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Teaching Long Division to Special Education Students

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Helping students with special needs master mathematical concepts and skills is challenging but rewarding. This lesson teaches you some ideas about teaching long division to special education students.

Long Division and Special Education

As a special education teacher, Ms. Simmons knows that she has an obligation to help her students master the mathematical concepts associated with fourth and fifth grade.

One thing that she has been thinking about a lot is long division, or dividing numbers with two or more digits. Over the years, she has noticed that many of her students with different disabilities really struggle with this task. She assumes this is because long division is both procedurally and conceptually complex, so there are many different ways where understanding can break down.

Ms. Simmons knows that no two special education students are the same, and what it means to teach them long division will depend on their specific learning profiles, or constellations of strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, she understands that there are some basic instructional moves she can make that will help her students master long division more effectively.

Visual Learning

First of all, Ms. Simmons understands that many special education students are visual learners, or students who master new material more readily when they are allowed to work with images and graphic organizers. She realizes that the more visual tools she can use to represent long division, the better her students will master the concepts.

When she is teaching what long division means in context, she always projects pictures and sometimes even animated videos to show her students what it means to divide a large number into multiple parts. She also creates a poster representing the algorithm, or procedure, for long division that she eventually wants her students to master. She instructs them to look at this poster when they are doing computation.

Ms. Simmons lets her students use apps to learn division facts, which in turn make it easier and more efficient for them to solve longer division problems. She also encourages them to use graphic organizers to keep track of their thinking when solving a long division story problem, and to draw quick sketches that allow them to think through the meaning behind this story.

Tactile Learning

Ms. Simmons knows that many special education students are also tactile learners, who like to work on a sensory level and use their hands and bodies to master new material. For this reason, she lets her students work with manipulatives such as color tiles, base-100 and base-1000 blocks, and even small objects like Skittles, to represent long division problems.

She also encourages students to compose and act out songs, dances and skits that help them memorize the steps involved in the long division algorithm as another way of letting them involve their bodies in their learning.

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