While all of our students don’t need ALL of these strategies, I’ve organized a lot of the things mentioned in this series of blog posts into six big categories. I hope that they’ll help you wrap your mind around SIMPLE things that you can do to help your students with some of their biggest learning obstacles in math.
Place Holders & Trackers
For many of our students, keeping track of their place is HARD. However, I love to have a few tools handy to help them keep track of where they are and what they’re doing.
Aligning Numbers & Organization
We know just how important handwriting and organization will be for our students to complete nearly all math tasks, so we better have a few things handy for those who struggle in this area.
Lined Paper Turned Sideways
Recalling Steps & Information
Auditory and visual memory play a HUGE part in the success of our students completing math tasks. When possible, do a few things that can help them recall the steps and information that will help them be successful.
Ask for Additional Examples
When Possible, Eliminate or Reduce
I want you to keep in mind that everyone NEEDS to practice things that are difficult in order to become better at them. But in some cases, it isn’t worth the time, isn’t the right setting, or could significantly be reduced to provide a better balance.
Long Tasks that Aren’t Measuring or Practicing Targeted Skill
Background Noise & Distractions
I love to use a hundreds chart. They can be used in SO many ways. For the purposes of helping students process information described in this series, I love them because they help them in so many ways.
Copying Numbers Correctly
Self-Checking Written Numbers
Visual Aide While Counting
Solving Addition & Subtraction Problems Quickly
Finding, Seeing, and Understanding Patterns
Recalling and organizing information can be tricky! It’s important to have resources available to them to help them reference material when it is needed, whether that be for helping students align numbers correctly or remember the steps to a long problem.
How do low scores in expressive and receptive language impact our students’ ability to do math? For a long time, I think I zoned out when the SLP was sharing the results of her scores on evaluations. But, not anymore! I’m see that these areas can impact a student’s ability to complete classroom tasks.
Our job is to be constantly be looking at ways to help and accommodation them.
Expressive language is a persons ability to express their needs, wants, ideas, and thoughts. It is their ability to use either words, phrases, or sentences to be able to communicate with others.
For students with weaknesses in this area, what might we see?
We might see a student who is struggling to read or recall various numbers or math words aloud.
We might see a student who is having a hard time answering problems or questions aloud.
We might see a student who has a hard time explaining their thinking. For example, think of the student who knew what to do and did it all on their own, but their ability to explain that to others is incredibly hard for them.
5 Strategies To Help Students with Expressive Language Deficits
Teacher Led Explanations
The most supportive strategy requires you to do the majority of the explaining.
For example: you notice your student has the correct answer on his paper, but it having a hard time articulating his response. You could start by sharing exactly what he did and asking for their confirmation throughout the process.
To provide support without doing all of the talking, ask students questions.
What did you do first?
Where did you look in this problem first?
Then what did you do?
I see two minus seven, what was your thinking here?
True or False & Yes or No
For some students, they can’t always put the process into words on their own, but they could answer true or false questions or yes or no questions.
Is it true that I usually start in the ones column?
Yes or No: If I have two, can I take away seven?
With practice, some of your students might be able to easily share about their math process. For others, they are able to explain the process with sentence stems.
I like to train my students to use words like, first, then, and finally to help explain their work.
For students who require less support, a word wall or reference sheet with math vocabulary can be extremely helpful as they search for words to explain their thinking.
Receptive language is the language that we receive. Students use receptive language as they listen to the teacher or other students talking. Students who have a strength in receptive language understand the words as they are spoken.
For students with weaknesses in this area, what might we see?
We might see a student that is asking for things to be repeated more than others.
We might see a student have a hard time following directions.
We might see a student that is having a hard time understanding the math terms. This might be things like tens, ones, sum, multiplication, dividend, subtract, etc.
We might see a student have difficulties with word problems.
9 Strategies To Help Students with Receptive Language Deficits
Naturally Repeating Oral Language
Asking for things to be repeated all the time can be embarrassing for students. For others, they may not even realize that they need to ask for things to be repeated. Instead, be mindful of your students’ needs. Try to naturally repeat everything as many times as possible.
If you’re feeling like a broken record, ask another student to tell the class or students what you’ve just said.
Show AND Tell
When giving directions orally, do your best to also show them what to do. If you’re asking students to get out their pencil, a ruler, and their math book, lay the items under the document camera for them to see.
For some students, they can receive language with additional time. It’s easy to get into a rush. When possible, be sure to provide additional wait time for students to process information.
