Dyscalculia: What is it and How Do I Help?
Updated: Apr 13
Do you need help teaching dyscalculia students? If so, read on! Here is information on dyscalculia in elementary schools, and helpful tips on teaching students with dyscalculia in upper elementary.
What is dyscalculia?
According to WebMD dyscalculia is, “ a brain-related condition that makes basic arithmetic hard to learn. It may run in families, but scientists haven't found any genes related to it.” Dyscalculia is a learning disability that affects a person’s ability to do math problems.
What are the signs of dyscalculia?
The common signs of dyscalculia are
Struggling with place value concepts. For example, not able to understand that a 3 in the thousands place actually represents 3,000.
Having trouble with basic computation (adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing).
Having trouble doing mental math.
Having trouble applying math skills to problem-solving situations (like word problems).
Often a student will lose their train of thought while computing problems, especially equations that require multiple steps.
Forgets numbers easily. For example, not being able to memorize phone numbers or zip codes.
Feelings of anxiety or negative feelings towards math.
May avoid math altogether or avoid showing their thinking on math problems.
What should a teacher do if they suspect dyscalculia?
As a classroom teacher, you should start the process after noticing a student struggling in your math class with computation. Figure out what interventions at the classroom level (small group instruction or 1-1 instruction) to try to help close the gaps in student learning first. If you have exhausted all of my forms of intervention with no growth, get a school psychologist involved to test to see if something more is going on like dyscalculia. The school psychologist should then perform a formal evaluation to officially determine if dyscalculia is the cause and rule out other possible learning disabilities.
How can a teacher support a student with dyscalculia?
There are many ways that a teacher can support a student with dyscalculia. The first would be to figure out what learning gaps a student has and see if the student needs to have a formal evaluation to get diagnosed. If a student has been diagnosed with dyscalculia, here are a few accommodations that can support that student in your upper elementary classroom:
Extended Time on Tests- Students who have dyscalculia often have some math anxiety and work more slowly than other students. I give students extended time, and often multiple periods to complete tests. This gives them time to carefully read over the problems, show their thinking, and check their work.
Additional Scrap Paper- Students with dyscalculia sometimes have trouble organizing their work and completing mental math. By giving them scrap paper at all times, they can show their thinking and not have to rely on doing it all in their heads.
Preferential Seating- You might want to sit a student either close up front where they can easily see the board, or right next to where you are usually located so it is easy for them to ask you questions.
Shortened Assignments - Do your students really need to practice adding fractions 20 times? Have the student choose 5. This gives them some choice, which can relieve some of the anxiety and they can focus fully on those five instead of getting overwhelmed.
Always allow Math Tools like Math Manipulatives- Have the math manipulatives on hand at all times. This can include fraction bars, counting blocks, abacus, math cubes, or printed out math clipart. You can check out my math clipart if you need some!
How is Dyscalculia treated?
Dyscalculia is often treated by students having accommodations in the classroom and/or an individualized education plan (IEP). These accommodations can include giving students visual aides, and math manipulatives. Students also usually receive small group instruction to target specific skills that they are struggling with either with their classroom teacher or a special education teacher. They also can receive certain accommodations like preferential seating in the classroom, additional time on assignments, and extended time on tests.
How can parents support a student with Dyscalculia?
Dyscalculia help for parents can sometimes be difficult to find but here are some suggestions on how to support your child if they have been diagnosed with dyscalculia. As always, ask your child’s doctor or special education teacher for specific goals you can be helping your child with!
Positive Growth Mindset- The most important thing is to be supportive and positive about math within the household. Students with dyscalculia can often hold negative attitudes towards math. Parents can help students with a growth mindset by helping them be positive about learning and believe that they can be great in math despite their learning disability.
Have Math Manipulatives on Hand- Parents can also have math manipulatives in the home for their students to use when completing homework like math cubes, math clipart, or an abacus. If parents don’t want to spend a lot of money on manipulatives, they can print out math clipart for a cheap alternative.
Break Down Homework Given- Parents can also help by breaking down their school work so it is not as overwhelming for students with dyscalculia. For example, I usually tell parents to focus on one problem at a time. Write that one problem on another piece of paper or cover the rest of the page to help the student not get overwhelmed and only concentrate on the problem at hand.
Find Ways to Make Math Relatable and Fun- Parents can help students foster a positive attitude and relationship with math by playing board games at home and linking math to everyday activities like cooking or baking. Students are much more willing to practice math when games or snacks are involved (cookies anyone?).
Be an Advocate for your child- Your child’s teacher will be a valuable resource! Ask how you can help at home to specifically support the topics being discussed in class. If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s learning in math you can also request a formal evaluation from the school’s psychologist.
Want more information on Dyscalculia? Check out this article Doodles and Digits was featured in from USNews.
Need visuals and math manipulatives for your students who suffer from dyscalculia? Check out my math clipart!
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