The more diversity we find in all facets of our society, the better off we are as a society. This diversity would not be fully realized without those with disabilities. Consequently, making accommodations for students with disabilities is not just a legal obligation; it is also a social and moral one. Citizens with disabilities continue to be underrepresented in many areas of the American workplace, including positions in the STEM fields. One way that we, as educators, can help to improve the number of people with disabilities in fields where they have been traditionally underrepresented is by supporting them in their pursuit of undergraduate and graduate degrees. Taking steps to make our course content accessible will give all students an equal opportunity to benefit from the pedagogical styles and techniques used in physical and virtual classrooms all over the country.
Disability and Accessibility provides some useful information about students and disabilities, along with some practical approaches to teaching students with learning disabilities. The information focuses on learning disabilities, but the resources provide information about a variety of disabilities. As you review the information in Disability and Accessibility, keep in mind the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. UDL helps us focus on students' abilities rather than their disabilities. Curricular and pedagogical changes can then be made that benefit all students by providing all with an equal opportunity to learn.
The science of teaching and learning on math education is crystal clear – there is an undeniable and intimate link between reading comprehension and math achievement. Back in 1998, middle school math teacher, Peter Fuentes, enlightened us to the fact that effective reading, and all of the behaviors that go along with it, is a fundamental skill on the road to success in mathematics.
We must acknowledge that reading in a mathematical context (i.e., word problems, mathematical textbooks) is inherently different than other types of reading. The content presented in a math setting is often information-dense and compact. Additionally, math concepts can be abstract and difficult to concretize. Another complicating factor is the fact that math has its own language that some students may find difficult to master. Some terms are unique and students must become conversant with terms and symbols that are new to them. Some terms are familiar, but used with completely different meanings. In these circumstances, it is not difficult to understand why some students view math as a frightening and mysterious subject that they have little chance of understanding.
Fortunately, the math education literature has provided a variety of instructional techniques to improve students’ math reading comprehension and retention skills. These include math journaling, math-specific vocabulary exercises, and integration of math vocabulary and concepts into other subjects (e.g. language). We can look to a middle school ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher to see one of these techniques in action. In a journal exercise, she provides the students with a list of lesson-related math vocabulary words. Students are then required to write a paragraph using as many as the words as possible. This exercise requires students to demonstrate a level of understanding of targeted concepts sufficient to construct meaningful writings.
The example above is seen in a middle school context, but the idea can be expanded and scaled to any level of math education. It is important to for us to help students to embrace the language of mathematics. With fluency, students can approach math problems (word and otherwise) with an understanding and confidence that leads to improved math performance. The following sources may be useful for a better understanding of the relationship between reading and math.
- Fuentes, Peter. (1998) Reading Comprehension in Mathematics. The Clearing House, 72(2), 81-88.
When I think of teaching, I think of classrooms filled with eager students who are ready to absorb the knowledge saturating the room. I further envision students using that knowledge to advance humankind to new and exciting heights. Okay. My vision may be somewhat fanciful, but we, as teachers, have the ability to spark a curiosity and a desire to learn in our students that no one else can. The quality of our teaching is a powerful factor in maintaining the interest of our students and supporting their achievement in their chosen fields of study and beyond.
We take seriously the influential power that we have over our students’ educational experience. We read about, and meet to discuss with our colleagues, those teaching tools and techniques that will be most effective in helping our students to learn. We learn about all of the latest pedagogical approaches being used in classrooms around the world. We hear phrases like “flipping the classroom”, “problem-based learning”, “team teaching” and “integrative learning”, and we willingly conduct the research necessary to determine if these ideas can be successfully incorporated into our teaching process. Then, we begin to incorporate the practices that we believe will work. We find that some work better than others, some work only for a finite period of time and some don’t work at all.
Our willingness to see what works, and what doesn’t, makes us better teachers. At a given time, any of a number of pedagogical strategies can work in a classroom, but it is important to understand that their effectiveness can ebb and flow. Students may transition from or outgrow a particular method of teaching or a particular method may lend itself to one discipline and not another. The important part is to try. If it works, that’s great. If it doesn’t work, then try something else. In either case, always share the hits and the misses with others so that they can benefit from what we’ve already learned. Ultimately, it is the students who benefit.
It is a safe assumption that some form of the old tried and true lecture will always be a part of teaching, but never be unwilling to transform the learning experience with new and innovative practices. Conversely, appreciate when a practice is not supporting the goal of educating students. In The Flip: End of a Love Affair, we are reminded of the power of pedagogical tools and the even greater power of understanding when we should move on to the next one.