Best Practices Support ALL Learners
When you think about your students and consider instruction you might have a particular child in mind. Maybe you are considering a multilingual learner, or a student who is on an IEP, maybe a student who is differently abled, or one that has not gained conceptual understanding of foundation skills. In any case, the instructional practices you are considering for a particular learner or subset of learners, is likely the best instruction and therefore can support and benefit all learners. When we think about serving students who are often marginalized, we make choices that are good for all learners.
Working as a Team
Collaboration among teachers, connecting and coordinating services students receive both inside and outside of the classroom is one essential step to support this work. “Catching up is hard to do when she is bombarded with a sea of difficult and different English tasks from what she is learning in her ESL room” (Fu et al., 2019, p. 33). This same concept applies to students being pulled from the classroom for any reason. When teachers share students, and collaborate to coordinate and align interventions, vocabulary, supports and collaborate on student goals the instruction for a student can be more cohesive.
Collaboration can also allow different strategies and techniques to be shared and used by teachers. “Students from low-income families and ELs [English Learners] traditionally perform below peers on measures of academic achievement (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2018), so it is critical to understand the effect of interventions for these students to address math achievement gaps” (Nelson & McMaster, 2019, p. 1014). It is an opportunity for educators to learn from one another and their students. Educators with different backgrounds can offer insights and ideas to try, while specialists might offer other knowledge, working as a team allows everyone involved to grow.
What does it look like?
As noted it looks like teamwork, no single teacher is responsible for a student. Schedule coordination is also essential, and can be eased sometimes by push in supports, so that grade level instruction is not missed by the student in order to receive “backfill”, “remediation” or other supports. Although students need a place and time to build foundational skills, it is not an either-or situation. A student can be engaged in math that is grade level content, with appropriate scaffolds and supports, and have time to engage in practice and development of conceptual understanding or skills that they need additional time (Tapper, 2012). Learning is not a linear process and while some understanding is necessary for other concepts to develop, all skills and mastery are not needed to engage with accessible tasks.
Scaffolding engagement, productive struggle, accessibility of supports and tools, discourse and high-quality instruction are necessary to meet standards-based learning. These elements of quality math instruction are applicable across content and are elements of translanguaging classrooms as well. “Students were supported when the mathematics curriculum provided multi-modal representations of content, and multiple ways of engaging in mathematical activity” (Lambert & Sugita, 2016, p. 361).When a classroom is set up to support learners with diverse needs it supports all learners, “marginalization of these students also disadvantages the mainstream community” (Fu et al., 2019, p. 63).
Best practices in mathematics instruction include discourse, visuals, model use, and productive struggle with cognitively demanding tasks. (Lambert & Sugita, 2016; Tapper, 2012; van Garderen et al., 2020; Xin et al., 2016) Allowing choice of tools, strategies and targeted instruction can support this. In a translanguaging classroom this might be access to texts, videos, resources in native language or the opportunity to think and reason using a language of choice, whereas in a math classroom it might be using a tool or technology in a way to support concept development or solve a task. In either case, these range of approaches allow students to apply their skills and knowledge as they learn. “These children [with dyscalculia] often experience greater success when they are allowed to use their abilities (strengths) to work around their disabilities” (Monei & Pedro, 2017, p. 286).
Math Learning for ALL
Math instruction should allow for conceptual understanding, be accessible for all learners and be taught with best practices to reach that goal. As students grow and learn through exploring concepts collaboratively and through strong discourse in the classroom, techniques and strategies used by educators to support learners will benefit all students. Participating in a classroom math community of learners is best for ALL students.
Fu, D., Hadjioannou, X., & Zhou, X. (2019). Translanguaging for emergent bilinguals inclusive teaching in the linguistically diverse classroom. Teachers College Press.
Lambert, R., & Sugita, T. (2016). Increasing engagement of students with learning disabilities in mathematical problem-solving and discussion. Support for Learning, 31(4), 347–366. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9604.12142
Monei, T., & Pedro, A. (2017). A systematic review of interventions for children presenting with dyscalculia in primary schools. Educational Psychology in Practice, 33(3), 277–293. https://doi.org/10.1080/02667363.2017.1289076
Nelson, G., & McMaster, K. L. (2019). The effects of early numeracy interventions for students in preschool and early elementary: A meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 111(6), 1001–1022. https://doi.org/10.1037/edu0000334
Tapper, J. (2012). Solving for why: Understanding, assessing, and teaching students who struggle with math. Math Solutions.
van Garderen, D., Lannin, J. K., & Kamuru, J. (2020). Intertwining special education and mathematics education perspectives to design an intervention to improve student understanding of symbolic numerical magnitude. The Journal of Mathematical Behavior, 59, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmathb.2020.100782
Xin, Y. P., Liu, J., Jones, S. R., Tzur, R., & Si, L. (2016). A preliminary discourse analysis of constructivist-oriented mathematics instruction for a student with learning disabilities. Journal of Educational Research, 109(4), 436–447. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220671.2014.979910