Teaching Math to Students with Dyslexia
To say that every student with dyslexia has difficulty with math would be a huge generalization. While many students with learning differences have difficulties with some aspects of math, they are often quite adept at others. Einstein, for example, is believed to have had dyslexia, yet created some of the most profound mathematical theories in history.
Even the difficulties that students with dyslexia have, though, can usually be addressed using specific strategies that cater to the learning strengths of children with dyslexia. Let’s look at some specific ways dyslexia can affect math learning, explore some strategies that could improve your child or teen’s math success, and find out what type of math curriculum might be most helpful.
Math and Dyslexia
Can you be dyslexic in math? People often confuse dyslexia with a specific type of learning disability in math called dyscalculia. These are actually two separate learning differences.
What some label “math dyslexia” might actually be dyscalculia, a learning disorder that affects a student’s ability to grasp number theory and mathematical concepts. When a student with dyslexia struggles with math, however, the struggle usually relates to the decoding aspects of math such as word problems, remembering multi-step instructions, or difficulty listening to instructions while writing.
Each child is unique, however, and the problems they have with math — such as understanding of particular words, symbols or concepts — means that their own barriers to math success will be unique as well. It’s also important to note that visual and spatial strengths of people with dyslexia can actually make them exceptionally adept in more analytical areas of mathematics such as geometry and physics.
It’s important to thoroughly assess your child’s strengths and weaknesses in math in order to get an overall picture of the kind of help he or she needs.
How to Teach Math to Students with Dyslexia
Research has found there are certain strategies that work best when trying to teach math to students with dyslexia. Some of those strategies include:
- Take advantage of their visual and spatial learning skills through use of multimedia online math curriculum and math manipulatives so they can both visually and kinesthetically incorporate new concepts.
- To help students with working memory issues, model an approach that helps them understand how to tackle problems with multi-step instructions (for example, highlighting or crossing through each step after completing it).
- Create or purchase visual aids for learning rote number facts. Being able to visualize (rather than memorize) math facts can help students with dyslexia retain them better.
- Explain the “why.” People with dyslexia are usually big-picture thinkers, and they balk against learning for the sake of learning. Make sure to connect math concepts with real-life scenarios where your homeschooler may use them in the future.
- Remember that dyslexia is a learning “difference” and not a disability; this may mean that your homeschooler may come to the correct answer to a problem using a completely different approach than was taught. It also means he or she may not be able to show their work, or even explain how they got that answer. Try to be accepting of that.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of emphasizing the use of math in daily life. Homeschooling provides ample opportunities to let your student follow a recipe, calculate the sale price at a grocery store, budget for an event, calculate driving distance, etc. All these hands-on skills can help improve not only math facts, but your child’s attitude toward math as a whole.
- Don’t be afraid to change your plan. If one approach for teaching math isn’t working, don’t force it. Regroup and explore other curricula, resources, and methods that may sync better with your student’s learning needs.
Choosing Math Curriculum for Dyslexia
Learning math with dyslexia doesn’t always require expensive tutors or remediation courses. Before going that route, you may want to try homeschool math programs that incorporate teaching techniques that align with the learning strengths of dyslexic students. Look for curricula that:
- Include visual strategies to teach or demonstrate how to solve math problems
- Explain how specific math concepts apply to real life
- Don’t emphasize “busywork” or excessive review
- Use multisensory game play to motivate and increase retention
- Don’t require a student to “show their work”
- Are flexible enough to be customized based on an individual student’s needs
Not sure if Time4Learning is the best math curriculum for your child or teen? Explore some of our lesson demos.
How Time4Learning Math Helps Students with Dyslexia
The freedom and flexibility in homeschooling is probably the biggest reason why many parents choose this option for their child with dyslexia. Being able to choose a program that highlights the learning strengths of their child while minimizing the weaknesses is a win/win for both parents and students.
In general, students with dyslexia show strengths in visual-spatial tasks (the domain of the right hemisphere of the brain). Math programs that tap into the right hemisphere usually do so through humor, whole-to-part learning, music and rhythm, high-interest material, and visual presentations.
Time4Learning’s homeschool math curriculum offers many of these instructional methods. Our multimedia instruction and activities benefit dyslexic students by:
- Allowing students to visualize how to solve specific math problems
- Covering math strands that students with dyslexia often excel at such as geometry and spatial sense
- Offering varying grade level placement for different subjects (for example if your student excels in math but struggles in language arts, they can access different grade level material for each)
- Creating a safe, supportive environment for students to learn at their own pace
Have other questions about homeschooling a child with dyslexia? You may find the following pages helpful.