Updates to Supports for Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners in IM 6–8 Math

At Illustrative Mathematics we are committed to creating a world where learners know, use, and enjoy mathematics. We believe that every student can learn grade-level mathematics with the right opportunities and support. Our approach is to remove unnecessary barriers and provide teachers with options for additional support so that every student can engage in rigorous mathematical content. We’ve been busy this year working on some exciting enhancements to the teacher tools and supports to empower teachers to deliver instruction that meets the specialized needs of English learners and students with disabilities.

In the newly released version of IM 6–8 Math, there are new and enhanced supports for students with disabilities and English learners. These supports are embedded within lessons, incorporated into the unit narratives, and featured in the teacher’s guide. Highlights include: 

Supports for Students with Disabilities 

Within the Lessons
New in IM 6–8 Math: additional supports for students with disabilities are included in every lesson, and have been completely redesigned to give teachers more concrete guidance to meet the diverse needs of their students. The new supports follow the Universal Design for Learning Guidelines (http://udlguidelines.cast.org), and each aligns to one of the three principles of UDL:

  1. Engagement to help students self-motivate and become more independent.
  2. Representation to leverage students’ individual strengths by inviting them to engage with the same content in different ways.
  3. Action and Expression to provide students with a variety of tools, and to encourage flexibility and choice in the ways students demonstrate their understanding and their reasoning about mathematical ideas with others.

Here is an example of how the principle of engagement is reflected in the new supports, from Grade 6 Unit 5 Lesson 14: Using Operations on Decimals to Solve Problems:

In this lesson, students apply their knowledge of operations on decimals to two sporting contexts. In this activity, students may be given the opportunity to create a visual display to showcase their solutions and prepare a short presentation in which they explain their reasoning and calculations. The support suggests providing a rubric or checklist that will help guide students during the creation of their display. This additional guidance supports students with the process, allowing them to focus on the mathematical content of their displays.

Here is an example of how the new supports reflect the principle of representation, from Grade 8 Unit 4 Lesson 2: Keeping the Equation Balanced

In this lesson, students recall a representation that they have seen in prior grades: the balanced hanger. During this activity, they encounter a hanger with an unknown weight that cannot be determined. The support suggests providing students with access to a physical model of the hanger diagrams. Often, students with disabilities benefit from hands-on activities, which allow them to make sense of a problem and make connections between concrete ideas and abstract representations.

Lastly, here is an example of how we considered the principle action and expression in our development of the new supports for students with disabilities, from Grade 7 Unit 6 Lesson 5: Reasoning about Equations and Tape Diagrams (Part 2)

In this lesson, students are working up to represent situations that can be represented by an equation of the form p(x+q)=rp(x+q)=r. The work of this task is to draw a tape diagram to represent each situation. Tape diagrams are used to help students understand why these situations can be represented with equations of this form, and to help them reason about solving equations of this form. While tape diagrams may be familiar for many students, some students will continue to benefit from reviewing how to draw the diagrams, which will also help to solidify understanding of the connections between the situations, diagrams and equations.

In the Teacher Guide
The revised Supporting Students with Disabilities section of teacher guide now includes:

General instructional strategies that teachers can use to help make a lesson or activity more accessible, such as:

  • Providing students with access to physical manipulatives to help illustrate connections between concrete ideas and abstract representations. 
  • Using graphic organizers such as word webs, Venn diagrams, tables, or other metacognitive visual supports to provide structures that illustrate concepts or support students with organizing their thoughts and ideas.
  • Building in time for brain breaks to refocus and re-energize the physical and mental state of students during a lesson.

Accessibility for Students with Visual Impairments: Additional guidance and information about features built into the materials that make them more accessible to students with visual impairments such as:

  • A color palette using colors that are distinguishable to people with the most common types of color blindness.
  • Tasks and problems designed such that success does not depend on the ability to distinguish between colors.
  • Mathematical diagrams presented in scalable vector graphic (SVG) format, which can be magnified without loss of resolution, and can be rendered in Braille.
  • Where possible, text associated with images is not part of the image file, but rather, included as an image caption that is accessible to screen readers.
  • Alt text on all images, to make the materials easier to interpret for users accessing the materials with a screen reader.

For additional information about the Universal Design for Learning framework, or to learn more about supporting students with disabilities, visit the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) at www.cast.org/udl.

Supports for English Language Learners

Within the Lessons
In the earlier version of the curriculum, only certain lessons featured additional supports for English learners. We’re excited to announce that we now offer additional ELL supports for every lesson with suggested strategies for teachers to provide access to the language demands of each lesson.

All of the work we’ve done stems from the framework for supporting English learners designed for us by the Understanding Language team at the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (UL/SCALE). Each of the activity-level supports each is tied to one of the 8 Mathematical Language Routines (MLR). They are similar to instructional routines in that they structure student interactions but also provide an additional focus on language development.

Here is an example of the standard support we use to support English learners during number talks:

All of the supports indicate the language demands (reading, writing, speaking, listening, conversing, or representing) that are supported for the activity.

Here is another example of a support from Grade 7 Unit 2 Lesson 3: More about Constant of Proportionality. During this activity, students make connections between constant speed and proportional relationships, with special attention to the constant of proportionality. The support suggests MLR1 Stronger and Clearer Each Time as a structure to give students an opportunity to revise and refine both their ideas and their verbal and written output.

To make the MLRs more accessible to teachers, we updated the descriptions for each routine in the teacher guide, and included a step-by-step description of “how it happens.” To help teachers learn the routines, an extended description of the support is included the first time each MLR appears in a course. 

In the Teacher Guide and Unit Narratives
Here are a few highlights of enhanced supports for English learners, and language development for all students:

Sentence Frames: A new addition to the teacher guide, examples of open-ended sentence frames teachers can use to amplify and support the different ways students will communicate their understanding.

Enhanced Unit Narratives: Each unit begins with an overview that describes the story of the unit and the mathematical work that students will engage with. We’ve added two components to each overview to give teachers unit-specific language and vocabulary support. 

  1. A progression of disciplinary language that describes how students will use language as they learn the mathematical content of that unit.
    Example: excerpt from Grade 7 Unit 2 Narrative

2. New terminology tables that show where new terms are introduced, and help teachers to know when students can be expected to understand a word or phrase receptively and when students should be producing these words or phrases in their own speaking or writing. 

Student Glossary: The student glossary includes more images and student-friendly language.Example: Grade 6 Unit 2 – Ratio

For additional information about supporting English Language Learners, visit Stanford’s Understanding Language site at https://ell.stanford.edu
 at www.cast.org/udl.

Next Steps


Liz Ramirez

As the Director of Access and Supports at Illustrative Mathematics, Liz’s goal is to develop quality resources and professional learning opportunities that empower teachers to meet the diverse needs of their students. Before joining IM, Liz devoted her career to teaching students and supporting educators in New York City Public Schools. She is passionate about improving the experience of learning mathematics for all students, especially those in underrepresented and underserved communities.

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