Use a Word Wall
As mentioned above, a word wall is perfect for students to use when they can’t find the right word. Well, guess what? It’s also useful for students to reference when they don’t understand a word that has been spoken.
A word wall, paired with extra wait time, can be very help for allowing students to understand what has been shared aloud.
This Week’s Focus Word Wall
A word wall is wonderful, but it can also be overwhelming. There are SO many math terms that we might be sifting through in order to find the word we need.
Instead, try having a handful of words that you are using for this week or unit. Then, students don’t need to search here, there, and everywhere. They know right where to look.
Use Models, Pictures, and Manipulatives
Each math topic will require different materials. However, using visual aides will help your students hear, see, and understand skills in a more concrete way.
I want you to really think and watch your students. Are they struggling to communicate their thoughts? Are they struggling to process the things that you’re saying? Are they struggling in both of those areas? What things are you seeing that with one little tweak might make a BIG difference?
Be mindful, and do your best to incorporate some of these things into your classroom regularly.
What is working memory? Working memory is the ability to hold information in the brain and do something with it. For example, this is the skill that is needed to help us remember a phone number that we heard on the radio and then dial it on our phone thirty seconds later.
Causes for Poor Working Memory: ADHD Inattentive Type, Traumatic Brain Injury, Deafness, Oral Language Deficits, or Genetic Disorders
Students with Poor Working Memory Might:
Forget what was assigned for homework
Struggle to copy from the board or a book
Fail to remember multiple steps
Strategies to Help Students with Poor Working Memory:
Chunk Information into Smaller Bites
Make it Multi-Sensory
Use Songs or Rhymes
Reduce Background Noise and Distractions
What is short term memory? Short term memory is the system in the brain that allows you to hold limited amounts of material for small periods of time. We use this part of the brain when we try to remember where we parked our car, what we had for lunch, or what happened in the book that we read yesterday.
Causes for Poor Short Term Memory: Lack of Oxygen to the Brain, Alcohol Abuse, Drug Abuse, Concussions, Head Trauma, Seizures, Epilepsy, and Depression
Students with Poor Short Term Memory Might:
Do great in class then poorly later, such as after recess or while doing homework
Have trouble recalling details from lessons or activities that have been done very recently
Strategies to Help Students with Poor Short Term Memory:
Make Cheat Sheets
Train to Make Notes
Ask for Additional Examples
What is long term memory? Long term memory refers to the part of the brain that stores information for long periods of time. For example, your long term memory is at work as you remember things that you did as a child, in high school, vacations, or milestones that have happened in your life.
Causes for Poor Long Term Memory: Neurological Medical Conditions, Head Injuries, and Aging
Students with Poor Long Term Memory Might:
Have difficulty with unit or end of semester tests
Struggle with chapter reviews
Show poor performance on standardized tests
Strategies to Help Students with Poor Long Term Memory:
Avoid Learning a Lot of Information at One Time
Use Visuals to Organize Information
Say It Aloud
Read Text Aloud to Yourself
Technology to Help Recall Details, Reminders, and Notes
What is sequential memory? Sequential memory describes the area of the brain that recalls things that were seen or heard in a specific sequence. You utilize your sequential memory when you make your grandma’s famous cookie recipe from memory or croquet a baby blanket.
Causes for Poor Sequential Memory: Weaknesses in Auditory or Visual Processing
Students with Poor Sequential Memory Might:
Be unable to say the days of the week, the months of the year, the Pledge of Allegiance, or nursery rhymes
Have difficulty remember daily procedures
Be unable to tell time
Fail to accurately count money
Struggle to solve large computation problems
Strategies to Help Students with Poor Sequential Memory:
Have Students Repeat Steps Aloud
Make the Steps into a Song or Rhyme
Find or Create Visuals with Steps
Practice Attempting to Remember the Order of Objects, Colors, or Numbers
Use Auditory Methods for Those with Visual Weaknesses
Use Visual Methods for Those with Auditory Weaknesses
What is a motor perceptual disability? Students with difficulty in this area have a hard time coordinating their eyes to their hand movements. They often have a hard time holding, moving, or using a crayon or pencil. They might may seem very uncoordinated.
Below, you’ll find examples of things you might see students with motor perceptual disabilities doing in your classroom as well as some strategies for helping them overcome these difficulties.
1. Writes Uphill or Downhill
In math, this could cause students to solve math problems incorrectly. Their paper might seem unorganized or hard for you (and sometimes even them) to read. This is not what their brain WANTS to happen, but it is difficult for their brain and their hands to communicate and execute a plan.
