Yesterday I posted a description of some excellent instruction on fractions for preservice teachers (PSTs). Although the classroom video and PSTs seemed to benefit greatly from the authentic problem solving and opportunity for deepening conceptual understanding, I have seen enough students flounder in math to know that there is room for improvement.
First, we must better identify dyscalculia at an early age. Dyslexia is much more easily defined and identified, but when kids don’t memorize facts, can’t understand math processes, and don’t spot wildly unreasonable answers, we continue to whisk them along. That leads to my second concern: the bullet train approach to math. One or two weeks per topic, with platitudes such as “Don’t worry because we will spiral around to this again.” Ouch. By the time some students have spiraled a few years, they have a jumble of math nonsense rattling around in their heads. It takes more time to undo and redo those misconceptions than most teachers can allow or have time and resources to address. We need to slow the math train when kids are falling off the caboose. Or give them time (not extra homework) to develop concepts.
Third, the favored approach for allowing the entire class to deepen their understanding is often social in nature. Pair and share. Small group work. That is terrific for many learners but for kids on the autism spectrum and/or those with language delays, they may not be active participants in the process. Using technology to process and report their understandings would be an attractive alternative for this group. Fourth, the deeper understanding is usually visual, based on drawn models. For kids with neuromotor delays, they often defer to the “artists” in the group, which can separate them from the process. If these same students have previous misunderstandings, their models go off the rails (which occurred in the PST class). What about teaching those kids HOW to model so they don’t practice incorrectly? What if they were given a choice of two visual models which serve to teach the underlying concept instead of allowing them to practice incorrectly (and permanently)? Again, what about using technology instead of paper and pencil?
Because there is no “average” special ed kid (or any other kid, in fact), we must consider modifying and adapting instruction BEFORE kids fail. Let’s remember the myth of average before climbing aboard the math bullet train.