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Mastery Learning Practice for Learning Disabled Math Students

written by: Cheryl Gabbert • edited by: Laurie Patsalides • updated: 1/26/2012

Since math requires the knowledge of basic skills that build one upon the other, mastery learning should be the best practice for all who are teaching math, especially where learning disabled students are concerned. Too often, students fall behind early on, creating a recipe for disaster.

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    Math is a subject where students can get behind really easily, and once they do, it can be quite difficult to catch up. For students with a learning disability in math, it's pretty much a guarantee. After all, if you get lost when learning low level basic skills, it's going to be awfully hard to catch up and figure out the more difficult concepts. Teachers working with learning disabled students must play the catch up game before any real progress can be made. An individualized mastery learning program is a great way to "catch up" on the lost basics, and build on those skills to bring students up to grade level in math. Here's an easy way to get started teaching math using mastery learning.

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    Math Mastery Learning Tips

    1. Test each student on basic skills.

    Find the skills the student has already mastered, and determine the point where the student has fallen behind. Once you know where to begin, you have a place to work from.

    2. Provide instruction and repeated practice on the skills that need to be addressed.

    Give each student a folder with a set of lessons to work on. At the front of the folder, place a chart that lists the lessons, and has a place for a small sticker. Once each lesson is complete, the student will bring it to the teacher and get a sticker.

    3. Testing for Mastery

    The student will then be tested on that skill. When a high level of mastery is achieved, they will be permitted to move on to the next concept. If the concept is not retained, the teacher will work one on one with the child, re-teaching the skill in a slightly different way, and a new lesson set will be given for the student to work from. Again, the student will complete the lesson, and get a sticker. Homework will center around the concept that the student is working on, and parents will be encouraged to help.

    4. An Individualized Approach

    For students with learning disabilities in math, concept development may be slow. Students will be working at different speeds and should be taught on an individual level. Skill improvement may take time, so teachers should give lots of encouragement and positive reinforcement, especially when difficulties arise. Each child will be at a different level, and some will progress slowly, but skills cannot be skipped. Instead, re-teach and give a new set of practice exercises, different activities from the ones used before.

    5. Assigning lesson packs

    Lesson folders can be labeled in numbers and letters so that students always see a logical progression in order to alleviate anxiety. For example, if a student has lesson 3, and it's the 4th time he's had to do that skill level, instead of just giving it back and telling him to do lesson 4 again with a new set of activities, label the lesson 4:a, 4:b, 4:c, 4:d. This shows the child that he's moving on, but the teacher can easily see that he has been on the same set of skills 4 times. (d) Students will get a sticker upon completion, even when they must proceed to another letter and haven't obtained mastery.

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    Other Mastery Learning Techniques?

    Lesson skill folders are just one way mastery learning techniques can be used with learning disabled students. Teachers can creatively develop many ways of teaching to individual student levels and progressing only when the student has obtained mastery. Do you have a mastery learning technique that has worked well for you? Post a comment and let us know.