Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Mathematics Synchronous Peer Tutoring System for Students with Learning Disabilities

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Mathematics Synchronous Peer Tutoring System for Students with Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

Introduction

Peer tutoring is one of the most well-studied strategies in mathematics instruction. The structured guidance format of peer tutoring effectively promotes helping behaviour in peer-mediated math learning, especially for students who have difficulty with the material (Webb & Mastergeorge, 2003). Peer tutoring has been defined as "people from similar social groupings who are not professional teachers, helping each other to learn, and learning themselves by teaching" (Topping & Ehly, 1998). Peer tutoring has often been employed to enhance academic skills within the inclusive classroom setting (Mastropoeri et al., 2001). Greenwood, Delquadri, and Carta (1997) demonstrated that elementary students with special needs showed improved performance in basic reading, spelling, and mathematics through class-wide peer tutoring activities in general educational classes. Fuchs, Fuchs, Yazdian, and Powell (2002) studied peer-assisted learning strategies in the inclusive classroom for elementary children. They found that students with disabilities showed significantly greater progress than without disabilities.

In mathematics learning, most of the research conducted has supported the conclusion that tutoring results in a greater improvement in lower-order skills compared to mixed outcomes. Calhoon and Fuchs (2003) found that peer-assisted learning strategies improved computational math skills for secondary school students with disabilities. However, no significant difference was found in terms of concept or application math skills or on the state-wide test. Schloss, Kobza, and Alper (1997) indicated that peer tutoring improved currency skills for students with moderate mental retardation. Although these are important findings, these studies only targeted basic skills. As Bryant, Bryant, and Hammill stated (2000), multistep and word problems and the skills associated with them are the most problematic topics for students with disabilities. Thus, the effectiveness of peer tutoring on mathematics learning for students with learning disabilities (LD) still needs to be investigated.

There are some pedagogical advantages of peer tutoring for students with LD, who have been characterized as passive learners in the classroom (Hallahan, Kauffman, & Lloyd, 1996). First, the peer-assisted learning environment ensures active participation, which is typically lacking in instruction for students with LD (Limbrik, McNagghton, & Glynn, 1985). Second, the effectiveness of this intervention allows students to receive individual attention and immediate feedback (Stenhoff & Lignugaris/Kraft, 2007). However, the greatest challenge in peer tutoring procedures for students with LD is that they may have problems with expressive communication skills. Students with LD exhibit limited learning behaviours, such as asking questions (Wood & Algozzine, 1994). They often experience difficulty determining what to say, remembering how to say it, and saying it aloud in front of others (Schott & Windsor, 2000). Therefore, the scaffolding tools for facilitating online tutoring for LD students are needed.

Mathematical learning in primary education is mostly through the observation of interactions with external information (e.g., real objects, physical manipulatives, and representations). Researchers have noted the importance of adapting the instructional material to the needs of students with disabilities, such as with picture-based icons or symbolic representatives (Harrison, 2002). The use of visual and concrete representations facilitated student understanding of mathematical problem solving (Jitendra et al., 1998). Maccini and Gagnon (2000) identified manipulatives as exceptionally useful for students with high-incidence disabilities in mathematics. Use of these concrete aids has been determined to be an effective medium for students across grade and developmental levels, including students with disabilities (Cass, Cates, Smith, & Jackson, 2003). …

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