Strategies for Special Needs Students

Below are twelve general strategies for using Investigations with special needs students. When using a strategy for these students ask yourself: Does this strategy or adaptation maintain the integrity of the curriculum? Is it consistent with my mathematical goals for this lesson? Since these strategies were originally presented at an Investigations user conference for fifth grade teachers, the examples given are from the fifth grade units. But we believe the strategies are appropriate for all grades.

1. Teaming/Ability Grouping
2. What's My Role?
3. Give Part of the Task
4. Change the Pieces or Sheet
5. Reduce the Number of Pieces
6. Add a Rule to the Activity
7. Verbal or Physical Clues
8. Give Objects/Choose the Manipulatives
9. Make a Copy for the Student
10. Avoiding Visual Overload
11. Me First
12. Student Explains/ Teacher Writes

1. Teaming/Ability Grouping

When students are supposed to be working in pairs, have two pairs work together instead. This gives the less capable child someone to partner with in games or competitive activities. Try to avoid situations in which it would be close to impossible for the child to be successful.

Certain games and activities often hinge on chance, but others rely more on abilities. When abilities are an important determinant then "ability" grouping in a pair is often a choice to consider. This ensures the challenged student will have a fair chance in his/her pair.

Example:

Building on Numbers You Know: Student Sheet 34 "The Estimation Game"
Besides using ability grouping, you may want to change the timing element to longer than 30 seconds. You could also make the game an addition activity or make the problem two digits by two digits.

2. What's My Role?

Often in Investigations, children work in pairs or small groups. It is necessary for the children to divide up the work, each taking on differing tasks the groups. For some students the activity can be made more worthwhile and less threatening if this dividing up of the tasks is not completely left up to the children. Choosing what role the challenged student takes could be done by the teacher. Often we say "decide among yourselves which person will do . . . " Don't always let this happen.

Examples:

Mathematical Thinking at Grade 5: Student Sheet 25 "Many Squares Poster Tasks"
The inclusion child could focus on #2 tasks on the squares poster.

Picturing Polygons: Computer activities
Have the inclusion child at the computer with the other child writing and/or reading the commands to be typed in.

3. Give Part of the Task

Sometimes it helps not to assign the whole task to the child at one time. Give only sections of the activity for the child to complete. Then make a judgment about the rest of the task.

Example:

Name that Portion: Student Sheet 5 "Fraction and Percent Equivalents"
Leave the sixths and eighths for another time or fill them in during the sharing period.

4. Change the Pieces or Sheet

It might be effective for certain children to learn new tasks when not everything is left up to them. Changing some of the pieces in certain games to make the games easier at first may work. Student sheets can be adapted by using larger print and blocking off the sheets in ways that make it easier to look at.

Examples:

Mathematical Thinking at Grade 5: Close to 1000 game
Give the child a sheet with 6 boxes large enough to hold the number cards. If the child seems to struggle with all the empty boxes, you may want to fill in the boxes in the hundreds place with two numbers that add up to nine. This helps the child learn some strategies.

Name that Portion: Roll Around the Clock game
Give the student paper pie pieces that correspond to the fractions on the die and match the size of the clock. Whatever fraction the student rolls, s/he places the corresponding paper fraction on the clock. For example, if the student rolls 7/12 on the first roll, s/he places the paper fraction marked 7/12 on the clock, starting at the 12. If s/he rolls a 1/4 on the next roll, s/he places that paper fraction next to the 7/12 fraction and can see that 7/12 + 1/4 = 10/12.

5. Reduce the Number of Pieces

Sometimes the activities presented for children to do independently or in pairs could be just too overwhelming for some children. Learning the procedure can be quite a task with little energy left for the actual mathematical thinking. In order to provide the child with the same basic activity, reduce the number of cards, pieces, etc. When it becomes clear that the child has made sufficient gains, increase the number of pieces.

Examples:

Name that Portion: The In-Between Game
The first time the child plays the game use the fraction cards with only the most common fractions such as the halves, thirds, fourths, fifths, and tenths. Add more cards only if it is evident the child is able to successfully place the cards.

Building on Numbers You Know: The Digits Game
Deal out as many cards as there are digits in the target number, one fewer than recommended in the directions.

