According to Kate Garnett, PhD, “difficulties in learning math seldom lead to referrals for learning disabilities evaluation, despite being specified in both federal and state LD definitions. School systems provide assessment and special services mostly on the basis of difficulties learning to read (dyslexia).” So, does this mean a learning disability in math is less disruptive in the academic life of a learner? Do those children who struggle with math concepts throughout school simply get better at math as they reach adulthood? Absolutely not!

While there are LD students who excel in math, Garnett explains that “…those with strong underlying math potential may stumble in the elementary years, but then soar once they enter higher realms of mathematics.” Math language often bogs down learning, and an approach such as one used with a student having a language-based learning disability is needed. 

Garnett goes on to say, “Sadly, neglect of math disabilities is reflected in teacher preparation. Both special educators and math teachers exit their preparation programs with little understanding of LD students’ math needs—and no clue about students with severe math disabilities. The status quo, over decades now, remains: Even when math learning disabilities are noticed, there is little expertise to deal with them.”

What do teachers and specialists alike need to know? Marilyn Zecher, M.A., CALT, an expert in the area of math, recently presented at a full-day professional development program hosted by Springer School and Center. She demonstrated essential elements that should be included in any math program. “The multisensory approach is a unique way of "thinking" about teaching mathematics. Language is critical to address. Hands-on work with manipulative objects is recommended for all students at all ages. It enhances both concept integration and memory. This approach is especially important for LD students and those with conceptual gaps,” states Zecher.

Marilyn’s mantra of making instruction REPEATABLE, RETRIEVABLE, AND MEMORABLE is a recipe for bringing abstract math concepts to life. 

A few of the essential strategies Marilyn modeled at the training are below. Springer math teachers found many of the strategies and routines similar to what they are currently using, and noted that they can never have too many tools when working with our kiddos! 

A FEW OF OUR FAVORITE THINGS…Thank you to Marilyn Zecher!

Essential Language Instruction - Language impacts the way students retain and retrieve math facts. We use more of the language hemisphere as the math gets more difficult. Using easy and repeatable language and easy math facts with more difficult concepts will allow the concept to be better understood and more easily retrievable.

Expanding on Multisensory Instruction - Use as many sensory inputs as possible when teaching new concepts. Students should touch, see, feel, hear – all simultaneously. This increases neural connections and enhances learning and memory. Some possible multisensory activities include the use of: 

  • objects to form numeracy patterns, for example; dice and domino arrangements, the number line to show accumulation of quantities, construction and deconstruction of quantity using Unifix or linking cubes
  • craft sticks to demonstrate place value (tally marks at 5 and bundled at 10) and base ten place blocks on a place value mat
  • objects to demonstrate multiplication and division concepts and patterns
  • objects to model algebraic concepts such as exponential growth or linear function patterns

Restricted Number Facts - New material is introduced with previously mastered facts to avoid computational complexity. Students use mastered facts to internalize the concept, then practice with targeted facts to develop fluency through use.

Structured, Sequential, Cumulative and Thorough - These are basic literacy tenets that are part of any structured literacy approach that should also be included in a mathematics program.

If you would like more information on these and other strategies to support students with math learning disabilities, do not hesitate to call the Center at 513-871-6080 ext. 402.

Blogger Barbara Hunter, MEd, shares her expertise in the use of technology to support learning. If you have questions, please contact Barbara at bkhunter@springer-ld.org.

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