Introduction

Do you have students who do well in most content areas but struggle to learn arithmetic operations and their representative signs? Or perhaps they have difficulty matching a number to the word that represents the number. Your students may have dyscalculia, a learning difference that impacts a learner’s basic math skills and number-based operations.

What Is Dyscalculia?

Many teachers, parents, and children are unfamiliar with the term dyscalculia, which is often mistakenly called “math dyslexia.” Dyscalculia describes a unique neural condition that affects learning skills related to math or arithmetic. According to research, “The difficulties are not due to a disorder of intellectual development, sensory impairment, mental or neurological disorders, or inadequate instruction (WHO, 2018)” (McCaskey et al., 2020).

Educators commonly call dyscalculia a learning disability, although some researchers believe it is more properly described as a learning difference because of its roots in a neural condition. The condition was identified in 1919 by Salomon Henschen, a Swedish neurologist, who discovered it during his studies of aphasia and visual pathways of the brain. However, the condition stayed primarily in the province of neurology until the 21st century, when it moved into mathematics education research. It is estimated that dyscalculia affects between 5% and 7% of students and occurs just as frequently in males as it does in females.

“In two thirds of affected children, dyscalculia is associated with another developmental disorder like dyslexia, attention-deficit disorder, anxiety disorder, visual and spatial disorder, or cultural deprivation”

—Isabelle Rapin, Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, NCBI, 2016

What Are the Symptoms of Dyscalculia?

How can you identify students who may have dyscalculia? It’s most often noticed when children struggle to understand and use numbers despite adequate education, motivation, and intelligence. The condition can affect a student’s basic math skills, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. If your students’ overall performance in other academic areas is good but their math performance is problematic, you may want to look at other indicators, such as the ones listed below.

Difficulties common to learners with dyscalculia include:

  • Connecting numbers and words that represent numbers
  • Recognizing patterns
  • Putting things in order
  • Learning math facts
  • Estimating such things as height, width, or depth
  • Adding and subtracting
  • Keeping track when counting
  • Moving from finger counting to mental counting
  • Making sense of charts and graphs
Girl Frustrated by Math

Doctors at the University Hospital in Munich recommend a comprehensive approach to diagnosing dyscalculia:

“The diagnosis of dyscalculia should only be made if the person in question displays below-average mathematical performance when seen in the context of relevant information from the individual history, test findings, clinical examination, and further psychosocial assessment”

—NCBI, 2019

How to Support Math Learning in Students with Dyscalculia

Research shows that the best way to support students with dyscalculia is to present interventions that focus on math learning gaps and that use “multisensory teaching methods, building a child’s confidence, high teacher expectations, and parental support” (PenCRU, 2018).

Although we are still in the early stages of understanding how to support students with dyscalculia, we do know some of the strategies that work: “explicit, repetitive instruction, more time to understand how symbols represent quantity, playful activities to avoid math anxiety, and suggestions for finger counting in more sophisticated ways” (ASCD, 2020). Most of these strategies will benefit all students; they can be used in MTSS and RTI environments. Fortunately for teachers of students who may have dyscalculia, Let’s Go Learn’s system for math education matches the support that ASCD recommends for these students.

Let's Go Learn provides online data-driven assessments and personalized instruction!

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Using Let’s Go Learn for Intervention in Dyscalculia

Let’s Go Learn’s online math products offer optimal resources that support students at all levels of math mastery. Math assessments are aligned to state educational standards and include concepts organized by these domains: numbers and operations, measurement, geometry, data analysis, and algebraic thinking. For middle school students and secondary students, assessments include Algebra I.

An outstanding attribute of our diagnostic math assessments is that they identify and analyze learning gaps at all levels of performance, regardless of a student’s age or grade. For students with disabilities, our assessments identify the present level of academic achievement and functional performance (PLAAFP) for individuals with disabilities and thus find their zones of proximal development. Because our assessment process is adaptive, students spend less time on problems that are too easy or too difficult. The result: a sharp decrease in testing time and student anxiety.

