Supporting SEN students in the maths classroom
What are the challenges for SEN learners in mathematics?
The conversation around supporting students with Special Educational Needs (SEN) often focuses on literacy — but learners can struggle with maths too.
Students with dyslexia, dyspraxia, and dyscalculia often find maths a tricky subject to master. Learning complex mathematical language, symbols and concepts can present many challenges for our students with SEN. Between 60 and 90 percent of children with dyslexia alone have challenges with certain aspects of maths. It’s not surprising that if you have difficulties in deciphering written words, you’re also likely to have difficulty in learning the sets of facts, notation, and symbols used in mathematics.
Some of the particular challenges SEN students face include:
- Grasping the underlying structure of the number system and understanding place value (often because of its abstract nature)
- Counting forwards and backwards
- Estimating and comparing numbers
- Recognising number patterns, even when represented visually
- Processing and memorising number bonds, multiplication tables and other sequences (often because of poor working memory)
- Recalling units of measurement and telling the time
- Using and understanding mathematical language
- Remembering mathematical procedures and rules or building on known facts (they may know that 5 + 3 = 8, but not realise that 3 + 5 = 8)
- Reading and processing mathematical word problems
- Reversing or transposing numbers (reading or writing 12 as 21)
Removing barriers to learning maths for SEN students
According to the National Curriculum, QCA, “Mathematics equips pupils with uniquely powerful ways to describe, analyse and change the world. It can stimulate moments of pleasure and wonder for all pupils when they solve a problem for the first time, discover a more elegant solution, or notice hidden connections. Students who are functional in mathematics and financially capable are able to think independently in applied and abstract ways, and can reason, solve problems and assess risk.” We want every student in our maths classroom to have the same opportunities to experience success in maths, so how can we remove the barriers to learning for our SEN students?
Teaching and learning
To make maths lessons inclusive, we need to anticipate what barriers to taking part and learning particular activities, lessons may pose for students with particular special educational needs. In planning we need to consider the accessibility of our lessons and ways of minimising or reducing those barriers so that all students can fully take part and learn. We want all of our learners to foster independent learning techniques. In some activities, SEN students will be able to take part in the same way as their peers. In others, some modifications or adjustments will need to be made to include everyone. For some activities, we may need to provide a ‘parallel’ activity for SEN students, allowing them to work towards the same lesson objectives as their peers, but in a different way − eg using tactile equipment for work relating to shape, space and measures rather than two-dimensional visual information. Occasionally, students with SEN will have to work on different activities, or towards different objectives, from their peers.
When assessing students, we need to plan carefully to give students with SEN every opportunity to demonstrate their mastery, using alternative means where necessary.
Interventions for the maths classroom
With the Government's Levelling Up mission (pg 8) for 90% of students to achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and maths at the end of Key Stage 2 by 2030. That means that we’re going to have to look at interventions in the maths classroom in order to ensure all students have the same opportunity to achieve the expected standard.
The Education Endowment Foundation’s Improving Mathematics in Key Stages 2 and 3 report recommends that schools should ‘use structured interventions to provide additional support’ when pupils need to catch up. It states that, although ‘schools should focus on improvements to core classroom teaching that support all children in the class . . . some high-quality, structured intervention may still be required for some pupils to make progress.’
An intervention is a deliberate program or process that's designed to help a student in an area in which he or she struggles. Interventions should be put into place as soon as possible for maximum results.
Using technology in the maths classroom
Technology provides lots of dynamic opportunities for teaching in maths classrooms. We can enhance the learning process and make concepts come alive through engaging and interactive media. We may also offer additional interventions to address the needs of SEN learners and create customised learning experiences. You can read more about this in a guest blog post from Kristine Scharaldi, an education consultant and instructional coach with a specialization in the fields of educational technology, Mind-Brain-Education, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and 21st Century Skills/Global Education.
Equatio supports every student in the maths classroom
From learners with Dyslexia to EAL students, we all learn and understand maths in different ways - just like with reading and writing. Equatio’s accessibility features help your students to be independent in every subject. It improves their learning experiences by giving them choice in how they learn maths.
This includes having maths read aloud, using “maths to speech” and taking maths beyond pen and paper to visualise concepts digitally.
Accessible, engaging learning technology for maths and science classes
Equatio makes STEM accessible to all. It lets students visualise, digitise and understand maths with independence in ways that best suit their needs.
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