Teaching is a noble profession, much like that of a doctor. It requires knowledge, motivation, and above all, empathy.
Mathematics is not a walk in the park when it comes to teaching it to children. And, when you think of teaching kids with learning disabilities, the challenges can be quite overwhelming for a teacher.
“A good teacher will be a motivational speaker, a storehouse of knowledge, a strict disciplinarian as well as a friend, all wrapped in one personality.”
Children with Dyslexia
Dyslexia is a learning disability categorized under the broad umbrella of Specific Learning Difficulty or SpLD. It leads to difficulties in reading, writing, spelling and processing information or comprehension.
SpLDs can manifest itself in the form of disabilities such as dyslexia and its lesser-known cousins such as dyscalculia, dysgraphia and dyspraxia. These are debilitating in a child’s everyday life. SpLDs affect short-term and working memory, concentration and organization.
“Whatever the SpLD, it is absolutely crucial that the child does not feel judged, and thereby overwhelmed, by the demands of academics.”
Learning Math with Dyslexia
Dyslexia makes it difficult for the child to use and understand symbols and words, especially small function words of language whose meanings cannot be easily pictured. Even words with multiple meanings are difficult to grasp in such cases.
Concepts of time, sequence and order are some examples of concepts that become challenging to comprehend for a dyslexic child. Confusion is the order of the day in such cases, especially in concept-based subjects such as math.
In order to support children with learning disabilities and give them the best chance at success, whatever their age, experts recommend taking a multisensory approach to learning to ensure that information is received through various channels. This will help kids to develop a well-rounded understanding of the maths topic and lay the basic math foundations for more complex operations.
What is the Multisensory Approach?
Dyslexia may take away normal learning abilities in a child, but most dyslexic children are blessed with strong visual and spatial reasoning skills. In other words, they stand a better chance at comprehending math concepts that are taught through visual strategies.
“A math tutor can simply keep in mind that simple misunderstandings over words and symbols are usually the root of the problem. That is, the child may not be able to fully understand what is being asked.”
Visual Strategies for Learning Math
As a dedicated math tutor, committed to helping out a struggling student, focus on making learning strategies as visual as possible. For example, use revision cards to write out formulae and draw them in practice if possible.
Incorporate math games into your learning routine that will help address the problem of concentration in your student by making them feel involved in the learning process without overwhelming them.
Add colours as visual aids. These are incredibly helpful for dyslexic children as they can use them to organize revision materials into topics or group and distinguish ideas. Teach them decimal numbers and demonstrate place value by using different colours.
Graph or lined paper are particularly useful visual aids for teaching dyslexic students. The lined paper makes it easier to track a problem horizontally or vertically, depending on the type of math question.
You can only opt for handouts that students can use as visual references so that they can keep up with lessons and revisions. Highlight the important portions with varied colours.
Some dyslexic people are particularly sensitive to the appearance of black ink on white paper. Also, try to avoid red when marking your students on quizzes and worksheets.
The Challenge of Time
People with SpLDs have a hard time concentrating for long periods, at a stretch. They get distracted very easily. So, make sure to design your lessons for shorter durations. Also, it is important to keep in mind that dyslexic people have poor short-term memory, making it hard for them to take notes and follow instructions.
Tutors, Be Patient!
Take your time. It is advisable not to rush through your lessons. Remember to make sure that the learner has fully understood a chapter before moving onto the next one.
Repeat instructions as many times as is necessary, emphasizing keywords and vocabulary so the student is familiar with how to appropriately use mathematical language.
Concentration and Motivation
Take plenty of breaks. Dyslexic people tend to feel anxious if they are not able to move from their seat. Allow them to move around and alternate between math activities. Don't hesitate to regularly change between topics. This keeps students' minds engaged with what they are learning as information is always fresh.
Dyslexia and other SpLDs do not prevent learning, but they slow it down. However, once tutors and tutees are familiar with each other and the task at hand, students can make good progress and become the true mathematician they always wanted to be.
Whether your student is a girl or a boy, encourage them to enjoy math. Debunk the myth of male superiority in math!
The Importance of Structure
Being organized never harmed anyone, unless you are a clinical case of OCD! In the case of dyslexia as well, it helps to have organized course content. This, in turn, will assist students to get their thoughts organized and make them feel settled.
“Create organizational models during your math lessons and encourage your student to use them in their day-to-day lives.”
Examples of Organizational Models:
- Colour-coding the math topics makes it easier for the student to access previous notes and worksheets.
- Draw up a routine for your student. Remember, dyslexic people find it difficult to view themselves in the near future, so having a schedule can help them prepare for the day ahead.
- Encourage your student to use an exercise book for their work. Having everything in one place minimizes the risk of important work getting lost.
It is not always a bad idea to suggest to your students to ask for help from other teachers as well. This brings variety in learning for students and teachers alike.
Talking about their learning is also beneficial for the student. The more comfortable they are in discussing their ideas and learning with the other students in school, the more progressive it is. However, if an educator fears that they are falling behind their classmates due to their learning difficulties, they should seek one-to-one guidance for the pupil.
The Boon of Technology
There is a lot of technology available to help students with SpLDs. For instance, there are interactive math games, voice-activated word processing software and digital recorders, which all appeal to the way in which the dyslexic brain works.
Here is a handy list for math tutors who are committed to being there for SpLD students
- Text-heavy handouts are a big NO.
- Recap and relearn, if needed.
- Create easy-to-follow, short steps for mathematical operations, along with visual cues for students to follow.
- Use colour-coding.
- Don’t overburden with homework. Space them out so that students have enough time to understand.
Exercise Empathy and Patience
The job of a math tutor is often to revise and brush up on their own math skills by teaching students various methods. So, never forget to empathize with your students, because you have been there yourself!
“Explain clearly, cite concrete examples and always look to motivate the learner.”
Patience is a valuable virtue in any situation. When it comes to teaching SpLD kids, it is a golden virtue. Give yourself time to learn your student’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, dyslexic people sometimes speak very quickly, since they have better visual understanding, but when it comes to reading, they can be very slow.
Remember, 'dyslexia' means 'difficulty with words'. So, keep your vocabulary simple in order to avoid confusing the learner.
Anyone can be a mathematician. Make your student believe in it. And, witness magic!