Striving for Inclusivity and Equity in Math Class

Guidance on Differentiating in Math Instruction

There’s a misconception that only certain students are cognitively capable of excelling in math. But that’s just not true, and research shows that every student, regardless of their background and academic ability, has the capacity to learn mathematical skills. Unfortunately, this belief — that some students aren’t capable of succeeding in mathematics — has a detrimental impact on the students who internalize it. Research also shows that a student’s perception of his capabilities influences his learning outcomes. But there’s an upside: students who believe that hard work makes a difference in learning, as opposed to some predetermined disposition, show positive learning outcomes. (Learn more about this study here.) The research is clear: students don’t vary in their ability to learn. They just vary in their needs, backgrounds, learning styles, and interests.

It’s up to educators to foster that confidence in their learners, despite what they may have previously believed about their own capabilities. It’s also up to educators to address the needs of increasingly diverse classrooms: many PreK-12 math classrooms have students who are economically disadvantaged, students who speak varying languages, students with dis/abilities, and students with behavioral challenges. Each one of these young learners deserves excellent mathematics instruction — and the chance to see themselves succeed. That’s why the key to educational equity and equal access in the math classroom is differentiation.

To help teachers begin thinking about the best way to make mathematics accessible, and gather tangible strategies for differentiating instruction, we’ve put together a best practice guide entitled, “Access for All Learners: Guidance on Differentiating PreK-12 Math Instruction”. Download the full guide in the link below, and read on for a sneak peak into what you’ll discover, including expert perspectives, strategies, and research:


Bringing Inclusivity and Accessibility to the PreK-12 Math Classroom

Differentiation for Students with Learning Dis/abilities

Students with learning dis/abilities will face specific struggles in the math classroom — their challenges may be unrelated to previous learning experiences, or gaps in knowledge, and instead due to differences in thinking and learning processes. In order to make the content accessible for these students, and to be inclusive in your teaching, it’s important to differentiate to their learning style while still making sure they feel included in the whole-group learning experience. In the guide, you’ll find details on strategies to strike this balance, including believing in a student’s potential, providing explicit, systematic instruction, and teaching students through peer-assisted learning.

*Note: we chose to write dis/abilities with a forward slash as a way to textually acknowledge the concept of the functionality of mind and body as existing on a spectrum, with potential implications that vary depending on the individual. For more on the power of language when talking or writing about dis/abilities, visit the Syracuse University Language Guide and the ADA Fact Sheet.

Including English Language Learners

English Language Learners enter the math classroom with a unique set of abilities. Educators often assume that the language differences these children carry won’t influence their math performance — because numeracy is a separate “language” altogether. But in truth, we use traditional literacy and language to communicate and articulate math skills. So in order to make math curriculum accessible for ELLs, it’s important to be mindful that ELLs are navigating two complex learning journeys at once, and that their lack of language proficiency can add to the emotional strain of school. In the guide, you’ll find five highly detailed strategies for teaching math to English Language Learners, including using sentence frames and encouraging mathematical discussions.

Ensuring Equity for Socio-economically Challenged Students

Socio-economic barriers manifest in many different ways for students. Some learners enter the math classroom with poverty weighing on their shoulders, others are facing gender bias or racial discrimination in their everyday lives. A lack of available resources, societally-influenced insecurities, and stress are all potential influences on a student’s academic performance. To establish a truly inclusive classroom, teachers can be mindful of these factors, actively work to accommodate every student’s needs, and simply be a supportive presence. In the guide, you’ll learn more about how gender bias and racial stereotypes can influence a child’s self-perception of their own mathematical abilities, and how economic and geographical equity functions in the math classroom. You’ll also find strategies for fostering equity, such as addressing learning gaps and social stigmas, celebrating different learning styles, and targeting a clear outcome.

Technology as a Tool for Differentiation

Making learning accessible and striving for equity in the classroom isn’t possible without a passionate, purposeful, and driven educator. But it doesn’t have to be up to you alone. Digital learning tools can be a powerful influence on PreK-12 math classroom when it comes to differentiating instruction and reaching varying student needs. The best digital learning programs will allow the teacher to address the needs of every student in the classroom simultaneously — by providing individualized instruction that fills learning gaps. In the guide, you’ll learn what to look for in a digital learning program for your PreK-12 math classroom, and discover what’s possible once you’ve found the right one for you.