Providing Science for Disabled Students

Accessibility with Limited English Proficiency
February 16, 2016
Disabilities in Children’s Television
March 1, 2016

Hands on classes have long been a way for students to get involved and learn through doing. Science is one of the subjects that relies heavily on the hands on approach, but what if a student is not able to be as hands on as the others. How can a student adequately learn if the assignment requires experimentation and hands on approach that isn’t possible? Luckily, there are ways that make it possible to provide science classes to disabled students so that they are able to participate with others and have access to the same information through the same measures available.

One of the four guiding principles of the National Science Education Standards is simply “science for all students.” This principle underscores the belief that all students, regardless of race, gender, or disability, should have the opportunity to learn and understand essential science content described in the Standards. Because of increasingly widespread inclusion practices and more thorough identification procedures, students with documented disabilities, whether they be learning or physical, are becoming a larger percentage of the science classroom.

There are six principles that can be applied to teaching science to disabled students and by using these principles, you can better reach the students by focusing on how they learn best and the abilities they have to learn.

1. Learning is enhanced when teachers recognize and teach to diverse learning styles and strengths. Learners have diverse ways of making meaning, constructing knowledge, and expressing understanding; using this perception as a starting point in the teaching of science is particularly important for disabled students. Teachers interested in reaching the broadest range of students can offer multiple means of representing the content in their classroom and provide students with multiple means of expressing their mastery of that content.

2. Content learning is supported by explicit instruction in skills and strategies. The science curriculum is embedded with an ever-increasing array of thinking, study, and organizational skills that are predictors of future academic success. Before students can show a mastery of content, they must first be explicitly taught effective ways to study and organize for their courses.

3. Learning is facilitated when instruction and assessment are clearly organized. Although explicit organizational schemes are useful for all students, they are particularly important for disabled students who are most successful when provided with high structure.

4. Learning is maximized when instruction and assessment are based on explicit objectives. Understanding the purpose of a lesson or an assessment will enhance the learning of any student, but this understanding is particularly salient for disabled students.

5. Learning is improved when teachers provide consistent feedback. Using formative evaluations to measure student understanding provides useful “diagnostic” information to teachers, but these assessments are underused unless they are also supplied to students in the form of consistent feedback. In addition to providing self-assessment information, frequent feedback enhances motivation, which is important to academic achievement.
6. Learning is sustained when students develop self-knowledge. Although self-awareness is not sufficient to yield success, it can create the readiness to transform abilities into success-producing, academic skills. By increasing their own understanding of learning styles and disabilities, science teachers can help impart this information to their students, thus increasing students’ metacognition and their ability to begin advocating for themselves as learners.

Providing a way for disabled students to be a part of a science lesson is something that has been fought over for a long time. Luckily, advanced understanding of teaching styles and improved classroom knowledge allows for these disabled students to have the ability to participate alongside other students in the same lessons. This inclusion provides all students with learning opportunities that may not have been available otherwise.