Roadblocks. Hurdles. Brick walls. Sometimes the challenges we face can have the ability to shut down our efforts to proceed. We can tend to focus on the negative, allowing challenge to cripple growth that could occur despite encouragement and proper planning with guidance to move forward toward a specific goal. As an educator, I see this within my students, particularly in those who have specific challenges in their learning, including learning disabilities. It is, of course, of vital importance to implement specific measures to help these students; another equally important key to adequate support, however, is to understand why these students encounter these challenges. This could serve as the first step to removing a roadblock for our students’ success.
One content area where students with learning disabilities may face challenge is mathematics. There are several points that can stand at the source of this. Wright wrote that mathematics learning disabilities can result as combinations of issues with language processing, problems with memory and sequencing, or visual-spatial disorientation (Wright, 1996). As my undergraduate studies in education are not centered in special education, considering Wright’s first point here, that language processing challenges can affect one’s math performance, seemed simple enough, yet profound. During my recent practicum assignment time working with students in a resource room setting, I witnessed this first hand. Several of my students who were considered to have an LD in math struggled with the meaning of their multi-step word problems. Before these students could even think about the computations needed, and even which steps to perform in order within an equation, they first had much difficulty with what the problem was even asking. I learned the importance of breaking up the roadblock they encountered, reading each sentence and helping my students to find meaning and thus the clues to begin a plan to solve the problem. This specific point is another challenge that these same individuals may face within the content of math: sequencing. An article by pbs.org (2012) stated that “a student with a deficiency in this skill may… have difficulties sequencing multiple steps…” Another challenge that my students faced during my observation of their curriculum and its implementation, the multi-step problems in their grade level’s work created hardship for them at first. I got to witness one of my mentor teacher’s solutions to this, in that she helped them to organize their thoughts or the directions given to process through them more efficiently. She likely would not have made this an option for them, however, if she did not first understand the cause of their difficulty with this part of mathematics. Lastly, one other challenge point within math can be motivation. According to Okolo (2017), “After years of failing in mathematics, middle and high school students may be, not surprising, unmotivated to study mathematics. When mathematics content is abstract and unconnected to students’ lives, as higher-level math often seems to be, students may be even less motivated to make the effort needed to improve their chances of success”. A teacher who takes this into account before instruction begins with a much-needed perspective to use in tailoring her lessons to accommodate the difficulties students with LD’s face.
The bottom line with all of these described challenges is this: that when we understand what challenged learners struggle with and why, we will be in a better position to find the best course of action for breaking through the challenges themselves. It is then that we can strategize to help these students to grow beyond the challenges that may initially hinder them from flourishing.
Okolo, C. (2017, June). Challenges in Learning Mathematics (Continued). Retrieved June 19, 2017, from https://d2l.msu.edu/d2l/le/content/576255/viewContent/4999438/View
Signs of a Math Disability. (2012, July 17). Retrieved June 19, 2017, from http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/learning-disabilities/types/mathematics/signs-of-a-math-disability/
Wright, C. C. (1996). Learning Disabilities in Mathematics. Retrieved June 18, 2017, from http://www.ldonline.org/article/5947