Teaching Mathematics to Special Needs Students

By White, Dorothy Y. | Teaching Children Mathematics, October 2004 | Go to article overview

Teaching Mathematics to Special Needs Students


White, Dorothy Y., Teaching Children Mathematics


In 1997, the Individuals with Disabilities Act mandated access to the general education curriculum for children with disabilities. In response, mathematics teachers and educators have developed creative and innovate ways to meet the mathematical needs of their diverse students. Students with attention deficits, memory problems, visual and auditory processing difficulties, motor disabilities, and information-processing deficits require special accommodations in the mathematics classroom in order to reach their potential in mathematics. English-language learners and students who need further mathematics instruction beyond their current grade level also need special modifications. Recognizing and understanding the learning challenges of our special needs students and identifying teaching strategies to facilitate their mathematics learning is the focus of this special issue of Teaching Children Mathematics. This focal subject reflects NCTM's recommendation in Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (2000) that "all students should have access to an excellent and equitable mathematics program that provides solid support for their learning and is responsive to their prior knowledge, intellectual strengths, and personal interests" (p. 13).

The articles presented in this focus issue represent a small sample of what mathematics teachers and educators are exploring in connection with teaching mathematics to special needs students. A purposeful mix of manuscripts covers a range of mathematical topics, special learning needs, and classroom scenarios. Central to all these articles is the notion of providing special needs students with a challenging mathematics education by tapping into their strengths and modifying instruction accordingly. The strategies, ideas, and perspectives presented are not limited to special education or inclusive classrooms. Rather, they can be incorporated into any mathematics classroom to enhance the mathematical learning and understanding of all students. By highlighting the strategies that support the learning of special needs students, we hope this focus issue will serve as an ongoing resource in your efforts to reach all students mathematically.

Teaching mathematics to special needs students requires instructional modifications and accommodations to make learning mathematics more accessible and rewarding for students. "Differentiation for Special Needs Learners" (page 158) describes differentiation strategies for students with learning difficulties in mathematics, such as visual organization displays, strategy sheets, and structured opportunities for movement. A second/third-grade lesson designed for students to discover alternative ways to add two-digit numbers illustrates these strategies while emphasizing NCTM's five Process Standards. "Building Responsibility for Learning in Students with Special Needs" (page 118) illustrates how special needs students need accommodations in mathematics classrooms and what can happen when modified instruction is not provided. The article explains four components of individualized instruction to help teachers reach more students and to help students become more responsible for their own learning.

Assessing what and how well students in general, and special needs students in particular, are learning in mathematics classrooms is a challenge. …

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