Supporting all students in Mathematics

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I’m back.  It’s hard to believe but the calendar says its eleven months since I last wrote on this blog. I’m not sure I am ready yet to commit to regular posts but I am back at university completing a Graduate Certificate in Primary Mathematics and this week my task is to write a blog post! So here it is.

This post will attempt to link knowledge gained from various readings about how to support students with mathematical learning needs in a main stream classroom, with my current classroom situation.

The first reading Environments for teaching mathematics: supporting students with special needs was based around the idea of using a mathematical trolley to support the youngest learners. I really like the idea of a developing a ‘maths’ trolley filled with natural and manmade objects, collections, packs and coloured things. In my mind I can see it being used for DEAN (drop everything and numerate) free play sessions in the infant’s classrooms, at my school. Although the article was about its use for students with special needs. I can see it being used with all students as a way of developing numeracy and for teachers to gain valuable formative assessment.

The second article I read was Mathematics accommodations for all students. I picked up a number of ideas from this reading, that I think I might try. The first was the use of lined paper, placed vertically to assist students with the setting out of algorithms. I do not like to teach long multiplication as a stand alone algorithm, preferring to encourage other strategies. And I already use a grid book for this type of mathematical recording but I think occasionally a piece of vertical lined paper to reinforce the need for the careful placement of numbers could be useful.

I also liked the idea of using highlighter pens in strategic ways, such as deliberately colouring where the 0 needs to go in such vertical long multiplication algorithms. Although personally I prefer to allow my weakest students to use a calculator rather than stress too much about the written sum. I find weak students get muddled so easily with long multiplication that they invariably get the answer wrong. Whereas when they use a calculator they have the opportunity to get the correct answer. As well as a chance to demonstrate reasoning within a problem solving context.

The fourth tip I collected from this reading was the use of modified assessment tasks. At my school, when starting a new number content strand, we pre-test all students with a self marking online check. A few students may then be taught modified program. Knowing that these students will not be able to complete a summative assessment task that is similar to their peers, I give them a modified assessment task. I reason that it is my job to check that they have demonstrated growth and progress as mathematicians, rather than collect statistics on the number of wrong questions they have.

Finally, I read ‘The co-construction of learning difficulties in mathematics – teacher – students interactions and their role in the development of a disabled mathematical identity. This article was not as useful for me since it focused on one particular relationship between a student and researcher. Unfortunately, despite the researcher’s best efforts, the student failed to make mathematical progress during the school year. So the following quote rang true to me ‘I hardly ever engaged her with mathematical thinking problems. Instead I concentrated on practising and drilling the material that was taught at school, hoping that by simplified direct instruction of how mathematical routines should be performed I would narrow the gap between her current skills and those expected of her at school’. A reminder that all students, whatever their ability, deserve the opportunity to engage with rigorous problem solving in order to develop their mathematical thinking and reasoning.

I also found this website by Speld SA had several handy tips.

Random image of smarties chosen as header photos. As all primary teacher’s know the best mathematical learning ever, can be found in a packet of smarties.

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