What is Dyscalculia?
Dyscalculia is a clinical term used to describe a Specific Mathematics Disorder. Children diagnosed with dyscalculia often have difficulty with number sense (understanding what the symbol of the number is representing); basic calculation skills including addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division; difficulty with mathematic problem solving and word problems (not due to difficulty reading the math problem but rather due to difficulty integrating the information in order to solve the problem); and difficulty with fluent retrieval of math facts.
Why Can't My Child Get the Right Answer to the Problem?
There are several possible reasons that your child may struggle in math. It is a complex process requiring a great deal of cognitive ability to come up with one answer. We will outline below some of the most common.
Difficulty with Number Sense
Students may not have a strong understanding of the pictorial representation (e.g., 8) and the amount that picture represents (e.g., eight cookies). These students will benefit from the use of manipulatives that help them to make the connection. They may need support understanding large quantities and when we might use that type of a number. They will benefit from a great deal of real-world application examples (e.g., if we are talking about 75,000 this is about how many seats are in an NFL football stadium).
Difficulty with Attention to Detail
These students generally display difficulty on math calculation tests because they are unable to self-monitor their responses. They may add where they should subtract, or otherwise perform the incorrect operation. These students benefit from using a system (e.g., highlight all of the adding problems in yellow, subtracting problems in green, multiplying problems in blue) to pull attention to what they should be doing.
Difficulty with Sequencing
Several students with learning differences including dyslexia and ADHD struggle to sequence steps appropriately. These students benefit from having the steps written out for them until they are able to solve the problems more independently.
Difficulty with Language
Some students struggle with word problems because they don’t understand what the question is asking. The language is confusing and often non-linear and they struggle to locate key information.These students benefit from support in highlighting the key information and crossing out irrelevant information. They often need a “decision tree” to help them decide which operation they are supposed to be completing.
Difficulty with Fluent Retrieval of Math Facts
Some students are actually quite strong in many areas of math but struggle to pull simple and necessary facts quickly to their brain. These students benefit from consistent practice and repetition of facts with game-based apps or songs or other memory strategies for facts which require memorization such as multiplication.
How is it treated?
Students who struggle with number sense often need a more explicit curriculum with hands-on materials in order to understand the underlying concepts of mathematical operations. They benefit from direct and building instruction that provides complete mastery of a topic before moving on. Often students with dyscalculia never receive enough time on a single concept to fully master the process before they need to move on in a traditional classroom setting.
At Ascend, we blend a combination of this type of direct instruction with an Organizational Support system.
What does Organizational Support look like?
We have our students complete their work on graph paper in order to make sure they do not lose their place or misalign problems. This strategy requires students to work in a more linear fashion reducing errors.
We ask students to highlight different operations in different colored highlighters (e.g., all the addition signs are highlighted yellow, subtraction highlighted green, multiplication highlighted orange, and division highlighted blue).
We have students use a number of graphic organizers to learn how to identify complex mathematical vocabulary, break down the problem and identify key information, sequence the problem appropriately, and then check for accuracy.