Strategies to Support a Child With Dyscalculia in the Classroom
When a teacher discovers that they have a student with dyscalculia, they are often unsure about what the condition is, what difficulties the student will face and what strategies and methods they can use in the classroom to support the learning of their student. Here is an overview of what dyscalculia is, what difficulties a student may face and what strategies can be put into place to support their education.
What is Dyscalculia?
Dyscalculia is a condition which affects a person’s ability to acquire arithmetical skills, understand number concepts and to be able to complete number procedures successfully. It is often referred to as a dyslexia of numbers. The cause of the condition is still unknown. However, there is some current thinking that suggests that it is a congenital disorder that affects the specific part of the brain that deals with numbers.
Is Dyscalculia Associated With Dyslexia?
A person can have dyslexia and dyscalculia together, or either condition independently. Some studies have shown that up to 60% of people who have dyslexia also have dyscalculia. However, this leaves 40% who do not. Some people with dyslexia only suffer from problems in mathematics because of the mathematical language that is used.
How Does it Present Itself?
There are a wide ranges of difficulties that a person with dyscalculia can face. Some people will struggle with only a few of these, while others will have difficulties in all areas of arithmetical understanding. Some of the areas of difficulty are as follows:
- Counting and number sequences.
- Measure, such as telling the time or handling money.
- Direction and orientation. Concepts such as map reading or even simply understanding the difference between left and right may be problematic for a child with dyscalculia.
- Calculation. They may find it difficult to recall number rules, facts and procedures, even if they finally arrive at the correct answer.
- Numbers with zeros at the end. They may find it difficult to associate the numbers 10, 100 and 1000 with the words ten, one hundred and one thousand.
What Strategies Can Be Used With Students With Dyscalculia?
First of all, it is important to remember that a student with dyscalculia may experience difficulties in subjects other than mathematics. Arithmetical concepts are used in many other subjects such as technology, science, geography or music. Also, it may affect aspects of their day to day life, such as telling the time, understanding their timetable or handling money in the dinner queue.
Secondly, this is a recognised learning difficulty that needs to be properly diagnosed and have the appropriate strategies put in place. The strategies should be outlined in an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for the child. Although the strategies may vary from one child to the next to account for their individual needs, strengths and weaknesses, some suggested strategies are as follows:
- Patience- not being able to complete tasks can be very frustrating for students. Being patient and making sure that they understand that they can take their time will be important to a student.
- Extra time- A student may need additional time in the classroom to complete certain tasks and this should be taken into account. It is also possible to apply for additional time for examinations if the child’s abilities fall below a certain threshold.
- Differentiated work- it is important to accept that sometimes the child will not be able to complete the same tasks as others in the group. Although they will still have to learn the same topics, in accordance with the curriculum, it is worth considering using different methods and resources to support the child in their learning.
- One to one support- The student may need some additional support rather than just using the whole class approach to teaching. This will help to put the other strategies in place.
- Use of concrete apparatus- instead of relying on printed resources and verbal teaching, students with dyscalculia often find it helpful to use concrete apparatus so that they can have a more kinaesthetic, or hands on, approach to their learning. This may include counting blocks, rulers, clock faces, fraction segments or any other materials that you can utilize.
- Praise, rewards and encouragement- many students with dyscalculia are embarrassed and frustrated by their difficulties. Offering praise rewards and encouragement for small steps of achievement can help to motivate them and make them feel proud of their progress.
- Over learning techniques- many students need to be given information once, or at the most twice, and they will understand a concept. Students with dyscalculia may need to learn the same concept or procedure over and over again before they begin to understand it.
- Reinforcement- you can reinforce ideas and concepts by using different approaches to teaching them. Give the information verbally, then give it again in written form and then devise practical activities that will reinforce the information to the student.
- Awareness- it is essential that all of the staff that are involved in teaching and supporting a child in their education are aware of the child’s needs.
If these strategies are put in place, there is no reason why a student with dyscalculia can’t reach their full potential and enjoy their educational experience. With support, they can achieve great things.