The Special Educational Needs Assessments Standards Committee (SASC) in 2019 defined Dyscalculia as: “A specific and persistent difficulty in understanding numbers which can lead to a diverse range of difficulties with mathematics. It will be unexpected in relation to age, level of education and experience and occurs across all ages and abilities.”
As part of our Power of Maths blog series, Rob Jennings, co-founder of the Dyscalculia Network and Director of Maths at Emerson House, answers our key questions on how dyscalculia impacts learners.
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Rob shares some key signs to look out for, and gives guidance for parents, carers and teachers to ensure pupils with Dyscalculia receive the support they need to help build number confidence and promote maths positivity.
Q: What is Dyscalculia?
A: Dyscalculia is a lesser known learning difficulty, which can occur on its own but will often occur with other specific learning difficulties like Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. A lack of support for learners with Dyscalculia can impact their whole lives.
Maths is all around us, and what may appear to be a simple task, like checking that you have the correct change or paying the bill, can generate considerable anxiety for people with Dyscalculia. Children affected by maths difficulties and suffering with Dyscalculia, sometimes avoid doing any activity connected with numbers because of these difficulties.
Q: What are the indicators of Dyscalculia?
A: There is a long list of indicators of maths difficulties and specifically Dyscalculia, however, a few of the most common behaviours are:
- Weak reasoning and an inability to see number relationships
- Inability to recognise a group of 4 or 5 objects without counting each object individually
- Inability to count backwards
- Persistent counting in ones
- Writing numbers back to front (e.g., 17 is written as 71)
Q: How do you know if someone has Dyscalculia or is mathematically challenged?
A: It is important to highlight that Dyscalculia is best described as the end of the spectrum of maths difficulties, and not a catch-all for challenges with Maths.
Research has indicated that around five per cent of British people are Dyscalculic. However, the fact is Dyscalculia is a less well-known condition compared to other special educational needs, but as awareness improves, the numbers diagnosed with the condition will most likely increase.
Q: How can we support pupils with Dyscalculia in the classroom?
A: The best thing a teacher can do is be on the lookout for learner’s maths difficulties. Identifying maths difficulties, and specifically Dyscalculia, at an early stage of a child’s education, will increase the likelihood of receiving access to the support they need to make progress.
Where Dyscalculia is suspected, a thorough maths assessment should be conducted by a specialist. The assessment will provide an overview of the pupil’s strengths and weaknesses, which will allow for a focused teaching intervention plan. Don’t be afraid to peel back to the foundation areas!
Revision and repetition are key to helping pupils develop a deeper understanding. You also need to be ready to differentiate your teaching to accommodate the pupil. For example, it will be important to have an awareness of the demands that learning new content can place on a child with Dyscalculia.
It is also important that new teaching moments are broken down into their smallest components, so that your learners can achieve small wins while enroute to more challenging topics. This will help build confidence and help reduce Maths Anxiety.
Opportunities to practice maths are essential for children and young people to feel supported and progress.
Q: How can we support pupils with Dyscalculia at home?
A: At home, it is key that maths practice happens little and often. Ten minutes of maths practice every day will produce much better results than a gruelling one-hour maths session on a Sunday evening.
It’s also essential that practice at home is covering what has already been taught in the classroom. Homework works best when it follows up on already attempted work.
Keeping interest in maths and building maths confidence will also come through making maths part of everyday life. Have a think of ways you can incorporate maths learning into everyday activities.
For example, you could ask your child or teenager to check the change when purchasing the weekly shop or at a café.
Q: Are there links between Dyscalculia and Maths Anxiety?
A: It is important to remember that maths comes in all kinds of forms. Board games and computer games, and even sports, can contain elements of maths. We need to make maths fun by doing things with children that they will enjoy and feel positive about.
We advise parents and carers to not tell their child that they were bad at maths at their age or to dismiss the importance of maths. This could make children and young people think that it isn’t worth trying and increase maths anxiety by assuming they can’t be good at maths, because their parents aren’t good at maths.
However, talking about their feelings about maths can help ensure they get the right support to tackle their concerns. Encouraging children to ask about things they don’t understand is important as it avoids them bottling up their anxiety and fear.
It is also important that parents and carers share their child’s maths concerns and difficulties with their teacher, to help them focus on specific areas of concern in the classroom.
Want to hear more? Rob is a guest on The Right Angle podcast. Listen to his episode here or wherever you get your podcasts.
For more information on Dyscalculia, visit www.dyscalculianetwork.com and follow on Twitter @DyscalculiaNet1
For more information about Pearson’s Power of Maths campaign, visit: https://www.pearson.com/uk/educators/schools/subject-area/mathematics/the-power-of-maths.html
Follow Pearson on Twitter @PearsonSchools and @EmporiumMaths