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11/13/2008 3:51:36 PM
Home School Legal Defense Association
HSLDA's Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner Newsletter

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HSLDA's Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner Newsletter
November 2008--Attacking the "Math Monster"
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Attacking the "Math Monster":
Strategies for Success with Struggling Learners

By Faith Berens

Throughout my schooling, I struggled with understanding math concepts,
memorizing math facts, and remembering steps in math problem-solving
processes. I remember homework sessions filled with tears, yelling,
and frustration. I felt so dumb and compared myself to my older
sibling who was a math whiz! When it came to math, I couldn't "get
it" and recall making statements like "I just can't see it!"

WHY IS MY CHILD STRUGGLING with math?

Sometimes, children experiencing math difficulties may have visual
processing difficulty, such as an eye-tracking problem, or number
reversals and transpositions of number order. In other cases, the
struggles stem from sequencing problems or memory deficits. Math
requires sets of procedures to be followed in a sequential manner, and
those experiencing memory deficits will struggle with remembering the
order of operations. Other times, a child who struggles with math does
not have an information-processing problem, but rather, he just "can't
see the forest for the trees." In other words, these children are
confused with many math steps whirling about in their head that are
not attached to any math process, that they are so confused. They
have been taught the "pieces", but cannot see the whole.

Let's look at what is required to learn math easily. There are
basically two steps in learning math:

1. Understanding and remembering the math processes (addition,
subtraction, division, fractions, percents, etc.)

2. Memorizing the math facts.

The term "dyscalculia" essentially refers to a learning disability for
mathematical or arithmetic concepts. Students with math-related
learning disabilities have weaknesses in many of the following:
sequencing numbers, solving equations and formulas, performing "mental
math", computing accurately, understanding mathematical concepts,
working word problems, and using mathematical terms appropriately.
These students often make careless errors and choose the wrong
operation. Other difficulties in math are often related to a form of
math phobia or math anxiety. My early struggles with math, negative
feelings, and fear led to later problems with math and test anxiety.

While there is no singular, clear-cut diagnostic test or clearly
defined criteria that are used to define dyscalculia, the Woodcock
Johnson III, Tests of Achievement usually reveal difficulties in math.


WHAT CAN I DO AT HOME to help my child with his math difficulties?

Things You're Likely Already Doing

> Use fun approaches for the basics, such as card games and computer
games.
> Use music, movement, rhymes, and chants to help cement memorization.
> Use manipulatives and hands-on materials, such as everyday objects.
> Use a multi-sensory approach to teaching math, such as the Touch
Math program.
> Look for workbooks that have large spaces to write in, few review
problems, and not a lot of visual clutter.
> Provide concrete materials to build a strong foundation of concepts
before moving into abstract concepts.
> Help your child to visualize and provide real life opportunities and
situations, especially when working on problem solving and word
problems.

Some Other Approaches

> Model, model, model the problem-solving process, showing your child
how to do it (using color and picture), before having him work on his
own.
> Teach math processes "in depth" by using booklets comprised of all
of one type of math problem, for instance, subtraction (such as Key
Math or Spectrum workbooks). That way a child who is "brittle" in math
has the opportunity to really learn a concept inside and out.
> Make a math "template" or example of the math concept/processes as
you teach them (I like to use chart paper or poster board from the
local teacher store.). Hang this template/example up high so he can
readily refer to it. This rich representation with color and pictures
will help your child store it in his long-term memory!
> Use color, pictures, and humor (such as silly stories) when teaching
math facts.
> Have your child work out practice problems on a white board using
different and vivid colors. Make sure the process is firmly cemented
before moving into pencil/paper or workbook practice.

WHAT CURRICULUM IS BEST?

In some instances, specific curricula are available that will be best
suited to match the child's learning style and special needs. One
example is the book Teaching Math To Children with Down Syndrome and
Other Hands On Learners, published by Woodbine House.

Other times a parent doesn't have to get a specific curriculum, but
rather, needs to teach their struggling learner in a different way.
Many parents find, rather than repeating, drilling and writing math
facts, that if they use a more right brain teaching approach, such as
placing a picture with color and humor directly on the math facts,
their child is finally able to memorize them. The right brain stores
information that has meaning more easily than just data.

Since math facts are just data, we add more "Velcro" to this
information by artificially giving it meaning by adding a story or
picture. We know, because of brain scans, that the physiological
movement of the eyes in an upward position stimulates the child's
photographic memory. Because of this, parents have found that taking
multiplication facts that have color, pictures and humor on them, and
posting them up high, that the child takes a "picture" of it and
memorizes it more easily.

Peter Russell, in The Brain Book, states that visual memory is far
superior to auditory memory! We can help these smart struggling
learners store so much more information in their right brain, which is
where our long-term memory is stored. Often, a child who has math
anxiety, or even dyscalculia, just hasn't learned to "see" the math
process in his head. Once these more right brain techniques are
presented, they can make good leaps in learning.

Remember, the math difficulties are frequently due to processing
glitches. It does not help to make judgments about your child's
learning ability compared to their siblings or neighbor kids who may
be able to do math in their sleep! Drill, repetition, and
memorization are some approaches to math instruction, but are not the
only ways! Often with struggling learners, these methods only bring
more frustration and fatigue. Rather, the use of pictures, color,
stories, humor, and lots of modeling will make your child a "happy
camper," and you will be, too!

For more curricula suggestions, tips, resources, and teaching
strategies contact one of the Special Needs Coordinators or visit
HSLDA's Struggling Learners resources webpage at
http://www.hslda.org/elink.asp?id=5807. On this page you can download
the Right Brain Math strategies document
(http://www.hslda.org/elink.asp?id=5808). Also, please go to Dianne
Craft's website at http://www.hslda.org/elink.asp?id=5809 for more
Right Brain Teaching products and strategies.
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