Understanding the mathematics perceptions of postsecondary mathematics instructors and students with learning disabilities

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Helen M. Doerr


Mathematics, Postsecondary, Instructors, Learning disabilities

Subject Categories

Higher Education and Teaching | Science and Mathematics Education | Special Education and Teaching


Mathematics is a core requirement for many professions. Often math is a "critical filter" which enables or inhibits students' pursuit of careers. More students with learning disabilities attend postsecondary institutions. Without accommodations, learning disabilities may affect their mathematical performance and limit professional options. No research explores the perceptions of mathematics, mathematics teaching and mathematics learning of postsecondary students with learning disabilities. The current study is useful for instructors, students, and service providers in designing curriculum, services, and teaching strategies.

The relationship between perceptions of postsecondary math instructors and students with learning disabilities was explored. Fifty-four math instructors completed a survey and twenty-four participated in interviews and observations. Fifty postsecondary students with learning disabilities completed portions of the Fennema-Sherman Mathematics Attitude Scales, while 23 were interviewed.

While students had neutral attitudes towards the nature of math, math learning, and math teaching, their Fennema-Sherman Scales means were relatively low. Students were concerned with instructors' personalities and prefer approachable, friendly, encouraging, and patient instructors. They prefer instructors who involve students in class and teach through examples. Math learning involves questions and individual interactions with instructors, tutors, and peers.

Instructors perceive mathematics as a way of thinking that involves logic, procedures, and models. They use various instructional methods, but feel pressure to cover information. They rely on lectures, but may use student groups. Some have negative stereotypes of students with learning disabilities, while others describe them as conscientious and intelligent. Most instructors have suspected someone may be learning disabled, but do not refer them for testing. Instructors are willing to accommodate students while maintaining academic integrity.

Mismatches and matches exist between students and instructors. Instructors did not discuss personalities as factors in their teaching, but students were concerned with instructors' personalities. No student perceived math as a way of thinking while many instructors endorsed this view. Both groups perceive math as numbers, problems and procedures with instructors being responsible for explanations. Both endorse the use of various teaching methods and relate learning with practice and questions. The Student Services Office should encourage open communication among students and instructors.


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