Maria is twelve years old and in the 7th grade. She was an exemplary student throughout elementary school. A review of Maria’s records indicate that she received grades of “B” or higher in all of her classes from first through fourth grade. Results of local and statewide standardized tests administered in second and fourth grade indicated that she was at, or above grade level in word decoding and reading comprehension, written expression, spelling, and mathematics during these years. Maria also excelled in her art and music classes, computer keyboarding classes, and physical education during elementary school.
Although Maria experienced much in the way of academic success during the first four years of school, her grades in math provide evidence of a gradual and continual decline in performance. The math difficulties that she brings into the 7th grade began during the last grading period of fourth grade. Maria’s lack of success in mathematics during late elementary and throughout middle school stands in stark contrast to her performance in other content areas and electives (e.g., art, choral music, physical education) where she continues to excel.
Her 7th grade math teacher reports that Maria performed well for the first 6-8 weeks of school, when the required computation was relatively straight-forward. During this same time period, according to her parents, Maria was able to complete lengthy math homework assignments with little assistance and even less anxiety. However, since then, her performance has declined dramatically.
Maria’s current performance reflects a superficial understanding of many math concepts such as fractions, complex multiplication, and terms used in math (e.g., compare, change, equalize, and combine). Her problems in math became especially evident during a nine-week period when the teacher introduced algebra. They also consistently recur when Maria must solve story problems.
Maria has said, “I don’t even know where to start solving a story problem. I just sit there and read, read, read it while all of my friends read a problem one time and solve it. So I just solve the problems by doing what I think will work… and forget about problems with just letters and no numbers except for those little ones just above the letters… I don’t understand why I can’t do math, I get A’s and B’s in all of my other classes and I could do math before… I don’t worry too much about it, I guess I am just math dumb… Besides, I fit better in a different world. How many 7th graders have sold pieces of artwork and acted in summer theater like I have? I love that stuff!”
- Maintains A’s and B’s in all content areas except math
- Seems to be an excellent reader and writer
- Can do math calculation when numbers are given
- Has strong group of close friends
- Seems to have a good attitude about school in general, and appears to keep trying in math class
- Has a good sense of self, and knows what she does well and not so well
Areas in Need of Improvement:
- Understanding of the technical vocabulary associated with mathematics
- Conceptual understanding of mathematics
- Problem-solving approach to story problems
Possible Management Plan:
Talk to Maria about the difficulties she is having in math. Make sure to address the growing feeling that she is just “math dumb.” Help Maria understand that she is not “dumb,” that she has a lot of strengths, and that everyone can work together to help her succeed in math. Develop a management plan with a balance of accommodations and interventions, as well as an integration of Maria’s strengths and affinities.
Taking Advantage of Strengths and Affinities:
- Utilize Maria’s interests in art and her art-work to introduce math concepts such as fractions (Considering the blank canvas as a whole, how did you divide the whole into pieces [fractions] in order to paint this piece of work?)
- In addition to supporting Maria’s acting activities, give her the opportunity to work with experts in set-design and construction, so that she will see math concepts at work.
- Reading, writing, and remembering your lines in a play are problem-solving activities. Ask Maria to list the strategies she uses that work well in these areas. Help her compare them to her math strategies. Discuss ways in which strategies that work well in language activities and acting may be modified for use in mathematics.
- Ask Maria to list the important terms in literature, art, music, science, social studies, and math to see if some of the definitions from other areas may be utilized in math.
Accommodations and Interventions:
- Allow Maria to solve fewer math problems, but require her to increase her accuracy when initially learning a new problem-solving strategy. For example, instead of correctly solving 50% of 20 math problems for homework, ask her to solve 10 problems at 100% accuracy. Increase the number of problems over time.
- Introduce math concepts using semantic maps that Maria fills in and keeps in her notebook.
- Have Maria keep a personal math vocabulary and concept dictionary that she can refer to as necessary.
- Provide a math buddy to whom Maria can turn when she needs help. Allow friends and classmates to help her during class, so she can hear peers use math terms, and see how they solve problems.
- Model math problem-solving strategies by having teachers and other students talk out loud as they solve problems.
- Make abstract math concepts concrete by using manipulatives or computer software packages.
- Give Maria a problem solving strategy she can follow for word problems, checking off each step as she goes. For example, the letters SIR RIGHT stand for:
- Start by reading the problem
- Identify all numbers (digits and words)
- Reread problem and draw a picture of diagram
- Reread problem again to find the question
- Inquire “What do I have to do to answer the question?”
- ‘Guesstimate,’ or estimate, an answer (use smaller numbers if puzzled by large numbers)
- Have a go at computing an answer
- Take a check back to see if the answer makes sense