Rhonda & the Bridgeway Team
My name is Michael DeGrasse and I’ve been teaching at
One topic this year showed me that LD really does stand for ‘learning difference’ rather than ‘learning disability’. As a high school math teacher, most of the time the ideas and topics discussed in class are very abstract and un-relatable. Teaching networks and matrices to a grade 10 class may appear easy – simply teach the students how lines connect to certain spots. The topic, however, becomes increasingly difficult to a student who might have one or more Learning Differences – especially LD’s like dysgraphia or those that affect short-term memory, executive functioning, or require hands-on learning. Any one of these LDs could make learning the topics seem impossible or improbable to the student with an LD. My challenge is to find multiple ways to teach the material so that each student can learn in their own way.
What I found most important was first finding each student’s strengths. By finding their strengths, I can build a foundation to start from and then build upon. For many of my students, the difficulty was not being able to relate to, or comprehend, the lines on the paper. As a result, I decided to make the lines of the networks tangible. I was able to transfer the points on paper into actual points in the classroom by overturning desks. I was then able to make the lines on paper come to life by using green tape to connect the desks (aka the points). I basically took a 2 dimensional picture or idea and made it 3 dimensional and real. By doing this, the students were able to manipulate the diagram they saw on paper and walk through the problem to see it from different angles. This allowed some students to comprehend the problem in a way that they may not have been able to see before.
Once I worked out the fine details, in collaboration with the students who required the adaptation, I was able to show the entire class and demonstrate that there wasn’t just one way to look at a problem. This showed the class that with creativity and imagination any math problem can be solved in a variety of ways. From that point on, whenever the students became stuck or confused, they took it upon themselves to come up with ways to approach the math so that it made sense to them.
Sometimes a student’s approach will only made sense and work for them personally, and sometimes a student’s approach will also work for another student who also may not have fully understood the topic. In one recent class we had four different methods being used to solve one topic - all mathematically correct and each helping a different student in their own way.
The key is finding the student’s strength, build a foundation around it, and then adding to that foundation to create a way for them to correctly understand a topic. If we find and build that foundation, every student can learn anything in their own way.