# Dyslexia, Math & Me

July 11, 2015

I’m dyslexic.

## 1. Learn to organize thoughts

Organizational skills such as note taking and clear handwriting is necessary. Explicitly teaching math terms and symbols helps develop skills needed to succeed in mathematics. Have the students crate a vocabulary book, I personally like the flip books as it keeps things orderly, and having bulletin boards with neatly written vocabulary is helpful. I find color coding to be useful in drawing the eye to the specific words.

## 2. Teach memory skills and mnemonics

Games like Simon that have players repeating color patterns from memory are great. Take this same game idea and replace colors with numbers and have players recite number patterns. Start with digits 1 – 4 and then add in additional digits. Mnemonics were very helpful to me when learning my math facts or algorithm patterns. Thinking dance steps when multiply 7 x 8. (5, 6, 7, 8. 7 x 8 is 56) or reciting rhymes (8 x 8 fell on the floor and came up as 64) still help me today. PEMDAS (parentheses, exponents, multiply, divide, add, subtract) and Dirty Monkeys Smell Completely Bad also helped me through math processes. Recently NCTM said they don’t condone the use of the PEMDAS mnemonic but I still prefer this to using a calculator. Mnemonics requires the students to think through the process. Make sure to inform parents on the skills and the mnemonics that are used to help increases students’ consistency.

## 3. Talk and walk it out

Students who struggle with processing multi-step problems can improve their accuracy by employing several strategies that involve “walking” and “talking” problems through. In interviews with dyslexic adults, all of them successful professionals in fields from science and medicine to law and education, find talking through tasks or mouthing out words while reading is helpful throughout their lives. Have students model large mathematical equations so they can easily manipulate numbers. Students literally walk through math computations drawn on the floor to gain an understanding of the organizational framework or have them work with playing cards that they shuffle and move around. Students learn to sequentially process the information from these structures by moving their bodies or hands as they describe each step.

## 4. Teach for mastery before moving on

Just as fluency is an essential skill for proficiency in literacy, fluency is also foundational for proficiency in math (Powell et al., 2011). Students who struggle to quickly and accurately do number combinations are severely handicapped when it comes to grasping later mathematical concepts. Dyslexic students need to over-learn a skill to set it to memory. Use multi-sensory instruction that can be faded out once mastered. Having manipulatives like coins when doing subtraction with regrouping helps students understand the process. Lose Your Cents is a great example of how students can learn and master this concept. If necessary, break down the complex processing tasks in math into various subskills that can be tested and analyzed. Subskills can be reinforced through game play. MANGO Math has created math games that put mathematics in a way that is understandable with specific subskills that are reinforced until mastery and then used to build a more concrete understanding of number sense. Our MANGO YouTube channel has many examples including this one called Lattice Multiply. All children benefit from number-rich learning environments and students with poor number concepts can benefit greatly from early emphasis on number sense, symbolic skills, ability to compare and estimate quantities. It is important to not only increase fluency for math facts, but to also provide students with strategies for solving number combinations when they could not retrieve the math fact. The game Cue is a great way to teach strategies to increase fluency.

## 5. Help establish perseverance

Study by Chinn (1995) suggest that errors made by dyslexics on an untimed test were not significantly different to those made by non-dyslexics with one notable exception, the error of no-attempt. Lack of motivation to answer a question can be caused by repeated failure, mismatch in the student’s learning style, teachers’ and parents’ comments; feeling overwhelmed or confused, fear of embarrassment/failure in front of peers, etc. Here are some step to help these children:

1. Model steps and allow them to talk through the steps
2. When stalled get them to ask questions
3. Provide sequence or patterns with examples to follow. If the task is familiar they are more likely to stick with it
4. Model breaking apart multi-step directions and problems, set those steps to mnemonic cues
5. Use visual aids like number lines and manipulatives but make sure to ween them off to establish concrete understanding.

These strategies not only help dyslexic students but all students that might need a little more direction and support in mathematics. In creating MANGO math, I made games that help me make sense of math concepts and in doing so I realized that I was not only helping myself but I created something that helped others that struggle with some of the same issues I had as a child. Enjoy Math! Mary Curry is a math enthusiast with M.ed degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Seattle University and a B.S. degree in Elementary Education k – 8 from University of South Dakota. She is endorsed in special education k – 12, ELL, and Social Sciences. Ms. Curry has written math curriculum for over 12 years, first with Exploration in Math (now Zeno) before starting MANGO Math Group. Her curriculum is used in all 50 states with over 30,000 students benefiting from it.