Dyslexia: Mastering Math

by | Jul 19, 2014 | By The Subject | 27 comments

Is your dyslexic child struggling with math? Here are some tips to help you teach math to your students with dyslexia – so it sticks.

Is your dyslexic child struggling with math? Here are some tips to help you teach math to your students with dyslexia - so it sticks.

I am often asked how to teach dyslexic kids math facts so that they stick.

Although the term ‘dyslexia’ refers to an inability to read (dis = poor or inadequate and  lexia = words or language), it effects other areas of study as well.

Math is an interesting subject in that it requires conceptual, logical and spatial reasoning – all areas in which the dyslexic, right-brained thinker excels.  Math also requires neatness, exactness and efficient computation skills – areas in which the dyslexic, right-brained thinker struggles.

Conceptually, these kids understand math which is a good thing.  One of the hallmark signs of dyslexia is an above-average intelligence with an accompanying {and perplexing} struggle to learn certain subjects.  Rote memorization of math facts is one of these areas.  I have good news!  Just as with mastering reading, our kids can master their math facts by tapping into their highly visual brains and using some creative methods geared for their unique style of learning.  They can also learn how to organize their thinking and their written work so that longer computations don’t become half day marathon of tears and frustration.

Teaching Math Concepts

Adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, fractions and decimals.  These mathematical concepts require a certain amount of mature reasoning to understand.

When teaching a kindergartener to understand the concept of numbers, we start by linking the concept to something real.   As he begins to learn to count by touching and manipulating objects, the concept of numbers, their symbols and their meaning become clear, or concrete.

So with the older child, getting their hands on objects so that they can understand math concepts is critical. Hands on learning helps students understand the why behind math concepts.

One of the best curricula for teaching math to a younger dyslexic, visual learner is Math-U-See.  From adding and subtracting to fractions and decimals, the program comes with manipulatives that illustrate the concept being learned.

By building the problem with the manipulatives, saying the equation, and then writing the problem, the student is using three modes of learning;  kinesthetic, auditory and visual.

The strategy in our home has always been that the child builds the problem with the manipulatives every time until the concept becomes clear. When the concept is clear, the manipulatives are no longer needed.

This takes longer for some kids than for others.  No big deal – it is how they learn.

Learning Math Facts With Dyslexia

This leads me to the question you all have been waiting for… how to get those math facts to stick?!

We all remember those timed math fact tests with a sheet of tiny math problems that we were to solve them as fast as we could – proving our level of mastery.  Torture for a dyslexic learner.

Why?  Because the dyslexic brain struggles with low working memory.  If you have taught a dyslexic child for any length of time, you know what I am talking about.

You teach the concept one day.  They seem to have a pretty good handle on it.  You revisit the same concept the next day and it is as if you are teaching it for the first time!  What?  How can you not remember?  We have been over this – insert some exaggeratedly large number here – times!

Rote memorization is not a strength of the dyslexic mind.  So how do we help them master their math facts?

Tap into visual strengths

Use manipulatives, even everyday items or a packaged curriculum like Math U See and get your kids touching and experiencing math.  Let your kids see the patterns of skip counting by 2s, 5s, 10s by building with math blocks or shading a 100s chart.

Let them touch and experience math concepts.  Once they understand the why, the rest will fall into place.   A quick online search will yield lots of hands-on math ideas.

Another visual strategy is using images for remembering math facts.  Citycreek products are visually based and offers times tables and addition programs using pictures, stories, and songs.  Perfect for the highly visual learner.

learn math facts dyslexia

Use music or songs

All of my junior high and high school students have developed compensation skills for being able to access math facts during longer computations.

One of the methods they used was one that they learned in 1st and 2nd grades.  Skip counting.  They initially learned these by listening to a very cute skip counting CD put out by Math U See.

Though they have mastered most of their facts by 8th grade {long division will force them!} they can always access that auditory memory of skip counting to find an answer.

On a side note:  we have learned many facts from other subjects through song.  Geography, science, grammar and history are just a few examples. 

What about when they haven’t mastered their math facts and their curriculum is moving ahead anyway?

In our homeschool, we are mastery based.  No one moves on unless they have mastered the material.  However, if a child conceptually understands the math problem but struggles because of slow computational skills, I give them a chart of the math facts, let them look at it, and get on with that long division!

Cheating, you say?  If a child in our home does not know their math facts well, they have to choose one method of practice each day and practice them for 10 -15 minutes until they no longer need the ‘cheat sheet’.

Resources for Teaching Math Facts 

Finally, before this post becomes an Ultimate Listhere are some resources that we recommend:

Math U See 

Math curriculum for K-12.  Teaches the ‘why’ of math using manipulatives.

