Saturday, September 3, 2011

Special education and Everyday Math, revisited

Nearly two years ago, I wrote an Op-Ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer about how Everyday Math and other Reform Math programs disadvantage children on the autistic spectrum, even the many who have the potential to do quite well in math.  I discuss the need that AS children have for direct, structured, step-by-step instruction and well-defined tasks, and note that:

Reform math gives them the exact opposite. Instead of direct, structured instruction by teachers (for example, on how to add large numbers), it offers child-centered learning through incidental discovery (for example, of ad hoc ways to add particular numbers). Instead of a curriculum organized incrementally around math concepts (such as borrowing from the tens place), it favors a sequence of themes ("Sticker problems," "How many pockets?").
Naturally, I share these issues with my special education students, many of whom already work with AS students, in a session of my class that focuses on math and science learning. Invariably, some of my students share their own frustrations with Reform Math. Recently, one student wrote:
This session really hit home for me. I was thrown into a situation where I was teaching remedial math and was given Everyday Math textbooks. At the time, I knew very little about middle school math textbooks and curriculum However, it only took me about 3 weeks to realize that the Everyday Math textbooks were not working for my population, specifically a student with PDD-NOS [mild autism]. There was so much verbiage!! So, I found old Saxon Math texts and used those instead. It turns out that my student with PDD-NOS was not behind at all in his math abilities but his way of thinking was not compatible with Everyday Math.
The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that special ed teachers, perhaps especially those who teach academic subjects to autistic spectrum students, are some of our best teachers. They're especially dedicated to teaching, and at the same time are confronted with a population that is especially dependent on good teaching, and that, perhaps more than any other population does, challenges current teaching fads. And so our special ed teachers do what they can to modify their teaching methods, to sneak in better materials (often behind the backs of their principals), and to recognize talents that are too easy to dismiss in many of today's classrooms.

Would that we had more teachers like this--enough to teach regular ed as well!


Anonymous said...

I don't think the ones that could do this, i.e. modify teaching methods, include good material, teach to the students, rather than to the book, are permitted to do so by administrators that buy into a curriculum and require "fidelity" of instruction in that curriculum. Only.

kcab said...

The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that special ed teachers, perhaps especially those who teach academic subjects to autistic spectrum students, are some of our best teachers.

Seems likely to me, among my family and friends it seems like the people who go into SPED teaching are more intelligent than average. I'm guessing that is due to it being a greater challenge and to a desire to help others.

Laura said...

When my daughter's school changed it's math curriculum from a traditional one to a more constructivist one (Not as bad as Everyday Math - but bad enough) - school became a real struggle. It became the straw that broke this Mama's back. I couldn't explain the math to her, because I didn't "Get it!" 4th grade math... *sigh*

We ended pulling her out and homeschooling her and using Saxon Math. So much better. Night and Day difference. This year we switched to Abeka Math for other reasons (It is still very traditional and straight-forward - but keeps on one subject longer than Saxon).

I just cannot understand how "they" expect any children (especially autistic children) to learn any kind of math, from this load of garbage they have heaped upon the educational system. Unbelievable.