Teaching Mathematics to Primary School Kids with Learning Differences: Tips for Parents

Students learn at different rates and face different kinds of challenges. However, there are certain kids that have difficulty mastering even basic skills or school-work content due to road-blocks when it comes to understanding or conceptualizing. The results would be struggles with reading, spelling, listening, articulating and figuring out number sense. Recognizing that kids who face such learning differences would require differentiated instruction is vital since such students acquire information and knowledge in different ways.

Therefore, to ensure successful learning in school, in a centre and even at home among siblings, instruction could be tailored to individual s needs and preferences. Three factors play a role: first being students’ dominant learning style; second, how the trainer approaches each child’s uniqueness in learning and then customizes different programs for different kids and finally, ascertaining how ready that child is to learning.

How then do we try to teach or coach mathematics to primary school kids with learning difficulties?

Here we offer some tips to help kids with learning differences benefit from a good math program.

1. Recognize learner differences in their dominant learning styles

When we can identify the differing dominant learning styles of each child, we can work out strategies to take advantage of these learning differences while training them.

i) Visual Learners – prefer to learn by seeing and observing pictures, diagrams and symbols. They tend to have vivid imaginations and often think pictorially. Thus, show more pictures and video clips for such learners to pick up math skills.
ii) Auditory learners – are auditory processors and learn through listening. They can be vocal and participate actively, sometimes to the annoyance of the teacher who just wants to ramble to finish what he sets off for the day. Listening to how they solve particular math problems could motivate them further and at the same time allow the coach to check on their progress.
iii) Kinesthetic learners – or also called tactile learners –, like to use their hands to touch or act out what they are learning. It is through doing and moving that they learn best and find it easier to form abstracts from the concrete and understand the concepts better. Math manipulatives are particularly good for such children, but I must admit they are excellent resources for early math learning for every child.

2. Be mindful of every child’s limits to his working memory

Here we should not confuse a child with a weak working memory issue with one that exhibits behavioural problems. The teacher might brand his student as having attention issues while it could actually be that the child is swarmed with too many things to learn or that child is unable to retain data (in this instance coming in the form of numbers and patterns) and hence shifts his attention to something else. Our working memory helps us to access information, remember step-by-step instructions, and get started on a task set for us. For some kids with learning challenges three instructions may be too many so breaking instructions down to one or two will help. Not speaking too quickly, and using clear articulation goes a long way. Also, do allow time for some kids to process the information that you are presenting.

Here at SAM Hougang, the children get math evaluation quizzes to identify topical problems and early interventions in specific topical areas get to be addressed before they resume math work that is equivalent to their levels. Such customized work and pace of lessons accommodate their working limits so that they do not fall behind and give up entirely.

3. Use communication like questioning and allowing children to express themselves in order to learn

Students need to be able to express themselves in the ways they feel most comfortable. They need to be able to create new knowledge in different kinds of ways, depending on what works best for them. It is through communication that we get to know our learners. Through asking the right questions and allowing children to express how they arrive at their solutions to each math problem sum, allows the trainer to observe his learners’ responses and progress. Even through students’ own mistakes can students realise it could lead to new solutions. A good tip to note here is that the kids can simultaneously combine the visual information or manipulatives with verbal responses; it is a kind of show-and-tell.

At SAM Hougang, we adapt our unique Math 3APA of facilitation, the first being asking probing questions to get our learners to think (what they see, what they observe and what they understand). It is through this two-way response that we can ascertain our learners’ understanding while the student manages his own level of meta-cognition.

4. Avoid adapting the traditional style of mass learning

I refer to the industrial-factory model of school learning. These assume kids grow and learn based on age and all kids of the same age should attend the same curriculum as their peers. Parents and tutors or teachers should instead design specific lessons customized to different student needs that should go beyond our traditional methods. As creative an approach, as creative a child will grow up to become, too. Work around the structure, but add innovative and creative approaches. Make each lesson seem new and unpredictable. On top of that, classes will have the unique learners, so come with nice surprises for the children. The multiple-sensory inputs — let them hear it, let them see it, let them feel it – will be beneficial especially for children with learning challenges. Here the trainer carves out a learning pathway that is flexible in approach and not requiring every learner in his class to always be doing the same thing at the same time.

At SAM Hougang, our math learning approach is unique. Early learners make use of manipulatives to figure out solutions while they develop conceptual understanding rather than the traditional tutoring approach of procedural fluency. Rather than confusing children with inconsistent math questions of hard and easy ones at one go, we believe in incremental advancement. This helps build confidence as our students learn to discover answers to their math sums themselves sequentially. Our coaching approach provide the guidance for independent discovery while they continue to hone their communication and reasoning skills. This approach of training children’s minds through Seriously Addictive Mathematics will help them not only love math but also become life-long learners.

5. Conclusion

I have not touched on pupils with diagnosed learning difficulties like auditory and visual processing disorder, nonverbal learning disabilities, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and ADHD. The extent of seriousness of those challenges in learning math vary so allowing children to be exposed to performing mathematical tasks do still provide opportunities through encouragement rather than the opposite.

At SAM Hougang, we give opportunities for every child to showcase his strength. We join in celebrating his math success even if it is the slightest bit. On the part of parents, recognize our children learn and think differently but all can thrive with the right support. The sooner we know what’s going on with our child, the sooner we can get your child help. Seek professional help, if you have any concerns about your child’s learning.

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