The Inclusive Classroom

INED 8760 - CS Iliescu - Spring 2016

Students with disabilities, English Language Learners, and dual served students

in the mathematics classroom


I am closing one page from the book of my life. What am I taking from all the lessons to follow,

to develop, to share, to reach out, to touch people’s life in a positive way? I understand more

about human diversity and by doing so, I learned to treasure and rely upon its richness.

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The first lesson I have learned in this class was to simply start somewhere and do the work, read, ponder about, clarify, and re-do it without complains, without “buts”… There are many “firsts” that I undertook while completing my assignments. I did my first interview for this class, transcription, and interpretation albeit rudimentary. I particularly liked conversing with our school psychologist which made me aware of the high number of dually served students and of their testing process. I also become aware of how little the teachers know about ELL students and the best practices for serving them.

Another first was our cumulative assignment that included research on evidence based practices. I have learned how to make decisions about the papers that I want to use in any analysis. To reflect upon what studies to include and exclude, was a mind opener. This is an essential skill for research purposes. To me personally, it had an even greater significance; I have learned from it how to measure success and happiness in my life – it has to do with what we decide to include and exclude from our view, from our theory in general, and what to apply in order to construct our realities.

By reading studies in mathematics learning disability (MLD), I realized how little I know about this subgroup of learning disabilities. In general, math disability has been studied for as long but not as extensively as for reading learning disability (RLD). Most studies address students with computational difficulties; very few studies address impairments in math concepts. Since the skills that fall under the heading of mathematics are broad and varied, it is unclear whether learning in one domain of mathematics is related to learning in another domain (Geary, 1994). Unlike reading, in which development produces changes in quantity and quality of decoding and comprehension, the development of mathematical competencies involves learning new categories of skills such as geometry and algebra. Some of those skills depend to some extent on previously learned math knowledge, but some concepts might differ significantly from previous material.

A lot of studies address basic mathematical skills such as counting, basic understanding of quantity, and math strategies fundamental for the proper development of early computational skills. Math research theory and methods used to study the emergence and development of MLD are based on mathematical cognition and developmental psychology. Some MLD studies address math and reading comorbidity which seems to appear more often than MLD on its own. Some studies address all those categories independently and in comparison to each other namely, students defined as having word recognition difficulties, both word recognition and math computation difficulties, and only math computation difficulties. Students with MLD do not have problems with language as experienced by children with word-level RLD. However, the group that is low achieving in math was shown to be noticeably poorer in vocabulary despite average reading skills. They typically have difficulty with different forms of nonverbal processing and concept formation (Rourke, 1993 as cited in Fletcher et. al, 2001, p. 18).

From this study I also learned important information about the high diversity of ELL students and the issues that influence their language acquisition such as the number of years of schooling in their primary language. For example, Thomas & Collier (2002) show in their research that immigrants students with interrupted schooling in their home country achieved significantly below grade level when provided instruction in English only. The strongest predictor of L2 student achievement is the amount of formal L1 schooling. The more L1 grade-level schooling, the higher L2 achievement. Bilingually schooled children outperform comparable monolingually schooled students in academic achievement in all subjects, after 4-7 years of dual language schooling. The highest quality ESL content programs close about half of the total achievement gap. The bilingually schooled students reach the same levels of achievement as those schooled all in English by the middle school years, and during the high school years the bilingually schooled students outperform the monolingually schooled students. An enrichment bilingual/ESL program must meet students’ developmental needs: linguistic (L1-L2), academic, cognitive, emotional, social, and physical.

The analysis raised my awareness regarding all struggling students in mathematics which might not be LD nor ELLs but rather socially and culturally disadvantaged students. From Francis et al. (2006) paper, I can take in consideration their recommendations for helping all struggling students: 1) provide explicit and intensive instruction and intervention in basic mathematics concepts and skills; 2) consider academic language as central to mathematics and as a main source of struggle for all students; and 3) students need academic language support to understand and solve problems that are often used in assessments and instruction. The authors made those recommendations for teaching ELLs however, I find them extremely relevant for native English low achievement learners that are neither LD nor ELLs but that lack language skills to understand and work with mathematics concepts.

Finally, the last first was developing a tool that can be used in class with two purposes: 1) to analyze the effectiveness of the curriculum in supporting SWDs and ELLs and 2) in building an individual profile for individual students (I am listing bellow a sample of items from the rubric that I developed).

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I would like to share a wonderful video about ELL students in special education. I do think that the faculty at our schools would benefit from watching it.

ELL Students in Special Education


1.There is little literature that combines both ELL and disability in the same study. As such, it was very hard to find how they overlap and differ and how they can be applied in conjunction with each other. In addition, very little research focuses specifically on mathematics disability. I still did not find a nice synthesis of how mathematics disability influences the processing of information and ability to solve problems for high school students. In general, the papers cover basic math skills and lower school grades.

2.Another area of concern is the fact that very often mathematics disability occurs as a co-morbidity with reading disability. As such, a teacher needs to be able to address both disabilities within the math classroom.

