Improving Math Achievement for Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Apr 28 2022

Key Takeaway

There is a scarcity of research focusing on individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing (d/Dhh). Studies show that mathematical performance in d/Dhh students depends more on general cognitive abilities than on specific numerical abilities. This puts emphasis on the importance of general abilities for the development of mathematical abilities during the preschool years that can be rooted in the real world. — Jay Lingo

Why Study Math Achievement for Students Who Are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing?

There is much research on hearing children and children with mathematical learning disabilities that shows that mathematical performance is dependent on general cognitive and specific numerical abilities. However, there is a scarcity of research focusing on individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing (d/Dhh). This current study aims to examine the contributions of three general cognitive abilities (nonverbal IQ, processing speed, and spatial ability) and two specific numerical abilities (symbolic and non-symbolic numerical magnitude processing) to curriculum-based math achievement in d/Dhh students. 

In order to fully understand this study, it is important to build a common definition of these abilities. Nonverbal IQ is the ability to analyze information and solve problems using visual or hands-on reasoning. Processing speed is the time it takes a person to process visual or auditory information. Spatial ability is the ability to transform and rotate objects in mental space. In addition, we could use a common example to identify symbolic and non-symbolic stimuli. Symbolic stimuli are abstract concepts such as digits while non-symbolic stimuli are concrete representations such as a tally or dot array. 

“Decades of research have consistently shown that d/Dhh children lag behind their hearing peers in mathematics.”1,2 This leaves us with questions such as, what are the factors that could affect this? How do we determine predictors which may raise potential opportunities for numerical development? 

Results: General Cognitive Abilities Better Predict Math Achievement

This study found that general cognitive abilities, such as spatial ability and processing speed, were the predictors of mathematics achievement in d/Dhh students rather than specific numerical abilities. This emphasizes the “importance of general abilities for the development of mathematical abilities during the preschool years,” “especially for children who have difficulties in mathematical learning.”

The specific ways of training general cognitive abilities can be rooted in the real world. For example, educators and teachers can use regular activities such as paper folding, paper cutting, and LEGO construction to develop children’s spatial ability. Some teachers in the study took advantage of technology and used a virtual game to improve the spatial ability of d/Dhh children. These teachers found that practicing with virtual reality 3D spatial rotations significantly improved the performance of spatial rotation in d/Dhh students. “Even findings from brain imaging studies also suggest similar patterns of brain activation in the completion of spatial and mathematics tasks.”3,4 

What about the numerical abilities, are they not considered to be important? According to Chen and Wang, statistically, there is still a “significant correlation between participants’ symbolic and non-symbolic numerical magnitude processing and their mathematics achievement,” but these specific abilities only become more important in primary school.5

In conclusion, mathematical performance in d/Dhh students depends more on general cognitive abilities such as spatial ability and processing speed than on specific numerical abilities. This puts more emphasis on strengthening general cognitive abilities to improve the mathematical performance in d/Dhh students who are at risk for mathematical learning problems.

Summarized Article:

Chen, L., & Wang, Y. (2021). The contribution of general cognitive abilities and specific numerical abilities to mathematics achievement in students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 33(5), 771-787.

Summary by: Jay Lingo – Jay believes the MARIO Framework is providing structure and common meaning to learning support programs across the globe. Backed up with current research on the best practices in inclusion and general education, we can reimagine education…together.

Additional References:

  1. Swanwick, R., Oddy, A., & Roper, T. (2005). Mathematics and deaf children: An exploration of barriers to success. Deafness and Education International, 7(1), 1–21.
  2. Gottardis, L., Nunes, T., & Lunt, I. (2011). A synthesis of research on deaf and hearing children’s mathematical achievement. Deafness and Education International, 13(3), 131–150.
  3. Hubbard, E. M., Piazza, M., Pinel, P., & Dehaene, S. (2005). Interactions between number and space in parietal cortex. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 6(6), 435–448.
  4. Umiltà, C., Priftis, K., & Zorzi, M. (2009). The spatial representation of numbers: Evidence from neglect and pseudoneglect. Experimental Brain Research, 192(3), 561–569.
  5. Passolunghi, M. C., & Lanfranchi, S. (2012). Domain-specific and domain-general precursors of mathematical achievement: A longitudinal study from kindergarten to first grade. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(1), 42–63.
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