Academic journal article International Journal of Emotional Education

Using Inquiry-Based Learning to Support the Mathematical Learning of Students with SEBD

Academic journal article International Journal of Emotional Education

Using Inquiry-Based Learning to Support the Mathematical Learning of Students with SEBD

Article excerpt


Students with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD) challenge mainstream school systems and their presence in school creates particular difficulties (Ofsted, 2004). Cefai (2010) captures the intricacy of these difficulties when he defines SEBD as:

Loose umbrella term encompassing behaviours and expressions of emotion among students which are experienced by adults and students as disruptive and/or disturbing, and which interfere with the students' learning, social functioning and development and/or that of their peers. (p. 117)

While it is acknowledged that such difficulties arise from "a complex interaction of biological, psychological, sociological and environmental factors" (HMI, 2001, pt. 2.3), students with SEBD tend to dislike traditional lessons that are typically restricted to written work with little interaction and application to real life (Cefai, 2010). Such a learning environment alienates students with SEBD even more than others, as they find it particularly hard to take a passive role in the learning process (Munby, 1995). In view of their critical need to be actively involved in learning (see Groom & Rose, 2005), students with SEBD increasingly disengage themselves from schooling that, as von Glasersfeld (1989) argues, has traditionally positioned students as passive recipients of knowledge. The net result is that the students risk being excluded from schooling for simply exhibiting the behaviours that define their special educational needs (Jull, 2008).

This paper reports on a pedagogical intervention carried out by one of the authors that aimed to create a learning environment that would help students with SEBD break away from their largely non-profitable permanence in school (Camenzuli, 2012). In particular, drawing on action research methodology, the author adopted an inquiry-based learning (IBL) approach with one of his mathematics classes that specifically grouped students exhibiting SEBD. In this study, IBL was interpreted to mean primarily the encouragement of students to engage with mathematics in ways that are similar to how mathematicians and scientists work. In the ensuing student-centred learning culture, students are expected observe phenomena, ask questions, and look for mathematical and scientific ways of how to answer these questions (carry out experiments, systematically control variables, draw diagrams, calculate, look for patterns and relationships, and make and prove conjectures). Students then go on to interpret and evaluate their solutions and effectively communicate their results through various means (discussions, posters, presentations, etc.). This also means that they should try to generalize the results obtained and the methods used, and connect them in order to progressively develop mathematical concepts and structures. (Maaß & Artigue, 2013, pp. 781-782)

The idea to explore the use of an active learning style, such as IBL, with students with SEBD grew from the understanding first, that it would increase their levels of attention while doing tasks and reduce disruptive and impulsive behaviours (Hughes & Cooper, 2007); and secondly, that instruction based on inquiry, which lies at the heart of IBL, has delivered results in emotional engagement, memory retention and cognitive understanding (Dow, n.d.). Consequently, the focus of the study was to shed light on the extent to which IBL helps to create a classroom environment for students with SEBD that supports their learning of mathematics.

Mathematics, IBL and SEBD

Boaler (2009) expressed concern regarding the "huge gap between what we know works for children and what happens in most [mathematics] classrooms" (p. 1). Moreover, the negative repercussions of this 'gap' appear to be long lasting:

Far too many students hate maths. As a result adults all over the world fear maths and avoid it at all costs. Mathematics plays a unique role in the learning of most children - it is the subject that can make them feel both helpless and stupid. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.