So excited to discuss a new article from my colleague Paulo Tan, who is a professor at the University of Tulsa and studies mathematics education from a critical disability studies perspective. His new article describes his personal experience advocating for his son in Individual Education Plan [IEP] meetings, which are the meetings in which teachers and families gather to collectively plan the educational progress of the child. These meetings can be contentious affairs, however, in which families are not given an equal voice (Valle & Aponte, 2002).  As I mentioned in a previous post, students with disabilities are often given IEP goals that narrow their mathematics education, focused on procedures and memorization. Dr. Tan writes,:

“Personal experiences promoting inclusive mathematics education for my own child have mostly been met with staunch resistance on the part of educators, and a resulting breakdown in collaborative efforts during individualized education program (IEP) meetings. However, I found that utilizing certain strategies and introducing innovative mathematics education resources during the IEP meeting have contributed to a more collaborative and productive meeting toward inclusive practices beyond mathematics. In this article, I describe these strategies, resources, and related processes to guide effective IEP practices and future research.”(Tan, 2017)

Dr. Tan makes it clear— even for a mathematics education researcher focused on disability— IEP meetings are challenging because his child is described and understood through his deficits, rather than his strengths. Dr. Tan has to strongly advocate for his child, pushing back against these deficit conceptions. He suggests three strategies:

(1) Reframing mathematics

Dr. Tan suggests beginning the IEP meeting by discussing mathematical mindsets (Boaler, 2015), purposefully starting the conversation with a larger, more humane understanding of what mathematics is and can be. Using resources from YouCubed, Dr. Tan presents his child’s strengths in the context of a mathematics of meaning.

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 5.54.51 PM

He writes,

“In my experience, the process of engaging with this resource and spending a substantial amount of time thinking through and writing down my own child’s strengths, preferences for learning, and sources of knowledge helped to navigate a more productive conversation grounded in powerful mathematics minds. Qualities such as “He’s a good problem solver”, and “He possesses extensive multicultural knowledge” combined with ways that math is framed such as “Math is about creativity and making sense” (Youcubed, 2014, p. 1), positions students with disabilities as crucial members of the mathematics learning community.”(p. 33).

(2) Developing goals that support understanding

Next, Dr. Tan works with the educators at the meetings to create goals that support understanding. Too often IEP goals in mathematics are focused on a narrow set of skills. These goals then dictate instruction, creating a feedback loop that rewards narrow instruction on limited computational goals. Dr. Tan pushes the group in the IEP to consider goals that are based on the Mathematical Practices. He uses this resource, available here.

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 5.55.09 PM

(3) End the discussion by insisting that math needs students with disabilities.

Dr. Tan ends the meeting by articulating the larger vision for their work together. Mathematics education scholar of equity Rochelle Gutiérrez states that while the focus tends to be on how kids of color need math, but math NEEDS kids of color (Gutiérrez, 2013). Those that have been traditionally excluded from math bring new ideas, new perspectives, and new solutions to the puzzles of the field. Dr. Tan describes how he focuses the conversation not just on what math his child needs, but that the world needs his child, and others like him, to become empowered mathematically.

And best of all, full-text of his article is available here:

Boaler, J. (2015). Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching (1 edition). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gutiérrez, R. (2013). The sociopolitical turn in mathematics education. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 44(1), 37–68.

Tan, P. (2017). Advancing Inclusive Mathematics Education: Strategies and Resources for Effective IEP Practices. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF WHOLE SCHOOLING, 13(3), 28–38.

Valle, J. W., & Aponte, E. (2002). IDEA and collaboration: A Bakhtinian perspective on parent and professional discourse. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 35(5), 471.