Many students have difficulty seeing the connections between the separate and distinct subjects presented in school. Students at all ability levels often ask, "Well, what does this have to do with that?" They wonder what the purposes of certain lessons or even entire subjects are. When students also struggle with a learning disability, which can make communication and comprehension even more challenging, it is no wonder they often disengage from the classroom.
Many classrooms are set up with a single teacher in the front of the room and the expectation that students give their undivided attention to him/her for extended periods of time. When asked to do this, students of all ability levels can become bored or complacent. Those with disabilities that affect their abilities to learn and/or pay attention may become restless most quickly. A high school in California tried to change this traditional classroom into one that students find more engaging, especially those with special learning needs.
A team of teachers developed special courses for their students and applied a team-teaching model to integrate math, technology, woodshop, and reading class. This set-up provides hands-on, applicable instruction to help students understand the relationships between courses they are taking and to view a specific topic from many perspectives. For example, when the English teacher chose to read The Diary of Anne Frank, the woodshop instructor instructed students on building a model of Anne Franks' family home. Students were also shown how to use the Internet and accessed web pages about computer graphics and blueprints for the design of the home. By integrating woodshop and reading in this way, students became more involved with both subjects, were able to see the connection between the two topics, and were actively engaged in the learning process.
"Because many schools no longer have woodshop class, technology can step in and provide this type of experience for students in a different way and, at the same time, provide much more in the way of text development and editing." Team-teaching, content integration, and hands-on experiences, especially helpful for students with learning disabilities and organization deficits, provide an innovative way to engage learners in mathematics, technology, language arts, and other topics. This holistic approach to education may increase overall interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematic (STEM) fields and specifically engage students with special needs.
This promising practice was based on information reported in Mulholland, R. (2005). Woodshop, Technology, and Reading! Teaching Exceptional Children, 37(3), 16-19.
For more information on learning disabilities and common accommodations consult the DO-IT Knowledge Base articles What are specific types of learning disabilities?, What are typical accommodations for students with learning disabilities? and What are specific computer applications that can assist students with learning disabilities?