity and the ability to “think outside the box.” Allow special needs kids to be leaders in investigations, with support as needed. Provide opportunities for these kids to learn in small groups with clearly assigned roles. The research to support this approach is there. The effective models are there. Hopefully this section of my blog will support teachers as they integrate content areas into the instruction of special learners.