Teaching sequencing and column addition to a child with dyscalculia

Recently a colleague asked me for some suggestions to help one of his pupils with her maths. She was having various problems, such as

  • Difficulty with sequencing numbers
  • Getting confused as to which way to move on a number-line to add or subtract single digits
  • Getting confused as to which way to move on a number-square to add or subtract multiples of 10
  • Not understanding whether an answer she got when performing a calculation was “reasonable” or way off
  • Confusing the Hundreds Tens and Units columns and so not always starting in the correct place when performing calculations.

He suspected that the child in question might have dyslexia and / or dyscalculia, and if that is the case then I can understand why they might have trouble with column addition/subtraction. They’ll be concentrating really hard on left to right, left to right for their writing, and then suddenly column calculations go right to left – no wonder they get confused!

My advice was to make the learning experience completely multi-sensory, even if it meant taking the learning outside.   These were some of my suggestions:

  • Make a physical number line on the floor/front driveway/back garden/anywhere with plenty of space. Place one object with the label “1”, then two objects labelled “2”, three objects and a label 3 and so on to help her equate the number 3 with the value 3
  • Chalk the numbers outside, and get her to walk along it counting forward, and then walk the other way counting backwards.  Get her to jump along it landing on every other number counting forwards in twos and then backwards in twos.
  • Move on to a number square in chalk so that they can change direction to add on/take away 10. This should also help with “reasonable” answers because, for example, she would come to understand that she had to walk further to add on 49 than to add on 12.
    • Always make the number square start with 1 at the bottom, rather than at the top like most number squares – then the higher numbers are at the top of the square and the lower numbers are at the bottom which also helps with understanding the value of numbers.
    • Use an abacus for additions/subtractions instead of written methods. I’ve done this with Y6 children who had no concept of place value and it made a huge difference!
  • When moving on to column addition and subtraction, colour-code the numbers in each column with a known sequence of colours (eg Red White and Blue so they do red units first, then white tens, then blue hundreds). Put the numbers either on coloured card – or even better use painted wooden numbers so she can pick them up and feel the shape of each number
  • People with dyslexia tend to think in pictures, so when finally moving onto pen and paper calculations, try putting pictures of Strictly Come Dancing / X-Factor judges at the top of each column. The judges always sit in the same order on the shows, so it’s easy to picture them sitting in a row – then you know that you always have to add Bruno Tonioli’s numbers first!

One final tip I picked up at a session on dyscalculia to help children with sequencing numbers was to give them something associated with each number so that they have something to relate that number to – seeing how the number matches the object and handling the objects while they count makes it more of a multi-sensory experience.  For example if you want them to count in 6s, rather than giving them something generic like pictures of 6 spots or sets of 6 cubes, give them egg-boxes.

U is for…

U is for…Understanding. This is the most important part of your lessons. If you don’t understand, it won’t matter how motivated you are, you won’t be able to improve. If you don’t understand, you need to put your hand up and tell your teacher. As long as you have shown that you listened carefully during the lesson, they won’t be angry.

Sometimes children pretend that they have understood, and then try lots of tricks so that they don’t do any work: they pretend they can’t find a pencil, then when they find one they spend a long time sharpening it. Sometimes they take so long time to write the date that the lesson is finished before they have to start work; other times they will write a sentence, then rub it out and rewrite the same sentence. None of this will help you to get better, and school won’t seem fun if you can never do anything.

Next time you don’t understand, be brave! Put your hand up and say, “I don’t understand. Please could you explain in a different way.” Your teacher will then help you to understand. When you do understand what you have to do, you will be amazed how much faster the lesson goes and how much more fun it is.

Related posts: T is for…      V is for…

n

Back to the Classroom

This year I enrolled in a British Sign Language evening class. I’ve already passed levels 1 and 2, so now I’m beginning Level 3.

It’s always strange to be back in the class part of the classroom rather than in the teacher role, and every time I do it I rediscover how it feels to be a child in class.

The teacher puts hand-outs in front of us, and of course I pick it up and start reading it. Oops – now I’ve missed the teacher’s signing so I don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing. Perhaps I’d better ask the person next to me. Uh-oh – caught talking!

Later we have to give presentations to the rest of the class. As soon as we are told to prepare, all my ideas fly straight out of my head and I can’t think of anything to say. By the time I have enough ideas to begin, it’s time to stop writing and begin presenting one by one. I try to write and watch at the same time, but that’s impossible. Reluctantly I put my pen down, but as soon as the first presentation is over, I start writing again, as quickly as I can before the second person is up.

When it’s my turn I’m not really happy with what I’ve done. I know I can do better, but it’s too late – the teacher has made her judgement about my ability.

At the end of the lesson the teacher starts to explain our homework. She’s signing really fast and I miss a bit. Oh no! I’ve missed a bit! What did that sign mean? I think I recognise it but I just can’t remember. Oh no! I’ve been worrying so much about the bit I missed that I miss a bit more. I try to concentrate, but I’ve missed so much that I’m really lost now.

I look around the room and the rest of the class are smiling and nodding. Have they understood it all? Am I the only one that didn’t? Does that mean I’m stupid? I can’t admit now that I didn’t understand or the whole class will know that I’m the stupid one. I start smiling and nodding along with the rest of the class.

The teacher finishes signing and asks if there are any questions. I hope someone else asks her to explain it again, but nobody does so I shake my head like the others. She asks if we all understood and I nod. I’m sure she’s going to ask someone to repeat it (that’s what I’d do) and I panic in case it’s me she picks. She doesn’t though – she just dismisses the class.

As we pack away the person next to me whispers, “I didn’t get that homework. Did you?”

I still won’t be doing my homework as I still have no idea what it is, but at least I know I won’t be the only one. I’ll certainly be more understanding of my class in future, although I still don’t have a solution to stop them daydreaming. If anybody has any suggestions please do leave them in the comments below. I’ll try them on myself first to see if I can concentrate more!