Expanding Task Instructions May Increase Fractions Problem Difficulty for Students With Mathematics Learning Disability

Katherine H. Herold, Allison M. Bock, Melissa M. Murphy, Michèle M.M. Mazzocco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


When a student struggles with a mathematics task, adults may rephrase or expand initial task instructions to clarify instructions or scaffold problem solving. Yet expanded instructions may not benefit all children, especially children with a mathematics learning disability (MLD). Here, we explore whether expanded instructions differentially affect fractions comparison performance for children with or without MLD. Fifth graders (N = 190) completed two consecutive sets of 24 fraction comparison items, each accompanied by initial or expanded instructions, respectively; and also completed vocabulary, spatial reasoning, verbal working memory, executive function, and number knowledge tasks. Results showed that fraction comparison performance was generally worse following expanded rather than initial instructions, particularly for difficult items or for children with MLD. Fixed ordered regressions showed that the strength of cognitive skills as predictors of performance varied depending on instructions format and MLD status, that the five cognitive predictors collectively accounted for more performance variation with initial compared to expanded instructions, and that vocabulary’s relative predictive strength as a single predictor increased when instructions were expanded, but only for children with mathematics difficulties. These findings support the notion that problem features differentially affect children with or without MLD and that not all children benefit from hearing expanded instructions for difficult mathematics tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-213
Number of pages13
JournalLearning Disability Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study is a secondary analysis of data collected with support from NIH RO1HD 34061. We acknowledge the dedicated support of the original Project Coordinator, Gwen F. Myers, the Baltimore County Public School students and parents who participated in this study and the faculty and staff that supported the original work. The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Drs. Herold and Mazzocco received partial support for this work from University of Minnesota funds awarded to MM; Drs. Bock and Mazzocco also received partial support from Award 2016-078 from the Heising-Simons Foundation, supported the Development and Research in Early Mathematics Education (DREME) Network of which MM is a member.

Publisher Copyright:
© Hammill Institute on Disabilities 2019.


  • expanded task instructions
  • fractions
  • mathematics learning disability
  • problem difficulty


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