Many of us have had or are having a hard time with learning Math in school or college. Sometimes, the reason behind this difficulty could be lack of resources and family support or just plain laziness on the part of the learner. But what if despite being given the best possible resources and putting in the best possible efforts, Math still seems to be an impossible mountain to climb? The reason could be 'dyscalculia'.
Dyscalculia is a learning disability in which, the student is unable to understand mathematical concepts, remember the right sequence of steps in problem solving or recognize mathematical representations. It is like dyslexia, but instead of words, the problem is with numbers. Before adopting any teaching strategy for a child with dyscalculia, it is necessary to know the specific areas affecting a child.
Some of the general areas of math learning disabilities are listed below:
- Memory Difficulties: A person is unable to completely remember or remembers incorrectly. Example: a child may forget the times table or may forget a step in problem solving.
- Auditory and Writing Problems: A person has difficulty in following oral instructions or taking part in oral drills. It could also be that a person is unable to write down mathematical problems. Example: a child may recite numbers in the wrong sequence or write digits in large sizes.
- Spatial-Visual Difficulties: A person is unable to visualize mathematical concepts, representations or process. Example: a child confuses 6 with 9 or is unable to distinguish or tell the time using a dial clock.
These are just some of the examples of how dyscalculia can affect a person’s ability in dealing with math, but each individual has his/her own weak points. While teaching math problems to a child with dyscalculia, his/her points of weakness should be addressed effectively and in a way that will help the child to enjoy learning.
Teaching Strategies for Students with Dyscalculia
As we teach all the other children, teaching strategies for students with dyscalculia should be made as interesting as possible. Make learning interactive, lively and create a friendly atmosphere. Few strategies that you can adopt while teaching math problems to children with dyscalculia are given below.
Imagery: Children have a very active imagination. So in general, they remember better when they can picturize or imagine something. For this, you can make use of:
- Drawings and Diagrams (e.g., representing a math problem in the form of a drawing)
- Color Coding (e.g., use one color for a digit in units place and another for the one in tens place)
- Pictures (e.g., a colorful image of circles will make it easier and interesting to remember)
Actions and Games: Including activities and games in your teaching strategy will not only make it fun, but also interactive. It will open up the child and he/she will increase self-effort. Use of actions (for example: using fingers for multiplication) is another effective way to teach. A floor game in which a child has to locate numbers or representations that are being read out, will help the child to recollect them. There are many card games available on the Internet that you could use.
Simplification: Breakdown complex mathematical concepts into smaller and easier parts. This will enable the child to understand faster and much better. For this, you could use:
- Flashcards: Write down one or two parts or steps of a complex concept or problem on one flash card. Have the child read them, and once they are learned, shuffle all the cards and ask him/her to arrange them in a sequence much like a game.
- Chunking: Make a ‘bundle’ or ‘team’ of simpler steps and go through them one by one.
Correlate: Relating a mathematical concept or problem to a real life situation and experience a child has had, will create a sense of familiarity with it thus, helping in understanding it. For example, explaining a math problem in terms of the number of chocolates that a child had yesterday will make problem solving interesting and easier.
Music and Rhythm: Giving a rhythm or setting music to concepts that have to be memorized will be more useful than plain oral drills. For example, you could make a child ‘sing’ the times table to a popular tune.
One-on-one Sessions and Group Interaction: In the early stages of teaching children with dyscalculia, one-on-one sessions with a special tutor is essential. Basic concepts need to be taught at the pace of the child and in ways that are easier for him/her to understand. As the needs of each child are different, they will have to be given exclusive attention. Once the basics are clear, there is not much need for such sessions. In fact, group interactions will then be more beneficial. Peer help and group learning will boost the confidence of the child.
Computer Time: Make use of the various math learning resources for children with dyscalculia, available on the Internet. A lot of teaching resources are also available in the form of software and CDs. It makes learning enjoyable and very effective. You will find children eagerly waiting for the next ‘computer time’.
How Can Parents Help Kids with Dyscalculia
Having dyscalculia does not make a child dumb. Most of the children with dyscalculia have an average or above average IQ. They just need a little more help in math than the regular kids. Certain things that parents can do are given below.
- Encourage: Boost the morale of your child and show genuine confidence. Your child is more likely to believe in himself/herself if YOU do. Be careful not to go overboard and set impossible goals which will backfire if not achieved.
- Support: Let your child know that you are there. Don’t brush aside his/her concerns or worries. Pay attention to what he/she says and together address the issue. Get help of a special tutor if needed.
- Communicate: It is important to have honest conversations not just with your child, but also with teachers, tutors and if possible, with parents of other children struggling with dyscalculia. Exchange strategies, note the progress made and see if there is any scope for improvement. This will reduce your stress and also encourage you.
- Be Innovative: Set your creative wheels at work and make learning exciting and fun instead of burdensome and mundane. Don’t use the same teaching strategies again and again.
- Be Flexible: Teach your child at his/her pace, not yours. It is okay to disrupt an already set schedule, if it is beneficial to your child’s learning. It’s understandable that you will not want to waste all the time, resources and energy you have already spent. But in the long run, it will be more satisfying to see your child learn than to see your plan in action.
- Be Informed: There are many resources available in the market. Look out for them but use only if it’s recommended by an expert or someone who is knowledgeable on the subject. Also, as a parent of a child with dyscalculia, you have many Federal rights. Visit the official website of Learning Disabilities Association for America to learn more. Know your rights and use them with prudence.
- Be Patient: Teaching math problems to children with dyscalculia can be very taxing. A child might take a lot of time for something that seems to be very simple for you. Patience is the key to teach your child. Your irritation will lead to frustration in your child.
One out of every five people in America is said to be struggling with dyscalculia. Out of the total number, around three million are children between the ages of 6 and 21. The condition is so prevalent that Federal Law has included dyscalculia and other learning disabilities as ‘Specific Learning Disability’ in the 13 categories of disability under the Law by the ‘Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It is interesting to know that many world famous and award-winning authors have dyscalculia. The point here is that, while dyscalculia is definitely a difficulty, it is in no way a sign of failure. Using innovative teaching strategies along with lots of patience and a bit of hard work goes a long way in conquering dyscalculia.