Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Effects of Cognitive Strategy Instruction on Math Problem Solving of Middle School Students with Learning Disabilities

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Effects of Cognitive Strategy Instruction on Math Problem Solving of Middle School Students with Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

Abstract

The purpose of the study was to improve mathematical problem solving for middle school students with learning disabilities by implementing a research-based instructional program in inclusive general education math classes. A total of 40 middle schools in a large urban district were matched on state assessment performance level (low, medium, and high performing) and socioeconomic status. One school from each pair was randomly assigned to the intervention condition, and one eighth grade math teacher participated at each school (n = 40). Because of attrition at the outset, 24 schools completed the study (8 intervention, 16 comparison). The intervention, Solve It!, a research-based cognitive strategy instructional program, was implemented for 7 months, and periodic progress monitoring was conducted. A cluster-randomized design was used, and the data were consistent with a three-level model in which repeated measures were nested within students and students were nested within schools. The results indicated that students who received the intervention (n = 319) showed significantly greater growth in math problem solving over the school year than students in the comparison group (n = 460) who received typical classroom instruction. Moreover, the intervention effects did not differ for students with learning disabilities, low-achieving students, and average-achieving students. Thus, the findings were positive and support the efficacy of the intervention when implemented by general education math teachers in inclusive classrooms.

Keywords

mathematics, problem solving, strategy instruction

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The purpose of this intervention study was to extend previous research on the efficacy of Solve It!, an intervention originally designed to improve the mathematical problem solving of middle school students with learning disabilities (LD). In the previous intervention studies (Montague, 1992; Montague, Applegate, & Marquard, 1993; Montague & Bos, 1986), students with LD were taught either individually or in small groups by the researcher or a graduate student outside the classroom setting. In the present study, general education math teachers were provided with professional development to prepare them to implement the intervention in classrooms that included students with LD, low-achieving (LA) students, and average-achieving (AA) students. In that way, we were able to investigate the differential effects of instruction on students of varying ability who were taught by general education math teachers in inclusive general math classes. In a recent report, Linking Research & Practice, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) focused on 10 critical questions that are important if researchers and practitioners are going to be successful in linking math education research and instructional practice (Arbaugh et al., 2009).The question most relevant for the present study is, "What 'interventions' help teachers reach students who they perceive have difficulty developing mathematical proficiency?" (p. 26). It is well accepted that approximately 5% to 8% of students have difficulties in mathematics that generally require specialized interventions (Geary, 2003). This study specifically addresses one area of mathematics--mathematical problem solving--that poses significant challenges for students with LD as well as their teachers and investigates an intervention designed to "help teachers reach" these students.

Mathematical Problem Solving and Students With LD

Mathematical problem solving is a complex, recursive cognitive activity involving multiple cognitive processes and two primary phases that assume a working understanding of those processes: problem representation and problem execution (Mayer, 1998; Polya, 1945/1986). Problems may be represented with physical objects or manipulatives, written symbolic representations, mental images, or a combination (Janvier, 1987). …

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