6. Add a Rule to the Activity

Another way to make a game or activity easier or more comprehensible is to add or change a rule.

Examples:

Name that Portion: Student Sheet 5 "Fraction and Percent Equivalents"
Allow the student to use a calculator twice to find difficult percents. This should help with the sixths and the eighths.

Mathematical Thinking at Grade 5: Close to 1000
Add a rule called "open choice": deal out ten cards, from which the child chooses six to use.

7. Verbal or Physical Clues

Activities that are done orally with the whole class can be a pressure situation for some students. Giving a verbal prompting or physical aid before the child's turn can be helpful.

Examples:

Building on Numbers You Know: Skip Counting
Suppose you are skip counting around the room by 25s. The numbers are getting larger and the task more confusing for some students. You could pause and restate the progression of numbers. "Notice as we go around the room the pattern repeats? 25, 50, 75, 00 at the ends of the numbers? John's was 225, Jose's was 250 and now it is Jake's turn, and it would be ____ ."

Between Never and Always: Scoring Options Game
Provide 100 charts which are color coded for different multiples.

8. Give Objects/Choose the Manipulatives

On student sheets the word problems may mention items you can actually give children to help them make sense of the problem. You can also choose a certain type of manipulative for a child to use in a task, instead of leaving the choice up to the child. Sometimes a child doesn't seek a manipulative when one could be very useful.

Examples:

Building on Numbers You Know: Student Sheet 11 "Boxes of Markers"
You could give the child an actual box of markers as an aid to solving the problems.

Building on Numbers You Know: Student Sheet 12 "Zennies"
You could give the child foreign coins to represent zennies, in addition to pennies.

9. Make a Copy for the Student

In activities where students develop their own materials to be used in subsequent activities, the product is sometimes not neat enough to be useful. Teacher-made copies can be offered to the student in addition to his/her own work.

Examples:

Name that Portion: Marking Fraction Strips, p. 42.
A teacher-made fraction strip may be given to a student who folds and re-folds the strips (especially the fifths and sixths) so many times that the end product is not useable.

Name that Portion: Student Sheet 11 "Clock Fractions"
Sometimes the child is unable to read the numbers after completing the sheet. Give a 'clear copy' to the child as an aid for the other activities of the unit.

10. Avoiding Visual Overload

The visual look of a student sheet or game board can be overwhelming for some children. A sheet of construction paper to cover part of the sheet can focus the child and present visual overstimulation. In other cases some children may need more visual cues than are given on a sheet, and the teacher can fill these in.

Example:

Name that Portion: Fraction Track Gameboard, pp. 159-160.
Put in some of the points for the student, especially if there is a spatial awareness weakness. Or give the child a small piece of paper whose length is the same as the distance between the points on a line. This will help the child in spacing the points.

11. Me First

In situations where children are sharing their strategies orally or coming to the front of the class, sometimes the challenged student might have something to share that is among the most common approaches. Calling on this student as one of the first to share will ensure s/he has a chance to add something to the discussion. If the student's strategy has already been shared, say "perhaps we need another person with that strategy to explain it again." Then call on that student.

Examples:

Building on Numbers You Know: Making a Tower of Multiples of 21, p. 19
Select the inclusion child to contribute early on in the activity when the numbers are still low.

Mathematical Thinking at Grade 5: Factor Pairs of Multiples of 100, p. 37
Call on the inclusion child to contribute a factor pair before only the most challenging pairs are left.

12. Student Explains/ Teacher Writes

For this strategy, the child shares his explanation orally, while the teacher writes it on the board or overhead for him or her. The teacher acts as an aide for the child by paraphrasing, correcting, and helping the child to rephrase to the class.

Example:

Mathematical Thinking at Grade 5: Sharing our Cluster Strategies, p. 57
It is often difficult for students to explain their own thinking for cluster problems and the teacher can help by performing the role described above.

In general, when working with special needs students, try to build off the students' strengths to support their areas of need. Decide on a small number of goals at the beginning of each unit: what is most important for all students to know? We hope these strategies will help your students reach these goals, and will get you thinking of more strategies!

Michele Subocz and Bette Rodzwell, Northampton Public Schools, MA
Summer 2001

This information was reprinted with permission of CESAME, Northeastern Univ., and the Educational Alliance, Brown University.