40-60% of students with dyslexia also struggle with math. Just as with teaching reading, there are effective strategies for teaching math to kids with dyslexia.
Why Kids With Dyslexia Struggle With Math
There are a several underlying weaknesses that cause kids with dyslexia to struggle:
- Processing weakness
- Working memory weakness
- Attention weakness
All of these things can have a profound effect of learning – whether it’s learning to read, write, or do math.
Processing: Our brains process everything that goes in through our senses. We can have 20/20 vision but the pathways from the eyes to the part of the brain responsible for making meaning of that same information isn’t efficient. This is an example of a visual processing weakness. The same can happen with auditory information. A child can have perfect hearing, but the brain is not processing what is heard quickly or efficiently.
Working memory: We use working memory when we hold information in our minds (remembering it) but need to work with it. Math word problems are a good example of this.
If Sam baked 23 pies on Sunday and ate 6 of them, then baked 12 more pies on Monday, how many pies does Sam have?
To solve this problem, you have to hold a lot of information in your head and use it to solve the equation. We use working memory all the time, especially while learning. Kids with working memory weaknesses often work slowly, make mistakes, or both.
Attention weakness: It is estimated that 40-60% of children with dyslexia also have some kind of attention deficit. One of the hallmark signs of ADHD is that the people who have it can focus on things of interest. Hence, the child who can spend hours building a complicated Lego set but can’t focus long enough to complete his or her 30 minute math lesson.
All of these weaknesses cause learning to become inefficient and inaccurate which will have a noticeable effect on math where both speed and accuracy are highly valued.
Are Your Child’s Math Struggles Dyscalculia?
Kids who struggle with math are sometimes said to have dyscalculia. There is a lot less research that has been done on math struggles than on reading problems.
The good news is that whether your child has dysgraphia or is simply struggling with math, the strategies for teaching math are the same.
Strategies for Teaching Math to Kids With Dyslexia
Be consistent. One of the biggest hindrances to math progress and understanding is not doing math daily (or mostly daily). With the memory problems associated with dyslexia, the more our kids are exposed to and work through math problems, the more they will remember.
Be present. Sometimes referred to as scaffolding, our kids need us to be present and available while they are doing their math lessons. There were times when one of my kids was so overwhelmed by math that I would do one problem (showing that child how I was working the problem) and then he would do a problem. This relieved his stress and helped us get through a lesson. That same kid wis working independently now!
Ask questions. When your child comes to you with a question about a math problem, it is tempting to just tell them what to do. A better solution is to ask them what they think they should do next. Kids with attention and processing lags need to be encouraged to take their time and think about what they are doing – without being rushed. Ask questions and give them time to answer.
Keep reviewing math facts. This may vary depending on your own family dynamic, but in general research shows that students who are more fluent with their math facts do better with math. Whether your kids learn to skip count or learn strategies for figuring out math facts, a short practice session daily is beneficial. Our kids need many more exposures to information before it sticks in long term memory.
Hands-on learning. Young children who are less able to think abstractly benefit from the use of hands-on teaching methods. Building math problems with manipulatives help young children to see mathematical concepts. Even with my older kids there are times when I’ll pull out hands-on objects to help illustrate a math concept.
Everyday math. Look for ways that you use math in your everyday life. From cooking to household projects to games that you play, show your kids that math is useful and relevant!
Accommodations are supports we can offer our kids so that they can work at their intellectual ability despite still lacking certain skills. Two examples of common math accommodations are:
Math facts. Kids with dyslexia have often have trouble memorizing their math facts. Allowing a child to have access to a math facts chart will help them keep moving through their lessons without taking forever. It is also a way to help them get more practice and exposure to the math facts. The more frequently they are exposed to the facts, the sooner they will remember them.
Remembering sequences. Kids with dyslexia can have trouble remembering sequences. For example with division, we divide, multiple, subtract, and bring down. If your child is constantly forgetting this order, or any other order, right them down. Creating customized ‘cheat sheets’ will give them the tools they need to remind them what to do next.
Things to Look for in a Homeschool Math Curriculum
Having the right kinds of tools to teach your kids with dyslexia is a key to success. The same strategies that are helpful for teaching reading to kids with dyslexia are going to be helpful with kids who are struggling with math.
