Students with Learning Disability in Math Are Left Behind in Multiplicative Reasoning? Number as Abstract Composite Unit is a Likely ‘Culprit’

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Conference Proceeding

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This study addressed the problem of why students with learning disabilities in mathematics too often fail to develop multiplicative and divisional concepts/operations. We conducted a constructivist teaching experiment with 12 students (nine 5th and three 4th graders). This report focuses on three students’ conceptual progress, particularly on Sandy’s (most pronounced). Our analysis indicates that, at the outset, those three could only reason additively because they lacked a robust concept of number as an abstract composite unit and were bound to rely on strategies of counting units of one. Once teaching engendered a concept of number in them, they made substantial advances. We argue that lacking the concept of number is a decisive cause for setting students at risk of failing to advance beyond additive reasoning, and that assessing this conceptual cause is vital for providing effective pedagogical interventions.