City Creek

City Creek products are visually based and offers times tables and addition programs using pictures, stories, and songs.

Times Tales

Teaches math facts by creating silly (and memorable) stories with the numbers as the characters.  Downloadable or DVD based video options available.  Our kids love this program!

Math It

Hands-on teaching tool that teaches strategies for figuring out math facts.

Sing ‘n Learn

Web site full of audio resources for use in all subjects.

Helpful Web Sites:

Dianne Craft

Dianne Craft has lots of ideas and suggestions for teaching right-brain learners.

Chris Woodin – Landmark School

Chris Woodin has a lot of hands-on ideas for understanding math concepts.  Lots of information on math and the right brain learner.

Donna Young

Lots of free, printable math sheets.

Kahn Academy

Millions, yes millions, of educational videos on every subject from Math and Science to Computer Science and Test Prep.  Excellent resource for when kids don’t get it.

And of course, after 3rd grade, we love Teaching Textbooks for math.  Read my complete review by clicking the image below:

Get Educated

If you are looking to get educated about dyslexia and how to educate, encourage and empower your kids with dyslexia, you have come to the right place.

For more information on getting started homeschooling your child with dyslexia, consider downloading my free ebook that covers things like understanding learning styles and teaching methods, how to create a positive learning environment and schedule, or how to set goals and get it all done.

For more information on specific strategies to teach your dyslexic child the way he or she learns, consider taking one of our Parent Dyslexia Classes.  Classes now available are:

Understanding Dyslexia

Teaching Them How They Learn

Teaching Reading:  Methods That Work

Teaching Spelling

Building Fluency and Comprehension

Or buy all 5 classes in our Foundation Bundle and receive a free download of my book, Dyslexia 101:  Truths, Myths and What Really Works.  Visit our Parent Dyslexia Class page for more information.

Is your dyslexic child struggling with math? Here are some tips to help you teach math to your students with dyslexia - so it sticks.

27 Comments

  1. Jessica Oliver

    Thank you thank you thank you puddle of tears

    Reply
  2. HomeschoolFam

    For multiplication facts, times tables there are several nice programs that use visual methods, stories or rhymes. Not all do full 0-12 tables though. See what matches your needs for your family.
    Times Tales
    Times Tables the Fun Way
    Vaughn Cube
    All around $20-30 I believe.
    There is also a neat (and much cheaper solution than those above, 0.99 cents I believe) app in the iOS app store that uses cartoons and tricks to teach 0-12 tables. Funtimes tables! https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/funtimes-tables!-fun-times/id944109275?mt=8 (I give the link because some similar name apps in app store, but very different)

    A nice feature of the app is that it you can see a summary page of how your child is doing and it customizes review based on what they need more review on. That alone is worth it and you can skip the memorizing techniques if your child just needs drilling practice.

    Just some suggestions, all very good options.

    Reply
  3. Kelly Miller

    Students with dyslexia did not like and tried hard to avoid learning formulae. This may have arisen from a sense of insecurity about ‘remembered’ facts but when coupled with the difficulties they experienced using formulae sheets represented an additional difficulty for them.

    Reply
  4. Siew Yean

    Thank you for sharing. This is very helpful not only for teaching dyslexia child math but also applicable for most children. I strongly believe in turning math abstract concept into concrete and let kid visualize it. At home, we use Singapore Math which adopt Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract Approach. It has proven to be effective in helping my children to lay a strong foundation in math concept. I have some worksheets available here http://www.kids-activities-learning-games.com/kids-math-worksheets.html

    Reply
  5. Susan

    Hi,

    I happened to find your site, and I totally agree with you when you write that children must master math facts. I did develop a math facts program which was published under another publisher in 1999, but since then, I have published workbooks with strategies and practice pages so that all children, regardless of age, can learn to recall math facts. I provide free tips on how to teach math facts, and advise that educators give their children more advanced math (new lessons) using math facts that ARE known. So when teaching a new math skill, such as the long division you mention, if a student only knows some math facts, problems can be set up using those math facts so that there won’t be any counting on fingers, or relying on charts to get answers.

    Reply
  6. Ethan

    Hi there! I’m a college student about to graduate with a degree in Computer Science. I’m also highly dyslexic.

    I’ve been having huge issues with mathematics all my life, and reading your article really clicked with me. Every single one of those things you mentioned is true to my learning style even in my early twenties. I can’t stand formulae or rote memorization, and I am still terrible with directions and multistep sequences. Despite that, My logic skills and spatial thinking is quite decent, which is why I really enjoy programming. I hate classes that only teach me steps and numbers! I need to know the WHY immediately, or else I simply can’t follow along with lectures.

