Judy Hornigold | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

Top ten Tips for teaching children with dyscalculia

1. Use concrete manipulative materials

Invest in the right kinds of concrete materials and let your child play around with

them, experimenting and having fun with them. Most useful and versatile of all the

resources that I use with dyscalculic learners is a set of Cuisenaire rods. [Cuisenaire

rods are cuboid rods of wood or plastic, in ten fixed colours, ranging in length from

1 cm to 10 cm to represent the numbers from 1 to 10.] Other helpful materials are

chunky counters, Dienes blocks or other base-10 blocks, dice and dominoes.

2. Play with dice and dominoes to improve recognition of spot patterns

Play any games that incorporate the use of dice. Teach your child to recognise the

number patterns on the dice rather than having to rely on counting the spots one by

one after each new throw of the dice. Play domino games, too. Point out the

similarities between the dice patterns and the domino patterns. Encourage your child

to look for patterns inside patterns. For example, inside the traditional spot pattern

for the number 6 one can see two 3s, or three 2s, or the patterns of 4 and 2.

3. Beware the ‘counting trap’

Take care your child does not fall into the ‘counting trap’. This is a self-perpetuating

situation in which a child solves every fresh calculation by counting up or down in

ones because they know so few numeracy facts for certain. Meanwhile, they cannot

increase their store of known facts because the process of finding the answer to a

computation takes so much time and effort that, a) they can never be sure that the

answer is correct, and b) because by the time a solution is reached, the child no

longer connects the answer to the question. To help a child out of this vicious cycle,

focus on composing and decomposing small quantities into chunks, not into a

succession of single units. Play games and activities that highlight numbers being

built out of component chunks, not ones. Introduce as large a variety of games as

possible, in order to provide enough practice with components.

4. Focus on games and activities, rather than worksheets

It is not difficult to find, or invent, simple activities and games that target particular

misconceptions or points of difficulty. Activities present mathematics as a challenge

or a puzzle that needs to be solved in a practical manner. They allow children to

focus on one aspect at a time and to construct mathematical meaning for themselves

at their own rate of understanding. Games encourage children to revisit important

topics regularly, thereby developing some degree of automaticity, whilst maintaining

a high level of interest and enjoyment.

5. Highlight the repeating decimal structure of the number system

Help your child construct an accurate mental model of the decimal number system.

One way is by exploring number tracks. Another is by using base-ten blocks on place

value mats to build 2- and 3-digit numbers and to support step counting in 1s and

10s. Don’t always start a count at zero and switch back and forth between the step

sizes at random intervals. Try a short run of backward steps from time to time.

Extend the concrete step counting beyond 100, paying special attention to the

difficult boundaries between decades and hundreds.


6. Take a step-by-step approach

Break down each learning topic into the smallest possible incremental steps. Be

prepared to explore, repeat and rehearse each step many times before the child can

be expected to understand it well enough to use it as a foundation for the next step.

7. Help children to construct visual mental models

Encourage your child to use the concrete materials as a basis for creating pictures in

the mind. Discourage any attempt to use the resources mechanically, just to find an

answer. All work with sketches and diagrams should also be seen as a route to

learning or practising visualisation techniques.

8. Explore the language of maths

Explain mathematical terms carefully. Encourage your child to articulate their

thinking at every stage of any maths task. Broaden your child’s mathematical

vocabulary as much as possible, using a wide variety of common synonyms for basic

arithmetic operations. For example, synonyms for ‘subtract’ might include ‘minus’,

‘take away’, ‘less than’, ‘fewer than’, ‘decrease(d)’, ‘take(n) from’, ‘reduce(d)’,

‘difference’, etc.

9. Don’t rush into abstract and written work

Allow your child to spend plenty of time manipulating concrete materials before

anything is written down. Use mathematical notation to record only what your child

already fully understands. Use diagrams and sketches to support a gradual

transition between concrete and abstract work.

10. Teach for understanding

Memory problems are often associated with specific learning difficulties and can have

a severe impact on maths performance. For instance, a common phenomenon

amongst both dyscalculic and dyslexic learners is an inability to memorise

multiplication tables. Take care, therefore, to minimise the number of facts that your

child is expected to commit to memory. Take care also to restrict the number of

strategies your child is expected to master. Limit them to only those key strategies

with the widest applications. Instead of relying on rote-learning, teach children how

to use logic and reasoning to derive new facts and methods from those that they

already know and understand.


Source Ronit Bird