Giving Students with Disabilities a Voice in the Selection of Arithmetical Content

By Cawley, John F.; Foley, Teresa E. et al. | Teaching Exceptional Children, September/October 2003 | Go to article overview

Giving Students with Disabilities a Voice in the Selection of Arithmetical Content


Cawley, John F., Foley, Teresa E., Doan, Thuong, Teaching Exceptional Children


What happened to the promise of educational technology?

Where are the huge gains that people hoped for, particularly for students with disabilities?

What are the most effective ways to encourage students to learn math concepts and skills, using technology?

What other benefits can accrue from technology-particularly when combined with other techniques like cooperative learning and self-regulated learning?

The program we describe here capitalizes on the achievements gained by students in many combined approaches to math-technology instruction. Further, it allows students to use their present level of functioning to select the content they use to create, manage, and evaluate their own performance. The evaluation piece focuses on students' creativity and production by using procedures such as counting the number of files students create, the number of different students who use each file, and the expanding diversity of the components of the file, such as novel and individualized types of arithmetic problems.

Many researchers and educators have explored the use of technology in math instruction (see box, "What Does the Literature Say?"). What is noticeable in much of this work is that the content is prepared by teachers and other professionals; and the students respond to the material that is presented to them. What is missing is a way for students to select their own content and then monitor and evaluate their own performance or that of others. This article describes one approach that provides active, selfregulatory learning experiences for students. The approach is similar to what many teachers use in writing instruction, where students create stories and then work with their teacher to enhance and improve their respective stories.

The Story of My Math

Software Description

My Math (Cawley, 2002) is a three-component software program consisting of "shells" or frames, into which students or teachers insert content. The three components include Computation Problems, Arithmetic Word Problems, and Arithmetic Story Problems.

The Computation option provides opportunities to focus on Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, or Division problems (ASMD). The Word Problem option focuses on word problems of varying structures that are three to five sentences in length. A key feature of this option is that students are encouraged to consider and develop many word problems of different types. The Story Problem format focuses on quantitatively-driven stories that consist of approximately 15-20 lines of text, plus questions. This format provides students who develop the files with multiple opportunities for creative writing and provides students who use the files with a number of reading-comprehension activities.

A Mix of Technological Approaches. In a summary of computer-assisted instruction in arithmetic, Majesterek and Wilson (1993) cited the effectiveness of different technological approaches (e.g., computer-assisted, videodisc) in enhancing the mathematics performance of students with disabilities, although at times more than one treatment (e.g., teacherdirected, videodisc presentation) may be equally effective. Koscinski and Gast (1993) augmented the traditional software of mathematics by inserting a constant time-delay procedure. The condition required students to respond to a fact type item within a certain period of time (e.g., 3 seconds), beyond which there was intervention by the teacher. These researchers concluded that the constant time-delay procedure was an effective means of teaching multiplication facts to students with disabilities.

A Place for Drill and Practice. The following studies describe a variety of approaches to encourage students to learn arithmetic, through computerassisted programs:

* A study by Christensen and Gerber (1990) contrasted the effects of a gamelike drill and practice activity and a straightforward drill and practice activity on the addition achievement of students with and without learning disabilities. …

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