A reader asked about an algebra 2 problem and shared (below) his effort to cut up the math into bite-sized pieces. I greatly appreciate his effort because he is trying to meet student needs. While this post is very “mathy” I want to make a couple of points to the readers. First, I wrote out a detailed response (2nd photo below). Second, in both of our efforts we attempted unpack as much as possible. This is what our students need. Also, the reader is developing his ability to do this unpacking and if he continues he will become increasingly more adept at this skill (growth mindset). That means his future students will benefit!

Are you a parent of a student with special needs who is struggling with a math topic? Are you a teacher figuring out how to differentiate for a particular student on a math topic? Pose your question and I will offer suggestions. Share your question via email or in a comment below. I will respond to as many as I can in future mailbag posts.

Here is a topic multiple educators and parents ask about:

I don’t want my child to be stuck in a room. He needs to be around other students.

Randy:

Often we view situations in a dichotomous perspective. Inclusion in special education is much more nuanced.

In math if a student cannot access the general curriculum or if learning in the general ed math classroom is overly challenging then the student likely will not experience full inclusion (below) but integration (proximity).

For example, I had an algebra 1 part 1 class that included a student with autism. He was capable of higher level algebra skills but he would sit in the classroom away from the other students with a para assisting him. Below is a math problem the students were tasked with completing. Below that is a revised version of the problem that I, as the math teacher created, extemporaneously for this student because the original types of math problems were not accessible to him (he would not attend to them).

I certainly believe in providing students access to “non-disabled peers” but for students who are more severely impacted I believe this must be implemented strategically and thoughtfully. Math class does not lend itself to social interaction as well as other classes. If the goal is to provide social interaction perhaps the student is provided math in a pull-out setting and provided push-in services in other classes, e.g. music or art.

Here are the details of example of a push-in model I witnessed that had mixed effectiveness. A 1st grader with autism needed opportunities for social interaction as her social skills were a major issue. She was brought into the general ed classroom during math time and sat with a peer model to play a math game with a para providing support. The game format, as is true with most games, involved turn-taking and social interaction. The idea is excellent but the para over prompted which took away the student initiative. After the game the general ed teacher reviewed the day’s math lesson with a 5-8 minute verbal discussion. The student with autism was clearly not engaged as she stared off at something else.

Are you a parent of a student with special needs who is struggling with a math topic? Are you a teacher figuring out how to differentiate for a particular student on a math topic? Pose your question and I will offer suggestions. Share your question via email or in a comment below. I will respond to as many as I can in future mailbag posts.

Here is one from Doug:

You pointed out that what the student really needed to learn was counting money.

What insights do you have for reconciling the pressure of inclusion with the pressure of individual goals?

Randy:

The purpose of special education as explained in IDEA:

The most important statute in IDEA is Purposes in Section 1400(d). The main purposes are:

. . . to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living”

In short, the purpose of special education is to prepare students for life after public education.

I worked with a family of a 7th grade student and the first step was to ask the parents to share the post-secondary goals. The mother replied that they hoped he could live independently and have a job. He likes working with cars so maybe in that area. In response I mapped out a long-range plan to prepare the student with the math skills needed for working with cars. Given the focus on working with cars measurement that is what dominated the plan (below).

The IEP goals and objectives are supposed to be aligned with the post-secondary goals. The IEP team doesn’t need to wait until age 16 to incorporate this alignment. Students who are more severely impacted by a disability need as much time as they can get to prepare for life!

With all of this in mind, I will reply to the question. If the IEP team is focusing on preparing a student for post-secondary life then programming and services should be aligned accordingly. The main push for this should, in my opinion, come from the parents because this is all about their child. They will be the ones dealing with the outcomes of the education of their child, for better or worse.

If the student needs more small group or individual instruction for math or academics I would focus on a balance between the more isolated settings for crucial academic content vs courses that may more amenable to a general ed setting to allow the socializing and interaction with “non-disabled peers.” I recently completed a report for a math evaluation that involved this very situation. One recommendation was to provide the small group pull out support for math and English while providing full inclusion in gym, art and science (in which labs and group work was prevalent).

If you are an educator my suggestion is to ask the parents to share their ideas regarding post-secondary life. In fact, just this morning I had a conversation with a mother whose student was struggling with the traditional math sequence. We discussed post-secondary goals and she was welcoming of the idea of aligning her son’s math education with what he would likely be doing after high school (which was not college).