Approach to Remedial Math Instruction:

It is not unusual to find that children with language based learning disabilities also have difficulties with the fundamentals of mathematics.  These children can struggle with mastering their addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts, although, once mastered, they often excel in higher level mathematics.  Many school systems dismiss the necessity of mastering number facts and feel that children should use compensatory measures, such as a calculator.  I have found, however, that for most children, automaticity in number facts is critical to later automaticity and mastery of more advanced skills.  Just as fluency with decoding letter sounds leads to better reading comprehension, so does fluency with number facts lead to greater facility with later mathematical skills.

In addition to issues mastering number facts, many children with language based learning disabilities also encounter difficulty with basic word problems.  In addition to misreading words, they may experience difficulty comprehending the complex sentence structure used in most word problems.

My approach to teaching basic skills (math facts) is similar to that used in reading instruction:  a systematic multi-sensory approach works best.  We all carry around a built in calculator - our fingers.  It was through use of the fingers that early man developed counting skills, it is through the use of fingers that young children develop basic math, and it is through tactile and kinesthetic finger use that those who struggle with math learn.  For example,  I have had great success teaching multiplication skills to students of all ages, including high school aged students.  I teach each individual multiplication table on the fingers as well as worksheets and number lines. The tables are practiced for accuracy, and then for speed.   It is not until after mastering the individual tables that I present students “mad minutes” type exercises that schools seem to use regularly despite the lack of improvement often shown. 

My approach to teaching word problems is also multi-sensory and systematic.  As a former teacher of the deaf, the use of signs is a natural way for me to express difficult ideas to those with any type of language based learning issue.  I have developed a series of hand and picture signs that depict each of the four mathematical operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division).  Students are taught how to take out the critical information from a word problem, select the correct hand gesture and/ or picture that represents it, and thereby determine whether addition, subtraction, multiplication or division is the necessary operation to solve the problem.

In addition, tutorials are individualized to the particular student’s language needs.  For example, one student who was having difficulty with a math problem turned out not to understand the term “during,”  as in “During the course of a week, Thomas worked 15 hours.....”  By teaching the concept of during (as well as “over the course of the week”, “in a 5 week period of time”, etc.) the student was able to master these types of problems.  It wasn’t a math problem per se, but a problem understanding the language used in the word problem.