Strategies for Teaching Math to Students with Disabilities
Guest Article By Karin Gambaro
Teaching math to students with learning disabilities presents a certain challenge to teachers and parents alike. Students who have learning deficits may have issues with processing, visual-spatial relationships or memorization. Additionally, they may have problems with attention as well as difficulty with applying math strategies. If instruction is tailored to meet their unique needs, however, these students can more fully reach their potential and learning can be a more positive experience. Following is a list of some strategies which are helpful in addressing the needs of students with disabilities:
Use Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic Teaching Methods. Students with learning disabilities often respond better when instruction is presented in more than one modality. While they may prefer one modality over another (one student may be a “visual” learner while another may learn better auditory), presenting material all three ways can help to facilitate understanding. This type of teaching can also help to ensure all learners are reaching their full potential. Examples of these methods include tape recording lessons to accommodate an auditory learner, using flash cards to study with a visual learner and using manipulatives such as counters with a kinesthetic learner.
Individualize Instruction. Not only can teaching methods be tailored to meet the individual needs of students, but methods of presentation can also be customized as well. Ensuring that the proper accommodations are provided for each student can mean the difference between understanding and failure. This form of support should not only apply to classwork but to homework as well. Some examples of helpful accommodations include providing a note-taker for students with organization or auditory processing issues, putting fewer problems on a page for students with visual tracking issues, using color-coded problems to help students with visual discrimination issues and using graph paper to help students with visual-motor problems to help them organize information on a page.
Incorporate the Use of Technology. With so many programs and apps available to accompany math lessons, using technology is a great way to customize to a student’s particular learning deficits. Math games are a great use of technology, as they provide a fun way to experience learning which is motivating and rewarding. Keep in mind, students may suggest certain programs and apps but they are not always the best judge of what programs and apps address their specific needs. Even though students will express preferences, it doesn't necessarily mean that those preferences are what are best suited to build understanding, will support their progress or have the content they need to meet their grade's expectations and goals. Using technology can be helpful for the teacher or parent who wants to track their student’s progress as well. Some examples of technology which can be used to teach math include computer programs and websites, ipads and calculators.
Provide Homework Support. Family involvement in the form of homework support is essential for greater success. Homework is supposed to be a supplement to learning which strengthens skills by providing meaningful practice. However, if a struggling student is given homework but left to their own devices to complete it, they often will guess at answers, provide a half-hearted attempt or simply give up. If they are given adequate supervision and help, though, homework time can be a time for “working out the kinks” and gaining a greater understanding of the material. This is often best achieved with the help of technology support for involved family members. As mentioned above, technology can be used to track students’ progress and also to provide appropriate practice.
Teaching math to students who have learning differences can be challenging. However, using the proper accommodations and level of support can allow each student to more fully realize his potential. Learning should be a fun and comfortable experience. By tailoring the learning process to the strengths and deficits of the student, it is possible to make learning math a more positive and rewarding encounter.
- What are strategies for teaching a student with a math-related learning disability?
- Where can I find tips on making math accessible to students with disabilities?
Please leave a comment below if you have experience or advice in working with children who struggle with math.