About Step-by-Step Math to Mastery

Special Education Math Teacher and Student

An Evidence-Based Special Education Math Curriculum

Click to Watch a Video Overview or Read the Transcript

These math resources were designed specifically for intervention groups and special education students. 
These lessons could be used in a resource room, Title 1 group, intervention group, special education classroom, differentiated math center, after school tutoring, or during summer school. 
The focus is on mastering the essential foundational skills in a straightforward way.  Many math books simultaneously introduce two or more problem-solving strategies. This often confuses struggling students.  In these lessons, I’ve selected just one strategy at a time for students to master before moving to the next step.  


These lessons could benefit all students, especially students who have:

  • Attention difficulties—minimal visual clutter, short lessons, simple instructions, clear stopping point
  • Learning disabilities—chunked into small objectives with explicit step-by-step instruction and many practice repetitions
  • Slower processing speed—accuracy rather than fluency is measured; mastery learning will increase automaticity
  • Language difficulties—Receptive: Teacher directions/vocabulary are simple, consistent, and concise. Expressive: Rather than asking students with limited verbal skills to ‘explain their thinking’, teach them how to state the steps they are following. 
  • Executive functioning difficulties—clear expectations and predictable routine, organized and straightforward layout
  • Fine motor issues—larger font and space for writing answers; students are not asked to write many words or sentences

What is a “Lesson Workbook”?  

Each lesson is presented in model, guided practice, independent practice format. 

There are no separate lesson plans or teacher manuals, everything is included in a simple workbook. Written step-by-step instructions help the teacher be clear and consistent during modeling and guided practice.  The written steps can be used to help you “think out loud” while you demonstrate. Independent practice problems give students a chance to master each “chunk” before moving on to the next lesson.  

Step-by-step task analysis is included next to each model. 

Teachers may give a student’s workbook to a paraeducator or parent without needing to explain how to teach each skill.  All they need to do is follow the step-by-step models and gradually fade prompts during guided practice. Once teachers are familiar with the format, they can make adjustments to fit the pacing and number of practice repetitions each student needs.  

Easy to use. Print and teach.

Save hundreds of hours of planning and preparation time.  I suggest printing the cover on card stock and the remaining workbook pages double-sided.  Bind the workbook together using what you have (staple, spiral binding, three-hole-punched in a binder, or with binder rings).   The method I used was a double-hole-punch at the top, fastening booklets together with two 1” binder rings. I chose this method because I didn’t want anything on the sides of the pages to interfere with handwriting.

After outlining what I planned to teach during the coming month, I would spend a couple hours of my prep time printing and assembling workbooks.  After that, math time was nearly prep-free until we came to the end of the workbook and began the process again.

Where should I start?

The free placement test can assist you in identifying learning gaps and finding the lesson workbooks that address those skills.  Each workbook can be used individually as a stand-alone intervention for that skill or they can be used together, taking students from the basics of addition and place value in first grade all the way to dividing fractions in fifth grade. These materials can also be used with older students to help fill the gaps in their learning. No grade levels are printed on workbook pages.

Are these lessons standards-based?

Yes.  The lesson workbooks are linked to Common Core State Standards so the standards can be referenced when writing IEP goals.  They do not teach all of the standards.  They focus on foundational skills (number sense and place value, computation, and problem solving).  

You can download the alignment to standards HERE.  

Do these work with IEP goals?

Each lesson workbook contains an example IEP goal and objectives along with the corresponding standard(s).  This makes planning IEP math goals much easier!

Is this a complete math curriculum?

No.  Not every standard is covered.  For example, there are no geometry lessons.  The focus is on computation. The goal was to have a sequence of lessons that gets students from adding single-digits to solving long division and dividing fractions without any gaps along the way.  

Is there a pacing guide or instructional schedule?

No.  I would love to be able to say, “It will take two weeks to teach this skill.”  But as a teacher of students with special needs, you already know: It takes as long as it takes. Every child can learn, but not at the same pace. The description of each workbook includes the number of lessons it contains. You may complete one lesson a day, or it may be simple enough that you could do two lessons a day.  For a student who can move more quickly than one lesson per day, you may want to cut down the number of assigned independent practice problems.   

Depending on the time you have and the level of your students, you could work on more than one skill at a time. For example, in my first-grade groups we might do a page of place value/number sense as a warm-up, then a lesson on addition or subtraction, and close with a few word problems. So, students may be working on three workbooks at a time.

Also, you might start a book and not finish it. For example, you may add two-digit numbers with regrouping, then work from a different book for awhile before coming back to add three-digit numbers, take a break and later revisit adding four-digit numbers.

How long does a lesson typically take to complete?

 It depends on the grade level, aptitude, and motivation level of students. I've had students take less than ten minutes to do 10 independent practice problems and other students take over twenty minutes to do the same problems.  But I typically plan for about 10 to 15 minutes to work through the model and guided practice portion of a lesson, having students work through those problems as a whole group and sometimes taking turns demonstrating for their peers.  Then the independent practice portion varies by student.  

My first-grade groups looked like this:  

  • 5 to 10 minutes--Number Sense Page (and missing number or addition flash cards for early finishers)
  • 10 minutes--Model and Guided Practice of a computation lesson, working on addition or subtraction skills
  • 15 minutes--Independent Practice (early finishers practice writing numbers to 120 or do fluency timings)
  • 10 to 15 minutes--a second skill such as telling time or graphs/data or counting money

Does each lesson workbook come with a pre- and post-assessment?

A few of the workbooks, like "Addition with Regrouping" and "Subtraction with Regrouping" have pretests to check for prerequisite skills. The rest of the workbooks have a review and assessment at the end of each section, but not a designated pre-assessment. You could use the "review" page as a pre-assessment and the "test" page as a post-assessment if you need to. 


About the Author

I graduated from Brigham Young University and became a mild/moderate special education teacher in 2006.  I’ve enjoyed teaching at the elementary (K-6) level in Wyoming and Idaho. I am interested in task analysis, breaking down skills into steps that are small enough for even my lowest student to be successful and confident.  

I've taught at data-driven schools with high expectations for achievement.  It was a leap of faith for me to abandon the district-purchased math curriculum that was not working for my students and create my own lessons based on what I had learned in my college courses. It paid off, though, as my students started to like math and became confident and willing to do more and more. My students on IEPs consistently performed well on the standardized math tests with scores comparable to their non-IEP peers. I am happy for the opportunity to share my work with you. I sincerely hope these resources will benefit you and your students.  

---Angela Dansie