A student with dyscalculia will find that it is difficult to remember basic math facts, and nearly impossible to organize thoughts in order to solve problems. These kids will need extra help from their teachers in order to succeed in math classes and lessons. Below are ways in which a teacher can tell whether or not a child is struggling with dyscalculia, and several tips and classroom strategies for how to help a student with a math disability.
Math Disability Signs and Symptoms
There are many indicators that teachers can look for to determine whether or not a student may have a math disability. Trouble memorizing basic math facts, problem solving and logic difficulties, and lack of organization skills are a few signs to pay attention to. For more information on math disability symptoms, see the article Math Disability Symptoms.
How to Help Student with a Math Disability
Students with math disabilities will have different strengths and weaknesses that need to be identified before deciding the best course of action. Here is a list of tips that can be tried for any student with dyscalculia, depending on the symptoms.
Improving memory of math facts
- Provide written steps for solving problems
- Use mnemonic devices to help with math facts
- Have student repeat back (verbally or written) how to solve a problem
- Use props, visuals, and examples from the real world when learning new concepts
- Practice skills often
- Slow down math lesson demonstrations
- Review tests and homework with the student
- Break large problems down into smaller ones
- Allow calculators and math fact charts or written steps to aid with work
Increasing attention and concentration
- Demonstrate problems by relating to the real world
- Vary presentation style (audio, visual, etc.) for different learning styles
- Vary tone of voice
- Always give examples
- Let a student work out loud, quietly
- Eliminate classroom noise, chaos, and distraction
- Train student to check answers on exams before handing in
- Break large problems down into smaller ones
Understanding and Problem Solving
- Show lots of examples and the importance of steps done in proper order
- Encourage student to estimate or guess how a problem will come out before solving
- Have student repeat learned concepts back to teacher or class
- Pair student with another during work periods
- Use real world examples
- Encourage questions about math concepts, new and old
- Encourage students to solve problems in their own way
Helping with Math Fears and Anxiety
- Only call on student when the answer to be given is going to be right; check written work to be sure
- Allow calculators, math fact charts, and written instructions/steps during tests
- Give student extra time to complete tests and work
- Be positive about the student’s progress
- Use non-material incentives (reading with a buddy, extra recess, lunch with teacher) to reward success
Helping a student who has dyscalculia will require time and effort on the part of the regular classroom teacher. The above strategies will help provide vital math support, and necessary tools and accommodations. Additionally, the teacher should work with special needs professionals and parents to insure mathematics principles are reinforced at home and elsewhere. Small gains in the understanding of math concepts will go a long way to building confidence in the struggling student.
Math Disability Symptoms
Children with math disabilities will have difficulty doing well in some or all aspects of mathematics. In many instances, these children will also have other disabilities, notably in reading. Students with dyscalculia will need to be identified and then given extra help from their teachers in order to learn what is necessary to succeed in their math lessons. Below are some symptoms that indicate when a child may have a math disability.
What Causes Math Disability in Students
Math disabilities stem from weaknesses in cognitive skills, such as with memory retention, attention span, and visual and spatial organization. All of these may hinder a child’s ability to logically solve problems or to remember the math facts necessary to build a good foundation and understanding of mathematics.
Math Disability Symptoms to Look For
When teaching a student who is having difficulties in math, teachers should look for the following signs and symptoms that may indicate a math disability is present:
- Fear of math lessons, games, and assignments
- Math homework avoidance
- Trouble remembering math facts, such as rules of subtraction, multiplication tables, operation symbols, or order of problem solving steps
- Lack of understanding of logical patterns, such as what comes next in a sequence of numbers or shapes
- Math work is disorganized and confused, in a “show your work” section of a math sheet, for example
- Rushed work that shows a lack of concentration
- Cannot finish math work in the amount of time allotted, memory speed and retrieval issues
Any of the above behaviors would warrant extra help for the math student who is struggling. These symptoms may mean that the child has dyscalculia, requiring ongoing support throughout the school years. Since math is such an important part of the learning experience for students, the extra effort in identifying and then supporting a child with a math disability will be worth it.
How to Help a Student With Dyscalculia
There are many classroom accommodations and ways in which teachers can help students who are struggling with math in the regular classroom. Prominently displaying problem-solving steps, providing more time to finish math work, and using calculators for basic math solving help are ways to improve a student’s math ability. For more tips and information on how to help kids with math disabilities, see the article How to Help a Student with a Math Disability.
Once a teacher determines that a student has dyscalculia, it is time to apply accommodations in order to help him achieve the desired level of understanding in mathematics. Working with special needs professionals, parents, and students to help sharpen problem-solving skills and strengthen understanding of math concepts is only one part of the effort. Building a student’s confidence will also be important to his future success in math, and in all other academic disciplines.