Whether a child suffers from dyslexia or not, teaching mathematics to children is difficult.
In order to succeed in getting learners to know mathematical concepts, the teacher needs to be knowledgeable about subject content, the teacher also needs to be encouraging and motivating. The teacher must also be one who can empathise with his or her students and understand the struggles of grasping certain mathematics concepts.
A maths teacher must take a keen interest in the studies of his or her children and must be willing to explain and re-explain a concept until the child understands it well.
Teaching Maths to Dyslexic Students
Dyslexia has been labeled a Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD) and children with dyslexia often confuse words and find the task of reading and spelling really difficult.
Of late, more specific learning difficulties like dyscalculia and dysgraphia have become known. It is a known fact that children who suffer from dyslexia find it harder to read and those children suffering from dyscalculia find it impossible to grasp arithmetic concepts. For children suffering from dyslexia or dyscalculia, their concentration, comprehension skills, and ability to grasp mathematical concepts are also severely affected.
Again, for a student, knowing that he or she suffers from an SpLD can be overwhelmingly daunting. As a tutor, teacher, or parent trying to assist this child to succeed, you must never allow the child to feel more overwhelmed than he or she already does.
The best way to ensure that your child feels less overwhelmed when trying to grasp complex mathematics concepts is to take on an entirely new approach when teaching him or her. Adopting a multisensory learning approach is often advisable as you teach a learner with SpLD because the multisensory approach allows his or her senses to be fully used in the learning process.
While an overall multisensory approach is advisable, each child suffering from an SpLD has their own learning preference. By speaking to the individual learner about his or her maths concerns, you can find a teaching method that will best suit the student.
Some students may be visual learners who benefit entirely from the use of images during a lesson as visualising things allows them to learn.
New Approaches to Teaching Mathematics
A multisensory approach works to incorporate all of the senses when teaching children a concept. To succeed in following a multisensory approach, you can start with the visual aspect of learning.
Where to start when incorporating visual learning into your lesson?
Allow the child to see evidence of learning. When teaching a specific mathematical formula, create a flashcard with the formula written on it so the learner is constantly seeing the formula that was taught.
Incorporate concrete objects to teach more complex subject content. The use of concrete objects can add an element of fun to the learning and in turn also allow the child to focus and concentrate. Since children suffering from dyslexia and dyscalculia find concentrating difficult, you can work on their concentration as well.
To include animations and stimulating visuals into your lesson, opt for using mathematics games. Games that include tackling maths concepts like Mathlectics is ideal for encouraging and empowering learning in a fun way. The child may be more stimulated and willing to learn when you use this method of learning.
Capture timetables on flashcards and display flashcards to constantly reinforce the timetables that have been already been learnt.
Complimenting learners for correct problem solving is a must and these compliments may encourage the child to work even harder. Use stickers and stamps to show the child that you appreciate his or her effort.
Kip McGrath developed a program that recognises the importance that bright colours play to stimulate the mind. Writing out certain sums colourfully so that the child can be helped if he or she doesn’t understand something is also important. Colours stand out and make children more willing to learn the work.
Colourful lap books that have cut-outs and pop-ups work well when trying to get a concept across to children suffering from SpLD. The more these children get to fidget with these lap books and pull out hints on how to problem-solve, the more fun their learning experience will be.
To show corrections for wrong answers, try to use colour as much as possible so the mistake is clearly evident. Many teachers note that when they mark a child’s book and he and she suffers from dyscalculia then there are many mistakes that will be found. It is advisable not to use a red pen when marking the books of someone suffering from an SpLD as the red pen marking has a more negative connotation associated with it.
Being Sensitive of Time and Giving Extra Time
Most of the time, people suffering with SpLD are given doctor’s letters which enables them to spend more time completing tasks and exams. This is because children with dyslexia and dyscalcula have a poor sense of time management skills.
It is advisable to keep the poor concentration span of these children in mind. A lecture-style lesson that involves mostly teacher-speak can lose the learner entirely.
You must remember that these children have problems with their short-term memories so repetition is key. It would be best to teach one new concept at a time as opposed to trying to cram in a whole lot of concepts when teaching.
Maths for Dyslexic Students: A Way Forward
If you are focused on making maths a purely pleasant experience for a child suffering from an SpLD remember that patience is a virtue. You cannot rush the teaching process in any way. Take your time explaining a concept and give the student ample time to problem solve. You might have to spend more time than anticipated on a single chapter so that the student can understand the concepts taught. Since short-term memory is problematic, children may find it difficult to retain the content that was taught in a particular chapter. However, the more you repeat the concepts, the more likely it will become part of the student’s long-term memory.
Children who suffer from dyscalculia and dyslexia cannot be forced to embrace and adhere to instructions at the first go. You may need to repeat instructions quite a few times before it actually sinks in.
