A Strategy-Based Intervention to Improve Math Word Problem-Solving Skills of Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

Article excerpt


It is a persistent challenge to meet the academic needs of students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) particularly in the area of math word problems. This study used a multiple-baseline across participants design for three elementary-aged students identified as emotional/ behavioral disordered. The intervention consisted of an empirically-based teaching strategy that focused on conceptual understanding, fluency and problem solving delivered by the classroom teacher who had received training via teacher workshops. For all three participants, the intervention resulted in increased on-task behavior and percentage of problems solved correctly. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.

It is a persistent challenge to meet the academic needs of students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD). Co-occurring academic deficiencies, in addition to the externalizing and internalizing behaviors that accompany the EBD label, are a well documented phenomenon. In regard to academics, students with EBD have been described as "academically deficient '' (Trout, Nordness, Pierce & Epstein, 2003, p.204), they are less likely to earn a grade of A or B in any class (Bradley, Henderson & Monfore, 2004), they typically perform at least a year below grade level (Kauffman, Cullinan & Epstein, 1987), and they make less progress across grade levels than typically developing peers (Wagner, et al., 2006).

Nelson and colleagues (2004) determined that there was a negative relationship between increasing externalizing problem behaviors and decreasing academic achievement (Nelson, Benner, Lane & Smith, 2004). This reciprocal connection between academic difficulty and challenging behavior is clear and is a powerful factor in explaining the fact that students with EBD face the worst life outcomes of any disability groups (Kauffman & Landrum, 2009). Regrettably, the need to remediate the academic deficits of students with EBD to prevent these outcomes might go unmet due to a lack of research into effective teaching strategies and inadequate training opportunities for teachers to address students' needs in key academic areas. A metaanalysis of mathematics interventions for students with EBD that was conducted by Templeton and colleagues (2008) revealed only 15 studies published in the last 20 years and a similar review of the literature conducted by Hodge and colleagues (2006) yielded a similar number of studies (13) with only one study that focused on solving mathematics word problems.

Hodge, et al. (2006) expound that ''The lack of published studies examining the use of effective instructional practices in improving problem-solving and higher-order mathematics skills for students with EBD is alarming, and the need for additional research is critical" (p.305). To that point, Jackson and Neel (2006) examined the instructional practices of teachers in general and special education (EBD) classrooms and noted that teachers of students with EBD spent up to three times the amount of time teaching algorithmics instruction as opposed to conceptually oriented instruction (72% versus 25%). This is almost the inverse of what is occurring in general education settings in which teachers were observed teaching conceptual instruction for 60% of the instructional time versus algorithmic instruction for 30% of the time (Jackson & Neel, 2006). The National Council for Teachers of Mathematics underscored the critical importance of mathematics word problems because they represent the realistic application of mathematics skills to real world problems (NCTM, 2000). Shortcomings in the ability to effectively use problem-solving strategies have been emphasized in numerous government studies including Goals 2000: Educate America Act (U.S. Congress, 1994), and What Work Requires of Schools: A SCANS Report for America 2000 (U.S. Department of Labor, 1991).

The National Mathematics Panel (2008) recommends an integrated instructional approach that blends skills and ideas for developing conceptual understanding, fluency and math word problem-solving. …


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