“Mathematics is embedded in our lives in many ways: practical, civic, professional, recreational, and cultural.” Mary E. Little
The ability to compute, problem solve, and apply concepts and skills in mathematics influences multiple decisions in our lives. Research has shown that mathematics is especially evident in any technology-rich society, where number sense and problem solving skills have increased the importance and demands of advanced levels of proficiency. However, mathematics is often challenging for students with and without disabilities to master, particularly in Nigerian schools. In 2017, candidates who took Mathematics in Senior Secondary Certificate Examination, SSCE, fell short by 26.5% compared to the results of 2016. Comparison studies have focused on student results which show Nigerian students are not performing well in Mathematics as students in many other developed countries. The non-availability of various research-based instructional methods and strategies are described to have been the major factors militating against the students performing well. Others factors have been attributed to teachers not effectively meeting the learning needs of students.
Sherman, Richardson and Yard (2005, p 3) remind us that mathematics instruction must provide many opportunities for concept building, relevant challenging questions, problem solving reasoning, and connections within the curriculum and real-world situations. Westwood (2000) also reminds us that the educator is the pivotal person in ensuring successful learning in Math.
So what might an educator do to acknowledge the wide diversity in a group and honour what students can do and need to do next? Following is a collection of key teaching issues in no particular order but all worthy of reflection.
- Age appropriate
- Passion for the Subject
- The use of teaching aid
- Use problem solvingwith divergent questions
- Confirm student understanding of mathematical language
- Age appropriate: Some learners are not supposed to be in a class due to their age hence it will deter their understanding of some concepts. Some concepts are easily grasped while some are not due to the development of the brain. This happens often that at some point in these learners life they tend to understand later in life. So, teaching appropriate topic to the right age learners matter.
But they are some learners with the same age bracket in the same class that get or understand some calculations faster while others are still struggle with the same calculations.
There is a solution to that! There are visual learners, auditory learners and kinetic learners. Each one of these learners will fall into these sets of group. Some of the concept taught in class should have teaching aid or pictures that will be hung on reflection wall of the classroom, which can be accessed by children anytime. Some will get to understand the concept taught through pictures, some will get it through activities, some will get it through hands on while some will get it later after some days seeing that picture being hung on the reflection wall.
2. Methodology: In order to work within curriculum guidelines while accommodating the diversity of students in their classrooms, educators need to be realist and systematic in the way they structure their mathematics programme. The benefits of cross curricular teaching cannot be overemphasized. It could well be that the use of an engaging, and age appropriate theme is the way into developing conceptual knowledge and skills. For example, a topic such as patterns could have students exploring patterns not only in mathematics but also in Health and Physical Education (team games), Society and Environment (climate, history), Arts (dance), and Design and Technology (measurement processes used when designing and constructing). However, Tucker, Singleton and Weaver (2002, p 3) suggest that the primary criterion for judging an instructional activity is what are the pupils learning during the activity… [What is] the learning objective?Educators of students with learning difficulties must be quite clear about intended learning outcomes as they work toward closing the learning gap.
Teachers teaching math should be exact, thorough and not too serious while explaining math concepts. Thorough explanations go a long way in correcting erroneous impression of some learners about math. A listening teacher will have time to correct erroneous impression. Through explanation which contributes to proper understanding of the concept.
3. Passion for the Subject: As a math teacher you must enjoy what you are teaching. You need to show passion for what you are teaching. You need to let your learners see that you are enjoying the class with them. With every fun you input into the class it goes a long way in retaining whatever you must have taught them. While including the fun part of it you must be careful not to get carried away if not they will take over the class.
4. The use of teaching aid: whatever concept or topic you want to teach, there must be pre-preparation. Which will bring about the use of teaching aid. Teaching aid is going extra mile for the learners. Some topics come with teaching aid while some do not. Whichever the case, ensure the use of teaching aids. It helps in retention of subject. Even at the expense of improvising teaching aid. For example: if you are to teach time your teaching aid includes: a wall-clock, a wrist watch, a drawn wall clock or toy clock. Whatever, whichever way you want to teach time ensure you make use of any of the above materials. A responsible math teacher must endeavour to make use of teaching aid while teaching math. No topic in math should be taught in abstract. Hence it helps to restore nothing. Considering the fact that we have visual learners, auditory learners and kinetic learners. These are the conditions a renowned teacher should put into consideration. A teaching aid during math class will not only remind a child of the activities it will also retain all activities, actions in a long-term memory, whence making math fun.
5. Use problem solvingwith divergent questions. Booker, Bond, Sparrow and Swan (2004, p 44) state that problem solving is a task or situation for which there is no immediate or obvious solution. Along with other writers they question whether what educators provide as problems are little more than algorithms with words around them. Authentic problems must pose a challenge that encourages strategic thinking and are a vehicle for development of concepts and skills (Westwood 2000, Sherman, Richardson and Yard 2005). It is also important to remember that there is more than one way to be right and there is more than one way to be wrong! A student’s sense of satisfaction at having developed a successful process for solving a problem must be warmly acknowledged rather than discounted as not being ‘the preferred way.
6. Confirm student understanding of mathematical language. Sherman, Richardson and Yard (2005) believe that students become confused about the meaning of words in mathematics lessons. For example, while an educator may be explaining the concept of 10 to the power of… the word power takes on a whole new meaning for many children that has (possibly) little to do with what is being explained. Westwood (2000, p18) believes that one of the main problems encountered by students…is translating between their own intuitive and concrete understanding of the real world and the language used to describe and quantify for mathematical purposes for school.Educators must build upon a student’s level of language, check for understanding and not assume that nods and smiles are indicating comprehension.
Hastening students through a curriculum at the expense of understanding is short sighted and inefficient. Rather, educators need to work in a cycle of assess, plan, program, assess etc., and meet the student at the point of their knowing and what they need to know next. As educators consider what they might do tomorrow, next week or next year, it is challenging to reflect on what effective practices should be maintained or taken up, and what practices have had their time and are best left behind. Students with learning difficulties in Mathematics are like all other students: they must be taught mathematics in a way that engages and dignifies them as learners.