Learning to Teach School Mathematics: Perceptions of Special Education Teachers

Fall 2009

Source: Action in Teacher Education, v. 31 no. 3, Fall 2009, p. 28-40.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This research examines perceptions of special education teachers pertaining to mathematics instruction as learners and teachers throughout a semester-long mathematics methods course.

Research Questions
The study addressed the following research questions:
1. What are participants' memories and recollections of experiences in the mathematics classroom?
2. What are participants' perceptions of an ideal mathematics classroom? 

3. How does completion of a semester-long mathematics methods course mediate perceptions of self as student and teacher of mathematics?


The participants were eighteen alternate-entrant special education teachers pursuing a master of arts in teaching (special education) who were enrolled in the required elementary school mathematics methods course for their program of study. All participants were female.
Participants taught at all academic levels (elementary, middle, and high school) and across all content areas. Their students were identified as having various disabilities.

Data were collected via mathematics autobiographical narratives, recollections of the participants’ experiences as K-12 learners of mathematics, and information pertaining to elements of their ideal mathematics classroom.
Autobiographical narratives were collected at the beginning of the course along with drawings and descriptions of a memorable classroom. Drawings and descriptions of participants' ideal classrooms were collected at the end of the course. Data were analyzed at each point and then compared across time.


Findings reveal a dissonance between participants' written descriptions and illustrations related to the teaching of mathematics, displaying the lasting power of individual learning experiences.

Findings indicate that special education teachers have similar memories about school mathematics as elementary school teachers; most recall teachers lecturing and students working quietly at their desks (Alsup, 2005; Arbaugh et al., 2006). However, as the course progressed, their perceptions of school mathematics moved, from viewing the classroom as lecture toward using resources and materials that facilitate learning. By the end of the course, participants were able to verbalize the necessary knowledge and skills associated with effective mathematics instruction. Less evident was their ability to implement the knowledge and skills as needed.

Results suggest the need for more concrete instruction in making mathematics content accessible to students with disabilities.

Alsup, J. (2005). A comparison of constructivist and traditional instruction in mathematics. Educational Research Quarterly, 28(4), 3-17.

Arbaugh, F., Lannin, J., Jones, D., & Park-Rogers, M. (2006). Examining instructional practices in CORE-PLUS lessons: Implications for professional development. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 9, 517-550.

Updated: Aug. 29, 2010