After Lily expressed her math concerns at Dr. K’s, I emailed our Special Ed contact at school and Lily’s math teacher and explained Lily’s worries. I suggested that it might be a good idea for someone on the team to meet with Lily and talk with her about the big picture plan for her in math. Both teachers emailed back and said it sounded like a great idea.
Lily’s difficulty with math at school began in approximately 1st grade, when, because she was now in the Gifted and Talented program, the class moved ahead to 2nd grade math. Lily instantly had trouble with abstract concepts such as money and time.
Her difficulties became more apparent in 2nd grade, when Lily was moved on to 3rd grade math. At this level she was expected to begin to learn multiplication when she could barely add and subtract single digits. She brought home worksheets from the math program the school was using, Everyday Math, and Lily seemingly had no idea how to do the work.
Her struggles continued in 3rd grade, when working on 4th grade math. By this time, I knew that as a visual-learner and twice exceptional, Lily was going to have trouble with rote memorization.
In 4th grade, doing 5th grade math, I began to suspect that the Everyday Math program was not ideal for a learner like Lily. It teaches on a spiral, so it touches on a math concept and then moves on, assuming that if the student doesn’t get it this time, they’ll grasp it the next time. But moving from topic to topic so quickly left Lily feeling like she had not mastered anything and it was very frustrating to her. Everyday Math also teaches the students several ways to solve a problem, but Lily just needed the comfort of really knowing the steps to solve the problem ONE way.
I researched different math programs, and after meeting with the school, they agreed to let Lily try an online math program called ALEKS. I seemed to work great at home. Lily loved the pie chart on ALEKS that gives kids instant feedback. At first, at school, ALEKS seemed to work well. During math time, Lily would work on ALEKS on a laptop, but it wasn’t long before the material became more challenging and Lily started getting frustrated. At home it was fine and I realized that it was because I was there to walk her through the steps when she was stuck. At school, there was an aide who could help Lily, but not someone trained to offer math instruction to a kid like Lily.
It was in the second half of 5th grade when we had a Learning Evaluation done on Lily. Lily was gifted in math, especially quantitative reasoning. When she was tested verbally, Lily was able to calculate math problems in her head to an 8th or 9th grade level. It was the rote arithmetic facts and her ability to calculate on paper that were causing her such difficulty.
In the meantime, we had Lily’s CSAP results back, which showed a decrease in math from 3rd to 4th grade. In meetings with school officials, I stressed that we needed to find out why Lily was struggling so much with math and come up with some solutions for her.
The school district finally sent in one of their secret weapons, a visual-spatial guy who specializes in figuring out visual-spatial learners, especially in math. He observed Lily in class. Mr. Visual-Spatial noticed that Lily seemed bored in class and hadn’t done any of her work, but when the teacher called on her she knew the answer. Later, when he met one-on-one with Lily and he asked her how she knew the answer, she had no idea. In a report, he explained that this is typical of a learner like this… always in trouble for not showing their work because they have no idea what steps they took… they just know they got the answer. In Lily’s IEP Transition mtg, he explained that drilling Lily on arithmetic facts will never work. She should just use a calculator. Learners like Lily like to have context for math facts; they have a hard time just memorizing them. In this meeting, Lily’s middle school teachers felt like she should go into the 7th grade math program and that this program is actually good for learners like Lily. It gives them a specific steps for solving math problems but within that framework allows them to use their quantitative reasoning skills.
Shortly after my email to Lily’s middle school team, both the Special Ed teacher and her math teacher met with her and Lily seemed fine. It feels like Lily is starting to trust the team and in exchange she’s really trying to be open and flexible.
I got a nice email after her meeting. The Special Ed teacher told me that she had also gone over some of the IEP supports with Lily and that Lily was informative and insightful about what supports help her and which she doesn’t feel she needs. The teacher said she was very impressed because most kids don’t have that insight at that age.