Teaching is a complex endeavour. Mathematics teachers have to take many aspects into account when teaching in order to assist all their learners to reach their full potential. They need to be aware and know their learners’ capabilities, over and above their knowledge of the subject. Mathematics teachers who teach learners with learning difficulties need to know the intrinsic barriers to learning experienced by their learners. Keeping in mind the different intrinsic barriers to learning, teachers should also have knowledge of and apply different teaching approaches that will assist learners with learning difficulties to overcome such barriers to learning. In South Africa, research conducted on the instructional practice of mathematics teachers in special needs schools has so far been very limited.
The purpose of this study is to investigate the instructional practice and knowledge of teachers who teach mathematics in schools for learners with learning difficulties who experience intrinsic barriers to learning. Through this study I wanted to determine how mathematics teachers currently teach learners with learning difficulties. To accomplish this, a case study was conducted to investigate four mathematics teachers’ basic knowledge of the types of intrinsic barriers to learning experienced by their learners, and their choices regarding the teaching approaches that underlie their instructional practice. This led to an investigation into how the chosen teaching approaches actually manifest in their classrooms. The four participants were selected from special needs schools for learners with learning difficulties. The data was collected by way of questionnaires and observations.
This study revealed that the number of years of teaching experience and training in special needs education had only a slight impact on how well teachers were informed on their learners’ intrinsic barriers to learning. However, in terms of the teaching approaches, teaching experience and formal training in special needs education did seem to influence the use of teaching approaches. Hence, the more experience and training teachers had in special needs education, the more successful they were at finding the best teaching approaches to help learners to overcome their barriers to learning.
Due to the small sample used, the results from this study cannot be generalised. However, I hope that the findings will contribute to student-teacher training and in-service teacher training in both mainstream and special needs schools. Future research could possibly build on this study by investigating how student-teachers could be more effectively prepared for the challenges of both inclusive and special needs education.