    One thing that I’d like to suggest is using lots of colors with your kids’ math assignments. Numbers and mathematical symbols can quickly become a huge jumble for dyslexic students, especially when they are all the same color! Color-coding symbols has worked wonders for me when I make study guides and stuff.

    All the best,
    Ethan

    Reply
    • Marianne

      Thanks for the input Ethan! We moms in the trenches appreciate it!

      Reply
    • Kristi

      LOVE your additional insight Ethan. Thank you!!

      Reply
  7. EB

    Hello – found your post thought I might add my two cents being dyslexic (I work in computer DMS systems) and being a parent to two dyslexic students. (Oh, and my Dad is a chem-engineer with dyslexia. He invented lots of cool things you all use everyday.)

    – Keep the skill of learning math facts separate from learning to do math. (They are not the same in a dyslexic mind.) Math facts to a dyslexic is symbol X symbol = symbol. It can turn into trying to get the symbols correct not understanding the visual attributes of mathematics. (True story, I never learned my math facts, neither did my Dad. I can only get my phone number correct because I know what it looks like on a phone… Einstein never learned his phone number and back then phone numbers are only 5 numbers long…) I got a perfect score on my ACT calculus section twice and in college was given a scholarship in mathematics all that and never got past learning my 3’s..

    – When doing higher math, like pre-algebra, use a calculator. (Remember keep math fact mastery and doing math as two separate skills, never work on them together.) When doing algebra, the skill is organization and sequencing. (Remember, sequencing is what we as dyslexic’s struggle with most!)

    (And a special thank you to all the parents out there who are reading this and pulling for their kids. Mine never gave up on me and my mom poured so much time and energy into helping me. I was diagnosed back in 1980 when most people thought it was a made up condition. She never gave up.To all the parents who don’t give up on us kids – THANK YOU.)

    Reply
    • Marianne

      Thank you so much for your feedback Erin!

      Reply
    • Sarah

      Just what this mom needed to hear! Thx for sharing.

      Reply
  8. Carlie

    Please do add RightStart Math to your list of homeschool curriculum for math. For our family, it has been a godsend. I wish I could tell every parent of dyslexic children about it.
    When I pulled my profoundly dyslexic daughter from public school in the middle of her 2nd grade year, she did not have any number sense. She did not know the difference between 13, 15, or 50. They were all confusing symbols, void of meaning, to her. Adding and subtracting made no sense to her and she would only guess at answers. She certainly couldn’t write numbers legibly or in the correct order, let alone write equations. She cried at even the thought of math. She protested that she could never, ever learn it. Then I started her on the RightStart program. Honestly, within a couple of months, my daughter realized that not only could she do math, but she was kinda good at it! And she really, truly understood the concepts. All this, without having to write much at all. And now, a year later, she is happily writing answers on worksheets with confidence. This program is very hands-on, very multi-sensory, step-by-step, comprehensive, and I honestly cannot imagine how I could have ever taught her math without it. The manipulatives are fantastic and I have relied on them time and again to solidify understanding and skills. I have the 2nd edition and it is very easy to teach on the go, with no prep required.

    The only drawbacks to this program are that it is a little pricey to buy the required manipulatives kit ( though VERY worthwhile, in my opinion) and that in the lower levels, the program must be taught directly by teacher/parent, so it can be time-consuming (again, I think it’s worth your time because you need to be actively involved in a struggling learner’s math program anyway.) Truly, it is the best investment of time and money that we have made on any homeschool curriculum. I now use it for all 3 of my children, and we are all successfully learning and improving our math skills – even me!

    Reply
    • Marianne

      Thank you Carlie for such a thorough and informative review of Right Start Math! I’ll definitely add it to the resources page. 🙂

      Reply
  9. Melissa

    My son could not remember times tables at all until we found a cd with skip counting songs. Even now in 7 th grade I hear him singing the songs under his breath! Another math program, that has worked amazingly for him, is called TouchMath. For some reason it made perfect sense to him, even better than using blocks or manipulatives. It goes all the way thru pre albebra so far.

    Reply
    • Joye

      I taught some years ago in a school that had all their teachers in K-12 to take TouchMath training. I think that because it is based on counting and skip counting is why it works so well with the dyslexic student.

      Reply
  10. Lisa O.

    Does anyone have any experience using Math It? I tutor dyslexic students of all ages. I am currently working with a 2nd grader and 3rd grader that are struggling to learn math facts (addition, subtraction, multiplication). I am looking for a comprehensive math program that isn’t going to break the bank (less than $100). Thank you!

