Three questions you're probably asking

A special education coordinator recently sent me a long list of questions about how to teach maths to children and young people with learning difficulties. Last week's questions can be found here.

This is Part 2.


1. How can you encourage a child to retain information?

I wish I had the Golden Ticket, but until then, here are a few thoughts...

Use deep learning and let their experiences guide you. Learning has to make sense to retain it, and this often takes repetition and a lot of practice! We have multiple senses, and by using them in our teaching we discover new ways our students connect with concepts.

Although I do not recommend tasting Numicon!.

One principle that guides me is SLOOM teaching. SLOOM is a different way of describing best-practice literacy teaching principles. While I cannot claim credit for the ideas, I like to think I came up with the acronym SLOOM (a small consolidation). Here's what it means:

(S) Scaffolding- Strategic giving and removal of support. This takes practice to get it right (for the teacher), and I often find I adapt this every minute based on the feedback I get from my teaching and student responses.

(LO) Little & Often- Short bursts of support rather than a long teaching session (e.g. 15 minutes x 4 rather than 1-hour)

(O) Overlearning- Repetition, repetition, repetition!

(M) Multi-sensory- Hands-on resources using a variety of materials that support deep learning. This includes teaching using different senses (see Five Senses image above)

Have fun SLOOMing!

2. How can children with SEN be supported in recording and showing their reasoning?

It’s important to start teaching them specific strategies and scripts for solving maths early in their school years. I often encounter students later in their elementary or secondary years who do not use any specific strategies to solve operations. By then, teaching them new strategies can be difficult because they are used to doing it one way - even if it’s wrong!

Teaching them to show their reasoning has to be a scaffolded process. Give them a script to follow to make it easy for them, then gradually decrease support and increase opportunities for them to complete more on their own.

For calculations – teaching them to draw out numbers to demonstrate conceptual understanding can help. When taught early on, it embeds and provides them with visual images to support their understanding of number and the operations. My FREE Drawing Out Numbers guide can be downloaded here.

3. When can we use the bar model?

The “bar model” (sometimes called “Singapore Maths”) is useful for showing quantities through diagrams. If you decide to use this method for students with SEN, it is best to start at a young age and be part of a whole school initiative with little deviation – especially for children who over-use strategies. Even then, moving on to teaching with bars might be difficult because the bars will not have any concrete value to a child with conceptual number difficulties.

That said, any method needs to be part of a consistent routine. While our students can learn new methods for solving problems later in their school years, it may require un-learning methods they have used – often incorrectly – for years!

This video explains the bar model from a child's perspective.

Kids with dyscalculia and other learning difficulties often have co-occurring difficulties including reading, attention, organisation and/or spatial awareness. If new methods are quickly introduced and changed without mastery, it is like building a house on a wobbly foundation. DON'T DO IT!

All this to say, find something that works and stick with it for awhile. It'll be a great confidence booster!

Thanks for reading this week's article. Feel free to share this article with anyone you think might benefit, and as always please don't hesitate to ask any questions. If you'd like to read about my experience in special education maths as a kid, click here.


How can I reduce frustration for kids who struggle with maths?

...and more!