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The combination of Common Core standards, especially in math, and placing students with learning disorders in the least restrictive environment possible has become a conundrum for teachers and students alike. Neither common core nor least restrictive environment is going away any time soon so we need to find a way to actively engage all of our students in the math classroom. All of the suggestions that I am making in this article have been used successfully in my own classroom with students who had a variety of learning issues.
1. Place students in groups of four where there is a variety of abilities. I have found four in a group to work best even if it ends up being two pairs working together. Often students who have difficulty reading can actually do the math they just don’t understand the question while others can read but can’t do the math. In a group, these opposite issues can be worked on cooperatively, benefiting everyone.
2. Use math journals. I varied the topic in order to get responses. Some examples:
- What topic this week did you find the most difficult and why?
- Here is a problem that we did earlier this week. Explain how you solved it.
- Is there any topic you would like to have reviewed?
- Explain this problem as if you were speaking to a classmate over the phone.
- I would check the journals at random so that I was not overwhelmed. Any student who wanted me to read something in particular could leave her journal on my desk and I would read it that day. This gave students the chance to let me know they were confused without making a public announcement.
3. Connect the math you are teaching to careers as well as the real world. Many students don’t think they will ever need the math they are taught but they become more engaged when they think they might use the information in the future.
4. Use manipulatives or concrete objects (whatever the current terminology is) wherever possible. About 67% of current students are visual or visual tactile learners who understand concepts more easily when they can make a visual connection with the abstract notation. These concrete objects can be translated into paper and pencil representations and then into mathematical notation. Although concrete objects may not be used on standardized tests, paper and pencil representations of them can. (I will be showing several examples of how to do this transition in the near future.)
5. When showing how to solve a problem, think aloud. As you do each step in a problem, say what you are thinking and doing so that your students can see how you approach solving a problem. This technique helps students realize that you don’t magically come up with the correct answer, you actually think each step through.
None of these suggestions alone is a cure all for the student with a learning disorder in the math classroom but they can help many if not most of these students. Let me also mention that none of these techniques in any way hurts the students who have no learning issues.
Do you have a technique that works that I haven’t mentioned? If so please mention it in the comments.