    Reply
    • Marianne

      Math It isn’t a comprehensive math program but it is very good for learning math facts. Our kids love it. It teaches strategies which is very helpful for the dyslexic mind. 🙂

      Reply
  11. Adrianne Meldrum

    Hi there!

    I tutor math using multisensory approaches (perfect for dyslexic students). Can I add one piece of feedback to the long division part of this…which is super close to the rhythm I teach my students?

    1. Divide

    2. Multiply

    3. Subtract

    COMPARE

    4. Bring next number down

    Repeat

    So the compare part of this is really important as some kids are mystified about why we bring down the next number. We need to compare the amount left over after we subtract to see if we need more groups of the divisor or if we are done and there is a remainder/fraction left.

    So many great tips on this page! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  12. Becky

    My daughter and husband are both dyslexic. I had used Singapore Math with my older children and knew it could be very hands-on, so I started there for her. I have had great success using their new Common Core version teacher’s guide. It is excellently written, with step-by-step instructions for teaching. We’ve done K, 1 and are now on grade level in 2. They always move from concrete examples to abstract numbers, using pictures and manipulatives, She struggles when a page has a lot of numbers, but most of the curriculum is taught with manipulatives and from a colorful textbook, only leaving a few problems to be done (usually with picture models) on the workbook page. She loves it and feels confident about math. We also use Everyday Math’s concept of “naming boxes” and daily name as many ways as we can think of to make up a number (drawing pictures of X number of things, tally marks, coins, writing the number word, eventually writing addition and subtraction sentences)- in K we only did 1-10, 1st increased to numbers within 30 (based on the day of the month), and now in 2nd we go all the way to 100 and beyond as we number the days of school. This helps her to “overlearn” her math facts (Chris Woodin of Landmark School’s recommendation) so that they become automatic and very tangible. We also use an inverted hundreds chart, which makes more sense since the numbers go up as you move up on the chart. She has had success there, where the traditional hundreds chart has her in tears every time. We are moving into multiplication and division later in the year and I’m excited to use ideas from the Landmark School’s outreach program and Chris Woodin’s book, “Multiplication and Division Facts for the Whole-to-Part, Visual Learner”. It’s been a huge help already in how to think about numbers visually and concretely in ways that communicate. One caveat – it has to be taught individually every single day. We spend 30-45 minutes a day on math, but if it gives her a solid foundation for the rest of her learning, I think it is worth it!

    Reply
  13. Don

    Hi. I’m a Special Education Teacher and I had always struggled finding a way to teach math facts to my students with dyslexia.

    I recently had a sixth grade student who was having the same issue. Both the mother and the school were about to give up.

    I decided to try something new and it actually worked!! He learned both multiplication and division for all the 3s, 4s, 6s, 7s and 8s in about seven days. It was amazing. Both his mother and his school were shocked.

    It worked so well I decided to try it in a few elementary and middle school classes and it worked there too.

    I ended up writing a step-by-step guide for both parents and teachers.

    If anyone’s interested, you can find it at http://www.rootedknowledge.com. It’s called Rooted Facts.

    Reply
    • Lynn

      Don,
      I have looked at your website and will suggest the online lessons to a neighbor whose child is struggling with the facts.
      Thank you.

      Reply
  14. Stacy

    Addition Facts that Stick by Kate Snow has been helpful for my dyslexic 7 year old.

    Reply
  15. Mr. Calc

    In measurements, fractions appear whenever units are not small enough to express quantities in integers. For example, five quarter-dollars will buy you exactly as mush as a dollar and a quarter. One and a half dollar stands for exactly the same quantity as three half-dollars or six quarter-dollars.

    Fractions are unavoidable and sooner or later we all have to learn to work with fractions. The mathematical usage of the word fraction has a very clear everyday connotation as a part of a bigger object. It would be unthinkable nowadays to just introduce fractions as a pair of numbers and postulate their basic properties. Still, to express fractions one needs a pair of numbers with a meaning and intuition attached to them.

    When multiplying fractions, the numerators (top numbers) are multiplied together and the denominators (bottom numbers) are multiplied together. To divide fractions, rewrite the problem as multiplying by the reciprocal (multiplicative inverse) of the divisor. To add fractions that have the same, or a common, denominator, simply add the numerators, and use the common denominator. However, fractions cannot be added until they are written with a common denominator. The figure below shows why adding fractions with different denominators is incorrect.

    Reply
  16. Sarah Goodman

    Do you have any thoughts on Singapore Math curriculum for mild/moderate dyslexic students? Is it too abstract?

    Reply
    • Marianne

      I have heard good things about it but have never used it. 🙂

      Reply

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