“Mathematics anxiety tends to become chronic and to persistently impair skill development. Its effects can be seen on multiple levels—physiological (palpitations, diaphoresis), cognitive (feelings of helplessness, impaired working memory) and behavioral (avoidance).” When creating an intervention plan for a child with dyscalculia, Kaufmann and von Aster go on to explain, “For the best chance of a lasting therapeutic benefit, the treatment should be individually tailored to the findings of the diagnostic evaluation. It should be adapted to the patient’s individual cognitive functional profile.”

—Kaufmann and von Aster

Let’s Go Learn’s platform combines diagnostic data with Artificial Intelligence (AI) to assign instruction designed to address students’ learning gaps. Online specially designed instructional (SDI) courses such as Let’s Go Learn’s Math Edge are automatically created to use as a supplemental education curriculum. Teachers can also assign lessons to individual students as needed. Our instruction:

  • Correlates to all state standards
  • Integrates critical thinking strategies with standards-based skills development
  • Includes direct instruction and practice
  • Provides feedback for incorrect responses
  • Employs music, voice intonation, animation, and game-like interactivity
Girl happy with math

Math Edge online instruction uses universal design and multiple sensory inputs to aid students in learning mathematics. The inclusion of music, engaging narration, and animations in order to teach math concepts allows students with dyscalculia to learn in multiple ways, not solely through reading.

Our scaffolded learning, frequent practice, and focus on ensuring that a dyscalculic child has a strong grasp of arithmetical facts will help teachers implement a comprehensive intervention plan.

According to Kaufmann and von Aster (NCBI, 2012), because of the individualized nature of dyscalculia, some mathematical skills are particularly important in forming intervention plans:

  • basic numerical skills
  • the establishment and consolidation of numero-spatial representations
  • the development of arithmetical reasoning
  • procedural knowledge
  • the automatization of factual knowledge

With a few clicks, classroom teachers can assign our built-in formative tests and assessments to individual students at regular intervals. Not only do these assessments ensure that students have mastered learning objectives, but for students with disabilities, they ensure FAPE compliance. Let’s Go Learn’s formative assessments can be used to monitor progress in all educational environments, including RTI, afterschool programs, and summer school. Our next-gen system uses the formative assessment data to automatically update the student learning path.

After consideration of a student’s overall academic performance and potential symptoms of dyscalculia, you may want to explore our math products for use with students struggling with math. We offer:

  • Online adaptive diagnostic assessments that create an online supplemental curriculum to fill learning gaps
  • Explicit instruction with targeted practice at a student’s optimal learning level
  • Animations, songs, and graphics that make the content accessible to all students
  • Gamification that provides practice and encourages student engagement
  • Formative assessments that adjust the supplemental curriculum
  • Instructional levels that range from K to 9th grade for all students

Resources

ASCD (2020). “The Invisible Math Obstacle.” https://www.ascd.org/el/articles/the-invisible-math-obstacle

Jacobson, R. “How to Spot Dyscalculia.” Child Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/article/how-to-spot-dyscalculia/

McCaskey et al. (2020). “Persistent Differences in Brain Structure in Developmental Dyscalculia.” https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2020.00272/full

NCBI. (2016). “Dyscalculia and the Calculating Brain.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27515455/

NCBI. (2012). “The Diagnosis and Management of Dyscalculia.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3514770/

NCBI. (2019). “The Diagnosis and Treatment of Dyscalculia.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6440373/

Peninsula Cerebral Research Unit. (2018).  “What’s the Evidence? Tools and Strategies to Support Children and Young People with Dyscalculia.” https://www.pencru.org/media/universityofexeter/medicalschool/subsites/pencru/pdfs/Dyscalculia_Whats_The_Evidence_for_publication.pdf

Understood.org. “What Is Dyscalculia?” https://www.understood.org/articles/en/what-is-dyscalculia