Effective maths lessons are taught by teachers who are both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their subject.

Teaching mathematics to children, particularly students with learning difficulties, while keeping them engaged,  is not the easiest of jobs.

Difficulty with Numbers is Not the Only Area to Cause Problems

Characterised by problems with the phonological component of language, dyslexia is a specific learning disability (SLD) that can impact learning in maths.

In most lessons, activities require a student to read, write and use information processing skills — all areas of difficulty for a person with dyslexia.

Comprehending and recalling different math concepts not only make each lesson difficult, but students can also quickly become overwhelmed, putting them at greater risk

How can students' confidence be encouraged in maths lessons?
Without the right help and support in the maths classroom, students with SLDs like dyslexia can rapidly lose confidence | source: Unsplash - Emiliano Vittoriosi

Maths lessons that use multisensory resources and teaching activities are recommended for students with dyslexia at all year levels. This approach will help with maths understanding as concepts are presented using different methods to cater to a range of learning styles.

In addition, a varied lesson plan can help students see mathematics as fun and relevant to daily life, and sets the stage for future development.

How Does a Multisensory Approach Help With Maths?

As suggested by its name, a multisensory approach involves planning activities that necessitate using multiple senses.

What does this mean?

If you plan a series of activities that incorporate the use of sound, texture, movement, and visual stimuli, children with dyslexia will benefit.

Visual strategies, such as drawing representations of concepts and using revision cards, are particularly effective.

Maths lessons that incorporate physical games not only aid concentration but they also make the work fun and less overwhelming.

Online games also make mathematics fun. There are many free math websites available that are suitable for children as young as primary school age. Math concepts, including addition, fractions, area, shapes, time, numbers and mathematical problem solving, can be accessed for free at home or by the class teacher in the school classroom environment.

What visual aids can help dyslexic students with maths?
An activity using any coloured resources can be effective for all year levels | source: Unsplash - Sharon McCutcheon

One of the most important, and simple, visual aids is colour. Different coloured books, paper and other stationery items can be used to organise topics, new concepts and the series of steps for an activity.

Top Ideas:Mark work using a different colour to make it stand out, and be aware that some people with dyslexia may be unable to read black ink on white paper. Try using blue paper instead.

Consider Time Issues as You Plan the Lesson

Long periods of concentration can be difficult for a number of children with dyslexia or other SLDs.

The following simple things can go a long way to solving concentration problems:

  • Ensure the classroom area is free of distractions
  • Keep explanation time to under 10 minutes
  • Break work periods up by short bursts of physical activity
  • Change topics and activities regularly

Simple Ways to Ensure Children with Dyslexia Can Access the Maths Curriculum

One of the biggest problems faced by children with SLDs is feeling rushed. When teaching or explaining new ideas, it is essential to take your time.

Break down instructions, repeat them as often as needed and focus on key words and the language of mathematics.

Above all, ensure the student has adequate time to solve problems and understand new concepts before you move to the next topic in the curriculum.

How can you encourage a student's confidence in maths?
A little extra planning can help solve confidence issues and bring fun into maths lessons | source: Unsplash - sydney Rae

Having dyslexia or any other similar SLD, such as dysgraphia or dyscalculia, does not mean a child cannot learn maths — it just slows the learning process down. A teacher or tutor who takes the time to work on building trust and confidence will ensure their student achieves success.

A tutor who understands that their student has a problem with working memory, and takes steps to counteract this by providing resources to aid memory, will be appreciated.

Another myth worth being aware of, and stifling, is the "numbers and maths is a boys' subject" myth.

Routine and Organisation

Processing ideas and organising information are known to be difficult for a number of people with SPDs. Effective teachers and tutors incorporate strategies into their planning to assist with this area. Ways to do this include:

  • providing a visual representation of new concepts and how they relate to previous knowledge
  • creating organisational models as part of your maths lessons and modelling how they can be used at home
    • use exercise books for different topics, ensuring revision work, class activities and notes are all in the same place
    • build a routine by putting together a schedule or calendar
    • organise topics and resources using a colour-coded system

The more you practise and revise organisation strategies, the easier it becomes for the student to manage their time and learning.

Extra Strategies and Resources

The number of strategies and math resources to support pupils with SLDs is limited only by imagination and initiative.

Varying your instruction style, or even bringing in other teachers, can be beneficial, as can asking other class members to explain concepts.

Provide opportunities for students to discuss their understanding and ideas with their peers. This works equally as well in the primary school setting as it does at the tertiary level.

At any time, however, if you or the student feels they are falling behind, it is important to obtain one-on-one support.

Technology can provide a huge boost to people with learning difficulties. Anything from interactive games to voice-activated software is readily available and beneficial in all areas of the curriculum and levels of learning.

Handy Hints for Planning Maths Lessons to Cater for Dyslexic Learners

  • Keep written instructions or revision sheets to the minimum
  • Start each lesson with an activity to recap recent concepts
  • Give instructions in small steps with visual representations
  • Make use of colour
  • Return to previous concepts regularly, particularly if they're related to a new concept
  • Allow time to process, comprehend and complete
  • Before moving on to the next topic, check the current one is fully understood
  • Encourage pupils to represent the key knowledge visually, using drawings and diagrams, charts or graphs (and use these as a revision tool)
  • At the conclusion of every lesson, recap the new ideas and key words and represent these in a basic list or visual format

Whether a student is in year one, year twelve, or at university, catering for the needs of dyslexia can be time-consuming, but it is also rewarding in the end.

Find yourself or your child a good maths tutor on the Superprof platform.

How can technology help dyslexic students in maths?
Learning when you have dyslexia is easier now with the abundance of technology | source: Unsplash - Wes Hicks

When you need to teach or provide help with maths, your level of support is considerably more important than your level of subject knowledge.

The ability to provide effective support is directly related to your awareness of the strengths and weaknesses experienced by people with dyslexia, as well as your patience. When they read, they may be slow, but this does not make them incapable of learning.

Allow as many visual aids as the student needs. Ensure there is a supply of lined or graph paper to help with tracking and layout of working and strategies used to solve a problem.

Remember the coloured paper, pencils and highlighters too. Send some of these resources home if necessary.

The Best Resources: Empathy, Tolerance and Patience

A student will not learn if they sense you don't understand their needs, or are impatient with them. Everyone experiences struggles at some point in their lives, so show your student you have empathy and that you 'get' what they are going through.

Search for real-life examples to back up your explanations. Make them interesting. Motivation is the key to success.

Don't shy away from the correct terminology, but try to avoid using too much complex language at once. Keep explanations simple and back them up with visual examples.

Every student is different and there is no single method to assist pupils with dyslexia to grasp mathematical concepts like addition of fractions, rounding numbers, identifying the properties of shapes, or solving word problems. However, once you discover a student's learning style, and provide them with engaging and varied activities and encourage regular practice, they too will be capable of success.

Whether you want advice from an expert, tutoring for your primary school student, or help with your university studies, search our online maths courses to find personalised assistance to cater for your needs.

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Kellie is an editor, a children's writer, blogger and a teacher. Any remaining time she has is spent on a dragon boat.