Explicit. This may seem obvious but with the latest Common Core curricula kids are often left to try to figure out how to solve problems without explicitly being told how to do that.
Sequential. The scope and sequence of a math curriculum should be sequential, giving students plenty of time to practice one skill before adding another.
Engaging. All kids are different. Some prefer lots of color and others are overwhelmed by it. Find a program that engages your child without overwhelming them.
Plenty of review. This is KEY. As I mentioned previously, our kids with processing and memory struggles NEED lots of practice. In math curricula, the way that material is reviewed is often referred to as a mastery approach or a spiral approach.
The Difference Between the Spiral and Mastery Approach to Teaching Math
There has been a lot of talk over the past 10 years or so on which of these two methods of teaching math are the best.
The spiral approach has been the traditional method of teaching math for many years. In a spiral curriculum, concepts are reviewed more frequently over time. For example, as a spiral curriculum progresses, daily lessons include review from a wide variety of problems they have learned in previous lessons. The spiral approach is marked by more frequent, usually daily, review.
In a mastery approach, students are required to master one topic before moving on to the next. This mastery approach believes that there is no need for review since the concepts are already ‘mastered’.
Math Review and Dyslexia
If you’ve been teaching kids with learning struggles for any length of time, you may see why, despite research saying that a mastery approach is superior, kids with memory and processing weaknesses actually need the daily review that is provided by a spiral approach to teaching math.
Why Teaching Textbooks is the Best Math Curriculum for Dyslexia
About 12 years ago, our family of dyslexic kids was introduced to Teaching Textbooks and our math instruction was revolutionized. From the engaging video teaching, to the immediate feedback and access to hints and solutions, to the happy kids, to the reasonable price… the benefits for this busy homeschool mom of many were like a dream.
In my full review of Teaching Textbooks, I wrote about how using Teaching Textbooks in our homeschool was like having the good math teacher every year!
Why our family with dyslexia loves Teaching Textbooks
Fosters independence. Teaching Textbooks is done on the computer. The video-based lessons and quizzes include immediate grading so parent involvement is only needed if a child has questions.
Explicit instruction. I LOVE the scope and sequence of Teaching Textbooks! New concepts are taught incrementally – starting with a basic concept and gradually adding to that concept. Not only has this progression helped my kids understand math better, it has helped them feel successful.
Lots of support. Each problem in a Teaching Textbooks lesson is read to the student. It can be replayed if needed. Many problems will offer an optional ‘hint’ if a child needs a reminder of how to work the problem. If a student misses a problem, they have the option to try again. If they miss the problem again, they have the option to watch the solution. This is HUGE! This kind of immediate feedback helps kids to know right away what they did wrong so they can correct themselves on the next problem.
Lots of spiral review. Teaching Textbooks uses the spiral approach to teaching math. Every lesson has ample review of concepts previously learned. I know for my kids with memory issues, this kind of daily/weekly review is necessary for them to store the concepts into their long term memory. I realize that some people don’t want or need spiral review. No problem, but most kids with dyslexia NEED this!
Engaging. Teaching Textbooks is highly engaging for several reasons. First, it is interactive. The answers for each problem are entered right into the computer and corrected immediately. This instant feedback keeps kids engaged – especially with the support of their buddy. Buddies are little mascots that students choose who cheer them on during their lessons. A word of warning…the word problems are so zany my kids often have to listen to the problem a second time because they were so focused on the illustration that goes along with the problem that they didn’t pay attention the first time!
Our Experience With Teaching Textbooks
Starting in 3rd grade, all of our kids start using Teaching Textbooks for math. Depending on the degree of their dyslexia (mild, moderate, or profound) my kids tend to be very dependent on me to complete their schoolwork. Using Teaching Textbooks has helped even my most dependent kids to become independent with time. This is a huge help to homeschool parents who have a lot of demands placed on them.
We recently tried out another video-based math curriculum. Even though we have used TT for the past 12 years, I want to remain open-minded about other math programs that may be a good fit for students with dyslexia. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this other program, although video based, didn’t compare at all to TT.
Teaching Textbooks provides:
- Explicit, step-by-step instruction
- Spiral review
- Immediate feedback and grading
- Engaging yet not overwhelming presentation of material