Keep the time that the child needs to concentrate on a concept limited. Allow the learner to take a few breaks. Allow for movement as often as possible so when learners move around they can regain their concentration again and focus more.
You need to remember that the best thing that you can do when trying to teach a dyslexic student is to keep your lessons interactive and fun. In this way, the student will wish to revisit the lesson over and over again.
Dyslexia among other SpLD’s in no way means that a student is fully incapable of learning. Keep a positive mindset. Many parents often feel that when their child is suffering from dyslexia, it’s a sign that their child won’t perform well at all. This surely is not the case! Children with an SpLD learn at a slower rate but once teaching is catered to meet their needs, they can surely succeed in mathematical learning and understanding too.
Being unable to retain new information and losing mathematical concepts as if these concepts are falling out of a sieve may be frustrating. You must consider these hardships faced by children with SpLDs carefully. Don’t overwhelm the child with lots of notes to take down. Give printed summaries and material to the child so that he or she can remember the concepts covered.
Be the soundboard for these learners to air their grievances and just listen to what he or she says. Just by supporting the learning process, you are doing a world of wonder.
Students suffering from dyslexia have problems with recalling content and organising ideas. You will see that these students often mix up the place values when writing a sum causing the whole calculation to go wrong. You need to find tools to help them organise their ideas and thoughts.
Having a visual representation of concepts covered is important. In this way, the learner can revisit summarised notes on what was learnt should he or she be unable to recall all that was learnt.
Online tools like Mindmeister (a brain-storming) app works well to help students collect information. It is an online tool so the information remains once it has been saved and the child can always revisit what had been taught over and over again.
Just as much as you are teaching maths, you should also teach these children organisational strategies that may help when they leave school.
Ways to encourage organisation:
- Have a set routine and follow through with it daily
- Use exercise books and flip files to enable these children to stay abreast of work covered and to allow them to find their work easily.
If only 10 sums appear in the textbook, step it up a notch and give the dyslexic child 20 basic sums to try. The more resources you use to encourage learning, the better.
If worksheets seem like a less valuable strategy, include enrichment games and other resources to make the learning process stimulating and hands-on.
Educators can rely on other educators for resources. Sometimes educators can also rely on worksheets from the previous grade to get dyslexic children to recall all that had been taught and to ensure that these children haven't forgotten prior knowledge.
Voice-activated software works well when used in mathematics games as it provides all the more of a sensory experience for the learner. If you cannot find appropriate games to reinforce concepts taught, create your own games. You can use programming languages like Livecode to create simple games that you can use over and over again. You can use existing sound libraries in Livecode to add sound to the game you created to ensure an overall sensory experience awaits the student.
Maths Programs for Dyslexic Students
Create your own maths program for students who battle with dyslexia and dyscalculia.
- Long worksheets with lots of words should be avoided. Create visually appealing summaries for children to revise
- Revisit concepts and ideas constantly. Include time for activating prior knowledge at the start of every lesson and allow for adequate time to even teach new concepts
- Break up complex working out procedures into smaller and more manageable steps
- Highlight main points if there is a worksheet handed out
- Pace homework out in such a way that dyslexic children have more time to complete it. So if you would give 10 sums normally, give a dyslexic child 5 of the same level sums so he or she can complete in the same amount of time
- Use online tools like Mindmeister to encourage remembering and recall of concepts learnt
The truth is the process of helping a dyslexic child beat his or her maths fears is a long process that requires patience and compassion. You may have moments where you feel that your attempts to teach a concept were unsuccessful but at other times you will feel how rewarding teaching a child with an SpLD can be.
When it comes to getting children to learn mathematics, you need to be the type of teacher who encourages and motivates. This is essential. The more faith you have that a child with SpLD can grasp a concept, the more willing the child will be to grasp a concept.
Be patient. If a child is taking longer to solve a problem or seems disorganised when problem-solving, give him or her time to solve the problem at hand and don't criticise the child. Before you even attempt correcting incorrect sums, allow the child to show you what he or she has done.
Being Compassionate When Teaching
The best quality to possess as a teacher is your ability to demonstrate empathy and a sheer understanding of your students' maths problems. Empathy, however, doesn’t come easy especially if you have never suffered from the same learning problems as a child. So if empathy is hard to express, try to show compassion. When you are compassionate, you will motivate the learner and even take time explaining concepts.
You will also begin to look for your own strategies to help students understand concepts that are being taught.
For parents of dyslexic children, having a tutor and a teacher teaching your child is often most beneficial. The tutor can use an alternate method of teaching that the teacher may not be using in the classroom. Two methods of learning the same concept has got to be better than just one.
Why not consider finding an at-home tutor to come to and assist your child?