In this project, whose main leads included a student with special educational needs, her Special Needs teacher and a researcher, we intended to tackle in a meaningful way the use of money in purchasing activities on the part of the girl through the transformation of the learning settings. We analyzed how this encouraged changes in the way in which learning was presented, in the participation of the apprentice in her own learning process and in the relationship between teacher and student.
Based on a social-cultural approach to disability in educational contexts, our aim was to demonstrate how students who show some type of disability in a situation can often show competencies in other contexts. More specifically, we intended to go from the traditional educational model, in which the origin and meaning of the theoretical contents are not taken into account, to a learning community that would foster the transfer of what was learned in class to the student’s daily life.
This study was part of a longitudinal program in ethnographic research lasting three years carried out in an educational centre in Cordoba in the late 90s. The specific experience was implemented with a 13-year-old student with special educational needs and her Special Education teacher in the subject of Maths.
In the Special Education classroom the methods used normally were the ones within the framework of an asymmetric learning. The teacher, with the researcher’s help, decided to transform it. At the beginning, the teacher was the one to take the initiative, but gradually the learning setting transformed itself giving way to a true learning community in which the student became the main character and revealed herself as a very competent mathematician within the scope of the project’s requirements.
Within the math area, the use of money was worked on, an issue to which the student did not have satisfactory access. In her family, her mother, who did not allow her to buy anything, overprotected her. In school the topic had been presented through the traditional textbook problems, lacking any meaning for this particular student.
The process implemented could be divided into three stages:
In the first one, we presented traditional math problems, with ambiguous solutions and strict procedures, which had no meaning for the student since they were very far from her daily life.
In the second one, the mathematical money started to become better contextualized for the student, by using examples of her own experiences in buying. In this way, we created an ideal environment to develop, in a meaningful way, the academic mathematics in the girl.
Transformation of the learning setting
When the learning is far from the traditional pedagogical methods, based on the curriculum and the use of textbooks, and one relates it to his or her daily life, it becomes easier and more efficient. Only if students have been capable of perceiving the functional and pragmatic purposes of what is being taught, will they be able to learn it in a real way.
The learning community: a change of roles
Learning communities allow a change in the position held by the student with learning disabilities, who takes on an active role with his or her contributions becoming important when it comes to defining and solving problems. In the experience described, the role of teacher and student became increasingly more symmetrical, by sharing the responsibilities of the tasks entrusted.
An inter-disciplinary learning
Didactical projects as the ones described encourage working in an inter-disciplinary way, not just combining contents from different curriculum subjects but also introducing basic competencies. In this case, and although we based it in the maths curriculum, we also touched upon learning related to social skills of the successful coping with our daily reality,