3.I was distressed to realize that we, as teachers, received no training, instruction, or in-service in ESOL or in cultural relevant pedagogy. It was only normal to find no relevant data about ELLs from the teachers I interviewed.

4.As a foreigner, I find challenging at times to understand the US system and culture. As such, from my point of view, I would say that it is difficult for me to understand not the child with disabilities, nor the one with English learning difficulties, but the American child. What is the American culture of the white and black child, I ponder? How can I reach him? How can I motivate students in a society in which teachers are undervalued and children have everything they want? I would like to read a book on American culture as it influences people’s behavior, attitude, respect for others, desire to learn, to better themselves, and to excel in life.

5.Finally, I do have difficulty at times in seeing how laws, policies, and social events fit together in a historical timeline and in the current context. Because I have not been exposed to all the changes that occurred during my lifetime in the US, I feel a slight disconnect with the local historical understanding of actions and measures that my fellow American colleagues might find as common knowledge. At times, I fail to distinguish the connection among the laws, the school policies, and the realities of our school environment.

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Future steps:

1.I would like to continue with my inquiry into understanding the specific needs of students with mathematics disabilities, how it manifests, and how to identify and use students’ strengths.

2.I need to explore how to help students in reading disability in addition to math. Even regular and Native English students struggle with vocabulary and reading comprehension and as such they have difficulty making inferences even from directions to solving problems. Therefore, it is imperative that we implement strategies to improve our students’ reading skills.

3.I took the ESOL endorsement last school year and also, I do have some proficiency in cultural differences because I lived myself in different cultures and because of my education in cross-cultural psychology. However, I would like to become more knowledgeable in the laws and practices for ELL students.

4.I would like to do some research in the area of cultural differences as it applies to education. I think that although we talk a lot about culturally relevant pedagogy, we do not address the actual culture of our students.

1.Lastly, I would really like to develop my rubric of analysis for SWD and ELLs that we have done for this class. I would like to present to my colleagues as a tool that is useful and informative to guide their support for students and differentiation strategies.


I would like to share some cultural differences dimensions between US and countries in which a romance language is spoken to exemplify the complexities of issues related to culture. Hofstede (1997), an internationally renowned scholar in the theory and research of cultural differences, emphasized the importance of culture in determining what is likely and understandable in one’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior given the social environment a person grew up and was exposed during one’s life. Although societies and people face similar problems, the way people react to them differ according to societies or groups within those societies.

The classification from the table bellow is borrowed from the organizational development field that I studied during my Master program in applied psychology (adapted after Hofstede's model, 1997). It represents a small snap-shot of what it means to be cognizant about cultural differences.

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Here is a TED presentation on cultures. It underlines Hofstede’s dimensions and anotheron in the cultural context and self-identity in the classroom.

What's So Different About Cultures Anyway?: Dato Gogichaishvili at TEDxTbilisi
Bringing Cultural Context and Self-Identity into Education: Brian Lozenski at TEDxUMN

Human Buds

In awe I beam witnessing how the miracle of life unfolds vivaciously each spring. The same,

with warmth I smile at each young soul that sprouts on Earth, unique like each bud and meant

to blossom. Through the fresh eyes of younglings, our culture and humanity flourishes!


Baker, S., Gersten, R., & Lee, Dae-Sik. (2002). A synthesis of empirical research on teaching mathematics to low-achieving students. The Elementary School Journal, 103, 51-73.

Fletcher, J. M., Reid Lyon, G., Barnes, M., Stuebing, K. K., Francis, D. J., Olson, R. K., Shaywits, S. E., Shaywitz, B. A. (2001). Classification of learning disabilities: An evidence-based evaluation. Retrieved from

Francis, D. J., Rivera., M., Lesaux, N., Kieffer, M. Rivera, H. (2006). Practical guidelines for the education of English language learners: Research-based recommendation for instruction and academic intervention (Book 1). Center Of Instruction, Huston: TX.

Geary, D. (2004). Mathematics and learning disability. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 37(1), 4-15.

Gersten, R., Chad, D. j., Jayanthi, M., Baker, S. K., Morphy, P., & Flojo, J. (2008). Mathematics instruction for students with learning disabilities or difficulty learning mathematics: A synthesis of the intervention research. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction.

Hofstede, G. (1997). Culture and organizations: software of the mind. Intercultural cooperation and its importance for survival. McGraw-Hill, New York: NY.

McGlaughlin, S. M., Knoop, A. J., & Holliday, G. A. (2005). Differentiating students with mathematics difficulty in college: Mathematics disabilities vs. no diagnosis. Learning Disability Quarterly, 28, 223-232.

Montani, T. (2007). Mathematics disabilities. Council for Learning Disabilities. Retrieved from

Ortiz, A. (2016). English language learners with special needs: Effective instructional strategies. Retrieved from

Thomas, W., & Collier, V. (2002). A national study of school effectiveness for language minority students’ long‐ term academic achievement. Santa Cruz, CA: Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence.