We created the Accessing Inquiry clearinghouse website to provide guiding strategy (including Universal Design for Learning) and an array of particular tools to support diverse learners in History, Civics, and Social Sciences. This page can help surface the overall needs of your students and point to tools and approaches to support their diverse learning needs.
Empower Student Voice
When students partner with teachers to build upon strengths and develop new skills and knowledge, everyone benefits. Learning directly from students what they want and need is the ideal. The "I'm Determined Youth Credo," a 4-minute video (see above) made by students at a Virginia youth summit for students with disabilities, is explicit about what students want adults to do–and not to do. We begin with this video to honor the principle of the Disability Rights Movement, "Nothing about us without us."
Learn About Your Students
As many as one in five children between the ages of 3 and 17 have a diagnosable mental, emotional or behavioral disorder. (U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.) These tools offer suggestions and background information.
- View 5th grade teacher Eric Crouch in this video as he relates his journey as a learner and teacher who uses Universal Design for Learning to empower all his learners through student-led inquiry. View on the Understood.org website.
- Dyslexia simulation - Gain some appreciation for the challenge many students face.
- Student Mental Health Fact Sheets - Learn the terminology of mental health diagnoses and find suggestions for classroom strategies to support students in each group.
- Making mental health a topic of open and non-stigmatized discussion benefits all students. A 2019 Teaching Tolerance article, Demystifying the Mind, describes instances in which schools have integrated mental health literacy into the curriculum.
- The Personalized Learning fact sheet from the National Center for Learning Disabilities offers "Policy & Practice Recommendations" for school and district leaders. The guide provides classroom teachers with insights on best practices in the support of Students with Disabilities.
English Learners can be among any of the groups whose other characteristics are the focus at school. U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has put together fact sheets on English Learners in Gifted and Talented Programs (where they are underrepresented), and English Learners Who Are Black.
Focus Vocabulary and Literacy Instruction
The key to learning social studies for many struggling learners is seamless integration of literacy instruction with learning the key historical thinking skills, including, "Ask meaningful questions." "Analyze sources from multiple perspectives." and "Make and support claims with evidence and good reasoning." Many students with disabilities and English Learners require focused support to unlock the essential vocabulary and modes of discourse (at word/phrase, sentence/paragraph, and document levels).
- Emerging America employs the "Bricks and Mortar" Vocabulary strategy to prioritize three or four disciplinary and general academic terms for each lesson.
- Essential, common supports for vocabulary instruction include word walls and word banks. There are many arcane terms in the social studies that can be "given" to students, possibly even for exams. Creating personal vocabulary workbooks builds student ownership of terms.
- Focus vocabulary instruction tools on the terms students need to truly understand a lesson. Useful tools include:
Deploy Assistive Technology
Assistive technology is a general term used to describe technology tools that are used to help people with disabilities accomplish tasks. Many can be useful to a wide range of students, including English language learners. The most common used forms of assistive technology are speech input software, screen readers, and screen magnifiers.
It is vital to connect and work with the Special Education, ESL, and other specialists in your school district. They know the students, and they bring tremendous expertise to the work. It is essential to find out what tools and strategies the district already deploys. These may include free or subscription services such as Don Johnston or Microsoft. What tools do students already know how to use? How can you extend student capacity?
More and more people use the automated tools that allow printed text to be spoken aloud and scanned for key words. Organizing and formatting a document so that it is easy for a listener to navigate is a newly important skill for teachers to learn. "Accessibility Checker" software can be useful, especially for writing text that appears on a web page.
Advice to teachers (from tips for using the course-management software Canvas) includes
- not using the same text in the title and the top heading (the reader will read the same phrase twice, confusing the listener)
- using informative headings, not "teaser text" (like: "I couldn't believe what I learned about the Middle Ages!")
- don't use "Click Here" for links, and instead attach the link to a descriptive word or phrase.
Free Tools to Make Text More Accessible
- Rewordify.com - Rewordify offers a wealth of tools. Assess lexile levels. Simplify difficult vocabulary–or give students the option to get definitions and hear difficult terms pronounced. Highlight parts of speech, and more.
- Wordsift.org - Wordsift creates a variety of word clouds that highlight academic terms by subject or difficulty. It offers a visual thesaurus showing relations between terms. Select a term to see it highlighted for every use in a text.
- Youglish.com/ - Gives pronuciation of terms by native speakers of English.
- kids.laws.com offers descriptions of core American documents.
- Newsela.com offers current events and core American documents at multiple reading levels.
Tools on the Library of Congress website
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped: NLS has been the nation's chief resource for blind and physically handicapped Americans since 1931. NLS at the Library of Congress offers Braille and audio reading materials for magazines as well as for books and music resources. Read about how the Braille Officer of the Library of Congress makes use of the collection herself, and information she wants to share with teachers, in her August 2018 post.
Screen Magnification- High resolution images on the Library of Congress site allow all students to zoom in on the details of a visual. Students are often looking for clues to solve a historical puzzle. The magnification tool allows students to see all parts of a primary document with incredible detail. Students with vision problems will benefit from this tool as well.
In this example, students can take an up close tour of Blackwell, Ward, and Randall Islands using the magnification tool.
ZoomText Screen Magnification- The Library of Congress has digitized many different types of text documents. Students sometimes have difficulty reading the text of densely printed books and articles. ZoomText allows students to zoom in closely on particular passages and also display plain text by clicking “show text.” These options make it easier for students to access the material.
In this example, students are able to zoom in on picture captions and particular selections from the article.
Model Lesson: See this tool used with a variety of documents with our sample lesson, Reformers and Gangsters in American History from Antebellum to Prohibition.
Voice Output- Using ReadSpeaker, the Library of Congress provides text-to-speech overviews of primary source sets.
In this example, the Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1938 features a text-to-speech overview for those with disabilities.
Model Lesson: See this tool used with our primary source set, Slavery and Anti-Slavery: Social, Political, and Religious Change (1800-1860)
Supports for English Learners
¡Colorín colorado! and Understood.org published essential introductions on teaching ELLs:
- Distance Learning for ELLs Guide
- 10 Things You Need to Learn about Your English Learners
- 5 Myths about ELLs and Special Education.
Academic Supports for English Learners
In addition to supports within your school district, there are many curricula and aids to support English Learners in History and Social Science classrooms.
Go To Strategies: Scaffolding Options for Teachers of English Language Learners, K-12 - Project EXCELL - A trove of 78 activities and tools, with guides to support choosing the best strategy for a given circumstance.
¡Colorín colorado! offers relevant support for teachers in teaching academic disciplines. https://www.colorincolorado.org/
Sentence stems are a powerful tool to support English Learners.
- Sentence Stems. the teacher toolkit - Texas Region 13.
- They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing gives a thorough, sophisticated approach to sentence stems. Includes a chapter on teaching Social Studies.
- See an example of sentence stems for the Library of Congress Observe-Reflect-Question primary source analysis tool.
Support for Students from Immigrant Families
Teaching Tolerance posted an excellent guide to Serving ELL Students and Families.
Teaching Tolerance also posted a guide to supporting students from immigrant families. The guide includes curricula and supports teaching controversial topics.