Academic Diary with Dzifa: Managing Dyscalculia


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The dyscalculic learner has:

  • a dearth in the brain’s ability to process number-related information.
  • trouble with mathematics operations, memorising multiplication tables and understanding mathematics concepts
  • the tendency to grab mathematic concepts with the right teaching methods and materials

Throughout my basic and secondary school, I was scared of figures, numbers and formulae; but against all odds, I managed to sail through and make my grades. Today, research has shown that there is a severer form of fear for Mathematics, and this is called Dyscalculia.

In simple terms, dyscalculia is a learning condition that affects the understanding and learning of Mathematics.

Like myself in basic and secondary school, many learners have difficulties in learning Mathematics. However, it is the level of difficulty and how such ones learn to deal with the different teaching styles that indicate that a learner has dyscalculia.

Here is a recount of Hilda’s experience to explain this point. Hilda was declared to be dyscalculic, and was mocked in school for being dumb in Mathematics. ”Most of my teachers thought that I could never understand anything in Mathematics, let alone solve basic calculations with formulae. I thought I was the problem until one teacher took it upon himself to help me understand the subject.”

After the teacher chose a teaching method that appealed to Hilda’s learning style, she had grade 1 in Mathematics at the end of her basic school, and pursued Elective Mathematics in secondary school.

The account of Hilda goes to show that it is the approach of teaching Mathematics, and the level of understanding of the learner that goes a long way to show the severity of this learning challenge or to say that a learner has dyscalculia.

How to tell if a learner possibly has dyscalculia?

During the first three years in basic school, dyscalculia may present in these ways: difficulty organising objects and sets of items logically, difficulty recognising printed numbers, poor counting skills, and difficulty remembering Mathematics facts.

The last three years may show signs that include: good counting but poor calculation skills, difficulties with measurement, difficulty remembering common Mathematics facts, anxiety and a negative attitude toward Mathematics.

At the secondary level of education, the signs may be: difficulty learning mathematical concepts, difficulty with mental mathematics, difficulty finding more than one way to solve a Mathematics problem, a poor perception of time, and difficulty following a schedule.

Dealing with and managing dyscalculia

  1. ‘Self-talk’ and write

Teach the learner to ‘self-talk’ through solving problems and writing it out. To the dyscalculic learner, numbers are simple marks on a page; and theories and formulae are simply abstract. Having them talk to themselves while reading and writing the problem out will assist with seeing the relationship between elements. Reframing questions or relationships between numbers in a way that breathes life into the problems will be of great help in understanding.

  1. Draw it out

Drawing the problem can also help visual learners to see relationships and understand concepts. Allow the learner to draw the problem out using images that show their understanding of the problem, and then you can move on to ways to solve it. In drawing, charts, sketches and using graph papers are a great way to help line up numbers and problems. However, leaving the learner to their understanding and building on their lead is always the better way.

  1. Break tasks down

After reviewing previous lessons, slowly introduce new lesson by breaking problems into simple component parts. Dyscalculic learners are easily overwhelmed by complex problems; therefore, breaking down problems into smaller parts and working through them one at a time can help learners stay focused, see connections and avoid the overload of complex bulky problems.

  1. Make it real

The practicality of using daily and real life occurrences in relation to solving problems can never be underestimated in this regard. Using props such coins, blocks, measuring cups, rulers and countable objects as manipulatives for the dyscalculic learner will make them see mathematical concepts as more real that concepts and abstracts.

  1. Review

The dyscalculic learner struggles to retain math-related information; it becomes difficult to master new skills that build on previous lessons. Brief and frequent review sessions every day will help keep information fresh and applicable to the next new task. Creating written or drawn references such as cards or diagrams can help with quick reviews.

Additional information

 Introducing new concepts/lessons

  • Give the student a list of the Math formulae taught in the class.
  • Use attention-getting phrases like: “This is important to know because….”
  • Use concrete examples that connect Mathematics to real life.
  • Check in frequently to make sure the student understands the work.

Giving instructions and assignments

  • Create separate worksheets for word problems and number problems.
  • Highlight or circle key words and numbers on word problems.
  • Allow extra time on tests.
  • Give step-by-step instructions and have the learner repeat them.
  • Provide charts of Math facts or multiplication tables.
  • Use visual aids or manipulatives when solving problems.
  • Let the learner use a calculator when computation isn’t what’s being assessed
  • Give a rubric that describes the elements of an assignment.
  • Use an extra piece of paper to cover up most of what’s on a Math sheet or test to make it easier to focus on one problem at a time.
  • Give more space to write problems and solutions.
  • Break down worksheets into sections.

Do you remember?

Like other learning challenges discussed earlier as part of the six-part series, dealing with dyscalculia combines a variety of teaching methods that bring the abstract world of Mathematics down to earth, with visual aids, verbal cues and physical props which can help dyscalculic learners overcome hurdles to making sense of mathematics.

Additional information – Credit:

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