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Special Needs

Some may claim CMP poses a challenge for special-needs students due to its language-based curriculum; however, the CMP framework incorporates many recommendations by researchers in the field of special education. Embedded strategies and cooperative learning groups assist in making mathematics accessible to special-needs students.

Embedded Strategies

The conceptual framework upon which CMP is built involves sound teaching principles and practices for students, which is essentially the same foundation for working with special populations. Many of the strategies found to make mathematics more accessible to for students with special needs are features that are already built into the curriculum materials. To begin with, CMP was developed with the belief that calculators should be made available to students, which aligns with accommodations that many special-needs students are given. Furthermore, CMP incorporates manipulatives in its curriculum. While it is stressed within the CMP framework that manipulatives are to be used only when they can help students develop an understanding of mathematical ideas, it should be clear that special needs students may need to use manipulatives more often than their general education peers.

CMP uses real-life problems, a pedagogical technique repeatedly stressed in reaching special-needs students in mathematics classrooms. Guiding the development of CMP was an emphasis on making meaningful connections for students, among various mathematical topics and between mathematics and other disciplines. Maccini and Gagnon (2000) [1] demonstrated that embedding problems within real-world contexts improves the motivation, participation, and generalization for special-needs students.

Other practices within the CMP framework that facilitate teaching mathematics to all students, including those with special needs, include: repetition and review, keeping expectations high, and teaching conceptual knowledge. The ACE section at the end of every Investigation allows students to tackle additional exercises from the Unit as well as to work on problems connected to earlier Units. Furthermore, the Looking Back section summarizes the learning students have completed in the particular Unit, while making connections to prior Units.

Cooperative Learning Groups

CMP provides opportunities for students to work in small groups and pairs, as well as a whole class or individually. Educational research suggests that cooperative groups can be beneficial to all students; however, some attention should be paid to the groupings to ensure that students with special needs are able to participate actively. Merely placing a student within a group does not result in that student becoming a part of the group. While studies have shown that cooperative learning has positive benefits on students’ motivation, self-esteem, cognitive development, and academic achievement, the very dynamic of these learning methods may exclude special education students due to their disparities in skills, such skills as content area, communication, and social abilities (Brinton, Fujiki, & Montague, 2000). [2] In discussing the structure of cooperative groups, researchers stress the importance of providing opportunities for all students, including students with special needs (or any diverse learners) to participate.

Accommodation Ideas

General Accommodation Ideas

Accommodations are important for helping special education students access the general education mathematics curriculum. Below is a list of the different types of accommodations that can be used to support students with special needs.

When using accommodations with homework, assessments, or instructional delivery, it is important to remember that accommodations should be made on a case-by-case basis. An accommodation that will benefit one type of student (i.e. learning disability, visual impairment), or even one student, may not be beneficial to other types of students or any one student. Accommodations should be designed and implemented on an individual student basis, helping each student to access the mathematics without removing the learning or over-scaffolding the process.

Ways to Accommodate the Text
  • Bolding or highlighting: Bolding, underlining, making things bigger, or in some other way highlighting words or numbers draws attention to these and raise students awareness of the importance of the words or numbers within a problem.
  • Scaffolding: Adding questions to some problems to provide scaffolding for students. Create sub-questions or break-down the questions to help students access the mathematics. The purpose of the scaffolding is to help students answer smaller questions, which would help lead to them finding the answer for the original problem.
  • Providing additional instructions: Similar to scaffolding, including additional instructions to help students get a clearer picture of what the problem is asking them to do. The instructions are to help the students move through the problems from the simple to the more complex, all with the goal of making the problem more explicit. 
  • Hint: Hints provide additional support to students on how to read the problem, think about the problem, address the problem, or solve the problem. The hints could reference the student back to an earlier problem that was similar, an explanation of the concept being addressed in the problem, or suggestions on a way to start the problem.
  • Providing tools: Providing tools includes providing charts that students fill in or grids for students to use to construct a graph. By providing these tools for students, it removes this cognitive task so they are then able to focus on the mathematics and understanding the questions.
  • Providing symbols: Providing symbols includes adapting questions to have visual representations in addition to the words. Graphs or charts are sometimes used as symbols to help students understand the mathematics.
  • Providing examples: For some problems, examples can be given using different numbers to illustrate the mathematics; and thus, giving a type of scaffolding for students. For other problems, one part of the multi-step problem can be performed. Examples provide a model for how to solve the problem to help students better understand the mathematics, especially if there are few examples to work from.
  • Providing context: For some problems additional context information can be provided to help students understand the situation the problem was couched in. This allows student to understand the relationship to the mathematics within the problem. 
  • Providing more space: Additional space can be provided so that students can solve the problem (i.e. show their work) and their answers on the same page as the problem. Students avoid having to take the time and effort to copy or transition to another piece of paper. In addition, some special education students are likely to need more space to write their answer (such as for questions that ask students to explain). 
  • Friendly numbers: For some problems, friendly numbers ($6.00 instead of $6.25) can be provided to put the focus on the mathematical content of the unit. This will assist so students do not get caught up in the calculations with more complex numbers rather than working on the mathematical goals. Friendlier numbers can be used when the focus of the problem is not on number operation skills.

Other Accommodations

Other accommodations, which are important in the classroom for special education students within the general education mathematics curriculum, include:

  • Providing additional time on assignments or assessments
  • Shortening assignments or assessments
  • Allowing the use of a calculator
  • Allowing oral answers 
  • Allowing test questions to be read to the student
  • Providing the textbooks on tape
  • Preferential seating in the classroom
  • Allowing notes or books to be used on the test
  • Photocopying homework so students can write on it or reproducing questions with built-in accommodations on a separate paper (i.e. outside of the book)
  • Providing supplemental verbal instructions with visual instructions
  • Providing an extra set of textbooks for home
  • Using study guides and/or other organizing tools
  • Allowing students to take the test in a separate place/room (i.e quiet, free from distractions)
  • Enlarging texts on homework and assessments
  • Giving students a copy of notes or an outline of notes
  • Using manipulatives


 [1] Maccini, P., and Gagnon, J.C. (2000). Best practices for teaching mathematics to secondary students with special needs. Focus on Exceptional Children, 32, 1-22.
 [2] Brinton, B., Fujiki, M., Montague, E. C., &  Hanton, J. L. (2000). Children with language impairment in cooperative work groups: A pilot study.Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 31, 252-264.