Special Education and Math

Special Education and Math

September 1, 2020

I'm Dyslexic.  I didn't know this while I attended elementary, middle, high school, or undergrad.  I didn't know until after I had been teaching elementary school for 6 years and was working on a masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction.  My professor started asking me questions after looking in a journal I had to keep for class.  I mention this because I had to work hard and struggle to get C grades in high school.  I had to take my ACT test three times to get a good enough score to get into my state university. I persevered while many do not. Why?  

Not knowing I had a learning disability was a blessing and a curse.  It was a blessing because I was never labeled so I didn't have the stigma that can attach to children who learn things differently but I struggled in silence as I failed almost every spelling test I was ever given.  I couldn't figure out why I just couldn't memorize spelling words or math facts. While I could solve a basic algorithm on a worksheet, I couldn't make heads or tails out of a story problem.  

According to research 20% of individuals have some form of mathematical learning disability (MLD), which is actually higher than that of reading disabilities.  But MLD receives far less attention and funding, even though mathematical abilities have shown to have a higher impact on all academics including reading, behavioral characteristics, and socioeconomic well being.  In other words, people who do better in math; do better in other classes, behave better and do better financially.   

Here are some steps on how we can make a different in math learning.

  1.   Declassify learning disabilities and call it what it really is, learning differences.  
  2.   8 weeks of 40- to 50 minutes sessions per day 1 on 1 could rewire students' brain and get them achieving well above grade level. 
  3.  Value all the ways to be mathematical: communicating, reasoning, drawing, modeling, problem solving, use multiple representations.
  4. Let students have the freedom to think in ways that make sense to them, not ways that make sense to you.  
  5.  When students struggle, see that as a celebration and a time of encouragement. 
  6. Create well defined pathways in the brain with strategies as oppose to memorization of a lot of small facts that makes only a faint trail.  

I succeeded because I was always encouraged and never labeled. I was always told I was smart and have never thought of myself in anyway other way. If I brought home a poor grade my mother would tell me, don't worry about it, you're a smart girl. I was allowed to rethink problems and figure out my own solutions, many times with drawings, mnemonics and games.  

Creating games to reinforce math concepts is something I am very good at, mostly because I struggled with the concept myself.  This is why I created MANGO Math.