The goal of this project is to study and support the development of conceptual understanding of fractions by students with learning disabilities (LD). Dr. Hunt proposes that rather than focusing on whether students can or cannot develop conceptual understanding of fractions, research should attempt to uncover the complex understanding students DO have. Dr. Hunt is re-conceptualizing intensive intervention as children’s knowing and learning in “Small Environments”. This approach suggests a redirect of research and instructional practice in mathematics for an underserved population of students, designing purposive instruction from student’s own mathematical activity.
Through a series of experiments that involve cycles of theorizing, design, implementation, and refinement, the project develops instructional trajectories for students with LDs in the area of fractions. The research questions addressed are:
What initial and developing essential understandings of fractions do students with learning disabilities evidence through employed strategies, language, and representations?
How do students with learning disabilities progress in developing and solidifying conceptual understandings of fractions through their mathematical activity? and,
To what extent does an intervention reflective of a research based instructional trajectory facilitate strategic development and increased fraction conceptual knowledge in students with learning disabilities?
The main outcomes of the project include (a) a theory of knowing, learning, and teaching connected to students with LDs in the small environment of intensive intervention, (b) selected research-based trajectories specific to the conceptual understandings of fractions evidenced by students with LD presented in case study format, and (c) a set of practices and tools for teaching in the small environment (e.g., explicated knowing and learning framework; a set of learning situations to be used for teaching and/or formative assessment in fraction concepts, and suggestions for instructional decision making to aid teachers in designing individualized, student-centered instruction). Most importantly, the project has the potential to offer a transformative approach to mathematics instruction for students with LD, bringing together expertise on learning disabilities and mathematics education to address an area in which there is very little research.
Dr. Hunt has incorporated findings from the study into methods courses for both mathematics education and special education undergraduate and graduate students across three universities. She has developed a graduate level course from this work alongside several case studies. She is also in the process of translating her research into flexible curriculum tools, a web-based platform, and professional development for special education teachers.