Marginalized within the margins: Supporting mathematics meaning making among students with learning disabilities

Elsevier, Journal of Mathematical Behavior, Volume 67, September 2022
Wilson J., Hunt J.H.

How adapting math instruction for those with learning disabilities can allow them to increase their understanding of mathematics. Supports SDGs 4 and 10.

Marginalization is a term that refers to the process by which certain individuals or groups are pushed to the periphery of society, often resulting in their exclusion from participating fully in social, cultural, economic, and political life. In the context of education, marginalized students are those who, for various reasons, are systematically disadvantaged and have reduced access to quality education. This article seeks to define marginalized students in a learning context and explore strategies to support mathematics meaning-making among these students.

I. Defining Marginalized Students

  1. In order to address the needs of marginalized students, it is essential to understand who they are and what factors contribute to their marginalization. Broadly, marginalized students are those who:
  2. Experience socio-economic disadvantages: Students from low-income families often have limited access to resources and opportunities, resulting in reduced educational attainment and success.
  3. Belong to ethnic or racial minorities: Discrimination, bias, and systemic barriers can affect the educational experiences of minority students, leading to reduced access to quality education.
  4. Have special education needs: Students with disabilities or learning difficulties often face challenges in traditional educational settings, resulting in their marginalization.
  5. Are refugees or immigrants: Language barriers, cultural differences, and social isolation can make it difficult for refugees and immigrants to fully participate in educational settings.
  6. Identify as LGBTQ+: Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer/questioning may experience discrimination, bullying, and exclusion within educational environments.
  7. Reside in rural or remote areas: Limited access to quality educational institutions and resources can hinder the learning experiences of students in rural or remote areas.

II. The Importance of Mathematics Education for Marginalized Students

Mathematics education is crucial for all students, but it holds particular significance for marginalized students. Proficiency in mathematics can serve as an equalizer, opening doors to higher education and career opportunities that might otherwise be inaccessible. Furthermore, mathematics education helps develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are essential for success in today's globalized and technology-driven world.

III. Strategies for Supporting Mathematics Meaning-Making among Marginalized Students

  1. Culturally Responsive Teaching: Educators should strive to create a learning environment that acknowledges and respects the diverse cultural backgrounds of their students. This includes using culturally relevant examples and materials in the curriculum, as well as fostering a classroom culture that values diversity and encourages students to share their experiences.
  2. Differentiated Instruction: Recognizing that students have varied learning needs and preferences, teachers can provide differentiated instruction to meet the individual needs of each student. This may include using different teaching methods, materials, and assessment strategies to ensure that all students have equal opportunities to succeed in mathematics.
  3. Access to Quality Educational Resources: Ensuring that marginalized students have access to quality educational resources, such as textbooks, technology, and supplementary materials, can help level the playing field and enhance their chances of success in mathematics.
  4. Inclusive Learning Environments: Creating inclusive learning environments where all students feel welcome, respected, and valued is essential for supporting the academic success of marginalized students. This includes promoting positive classroom interactions, establishing clear expectations for behavior, and implementing policies that address bullying and discrimination.
  5. Professional Development for Educators: Teachers must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to effectively support the unique needs of marginalized students. This includes ongoing professional development opportunities that focus on topics such as cultural competence, special education, and trauma-informed teaching practices.
  6. Collaboration with Family and Community: Engaging families and community members in the education process can help create a supportive network for marginalized students. Educators can establish strong communication channels with parents, involve them in decision-making processes, and encourage their participation in school events. Additionally, partnering with community organizations can provide resources and support services for students and their families.
  7. Early Intervention and Support: Identifying and addressing learning challenges as early as possible can significantly improve the educational outcomes of marginalized students. Schools can implement screening and assessment tools to detect potential learning difficulties and provide targeted interventions and support services.
  8. Socio-Emotional Learning and Support: Addressing the socio-emotional needs of marginalized students is crucial for their academic success. Schools can implement programs that promote socio-emotional learning, such as teaching students about empathy, self-regulation, and conflict resolution. Additionally, providing access to mental health support services can help students cope with stress, anxiety, and other emotional challenges.
  9. Peer Tutoring and Mentoring: Peer tutoring and mentoring programs can offer valuable academic and social support to marginalized students. By pairing students with peers who have demonstrated success in mathematics, they can benefit from one-on-one instruction, encouragement, and guidance.
  10. Flexibility in Assessment and Grading: Recognizing that standardized assessments may not accurately reflect the abilities of marginalized students, educators can incorporate alternative assessment methods, such as project-based learning, oral presentations, or portfolio assessments. This allows students to demonstrate their understanding of mathematical concepts in a variety of ways.

Supporting mathematics meaning-making among marginalized students is a complex task that requires the concerted efforts of educators, families, and communities. By implementing strategies that address the unique needs of these students, we can help break down the barriers that hinder their educational success and create a more equitable learning environment for all. In doing so, we can work towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of quality education for everyone, leaving no one behind.