Novice Special Educators' Instructional Practices, Communication Patterns, and Content Knowledge for Teaching Mathematics

Nov. 10, 2009

Source: Teacher Education and Special Education, v. 32 no. 4, (November 2009) p. 319-336.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this study, the authors examine the influence of teacher and student communication patterns, instructional practices, and teacher pedagogical content knowledge on students' mathematics learning in both general and special education mathematics classrooms.

Research Questions

1) What are the classroom communication patterns, instructional practices, and mathematics knowledge of pre-service special educators during mathematics lessons?

2) Do students of these teachers perform differentially on mathematics assessments?

3) What are pre-service special educators' perceptions of their teaching, their students' learning, and their own understanding of mathematics?


Teachers. Participants included five pre-service teachers enrolled in a teacher preparation program in a large university located in the southeast United States. All five pre-service teachers were White, female, and in their early 20s. Each teacher had completed the collaborative general and special education course sequence in the undergraduate portion of the program, including similar field-based experiences. At the time of this study, the teacher participants were in the master's degree segment of the 5-year teacher preparation program. Upon completion of the program, the pre-service teachers would be certified to teach in both elementary (Grades K-5) and special (K-12) education.

Students. All students in the classrooms of these five pre-service teachers also participated in the study. The 43 student participants ranged in age from 7 to 15 years and were placed in Grades 2 through 8. Twenty-five of these students had identified disabilities, and the remaining 18 students were considered low achieving in math.

Data Collection

Observations of teachers during mathematics lessons and follow-up interviews were conducted. Students in these settings completed a pretest and posttest of mathematics content taught over 6 weeks of instruction.

Results reveal two sets of instructional practices, communication patterns, and teacher understandings of mathematics for teaching that differentially affected student performance.


Findings from this study emphasize the need for rigorous opportunities for pre-service teacher development in mathematics education and professional development opportunities that follow special educators into the early years of their careers.

Updated: Jan. 12, 2010


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