Strategy: Utilize graph paper or a ruler to help them align their numbers as they work.
2. Difficulty Keeping Up or Copying
Time, effort, and energy spent on writing is unable to be used on actually solving math problems. For students who are really struggling to copy, write, or keep up, we might need to adjust the written demands that we are putting in front of them.
In my mind, you have to decide, which is more important? Copying the problem or doing the computation?
Strategy: How can we have a good balance of writing *some* of the problems without requiring them to do it all? I like to write the first number in an addition or subtraction problem. Then, students can write the second number below. Finding the right balance of writing is key!
3. Long Problems Are Hard
While long problems can be difficult for an array of reasons, for students who are struggling with organizing information in writing it can be especially difficulty. Students with motor disabilities often struggle to complete long problems.
Strategy: Break the problems into small manageable pieces. Help guide them through the problem one small piece at a time.
What is a spatial disability? Students with spatial disabilities struggle or organize and process information that is presented visually. They often cannot manipulate, find patterns, or change patterns in their mind.
1. Great at Rote Tasks
Students with spatial disabilities are often great at rote tasks, such as basic math computation. Things that you do each and every day are a strength for them. They might be the first person to share an answer in a small group, but when those same skills are taken to the next level, they often struggle. Word problems and practical applications are a challenge.
Strategy: Allow students get up and physically DO the actions that are described in a word problem. Allow them to test out their thoughts. This should be incorporated into their daily routine to help them become something that is rote.
2. First, Next, and Last
Words that describe the order are often challenging for students to understand. Even as a teacher, explaining these words can be challenging.
Strategy: Use visuals in the classroom to help them see these important words demonstrated.
3. Right, Left, Up, Down
Describing position can also be a challenge for students with spatial disabilities. How many adults struggle with left and right? 🙋🏻♀️ These words mean nothing to a student who is struggling to navigate the space around them.
Strategy: Use rote activities and games to help them practice these words. I also think that visuals, just like with first, next, and last, are a great tool for students to see every day.
4. Forming Numbers Incorrectly
Many of our students form numbers incorrectly. This is part of their difficulty with visual and spatial processing. Be on the lookout for students who struggle in this area and help them become more aware that particular numbers might be more difficult for them than others.
Strategy: Have visuals, such as a hundreds chart, available to students for self-checking.
5. Aligning Numbers
Math has SO many numbers and symbols. Accuracy in math relies heavily on getting all of the right numbers in all of the right places. If you notice that students have a hard time placing decimals or numbers in fractions in the correct places, this could be the result of low scores in spatial skills.
Strategy: Graph paper, lined paper turned sideways, and frames can help your students place numbers in the correct places.
Auditory and Visual Disabilities are caused by a difficulty processing visual or auditory information in the brain. And man, oh man, do these processing difficulties make learning more difficult for them at school.
For many of our kids, we identify weaknesses in reading, and often times, qualify them as having a specific learning disability in reading. However, we need to be aware and looking for times when these processing difficulties might also be occurring in math!
1. Students Might Lose Their Place
Students with difficulty processing visual information often lose their place as they’re solving math problems. For example, I often use a hundreds chart with my students. They might look at their paper and see 4 + 3. They use their hundreds chart to solve and discover that the answer is 7.
However, students who struggle to find their place might have a hard time finding the original problem on the paper. Meaning, now they KNOW the answer, however, they can’t record it in the correct place to show what they know.
Strategy: I like to use bingo markers, fun erasers, desk pets, or child specific objects to indicate where they should write their answer or return to after finding the answer.
2. Unable to Locate Relevant Information On Their Own
Have you ever asked your students to point to a number on a page or find a specific word and they cannot do it? For students with visual processing difficulties, scanning a page for specific information can be extremely difficult for them. You might see that they cannot locate symbols, numbers, or words, despite their ability to recognize those when they are shown them in isolation.
Strategy: Use colored overlays to help your students focus in on a small portion of the page. You can also use clue words, such as near the top or at the bottom to help your students be able to locate the correct information.
3. Difficulty Copying
Copying can be very hard for so many of our students. They might find it difficult to copy from the board, a neighbor, their ChromeBook, a book, or even from the top of a worksheet to the bottom half of the worksheet.
Strategy: Explicitly teach and train them to use their hand, marker, or crayon to mark their place. When possible, provide additional time.
4. Mixing Up Numbers
We all do it, but some of our students do it frequently. Be on the lookout for students who have a combination of the numbers that were used but they’re written in the incorrect order, such 293 but writing 239. This is not quite the same as reversals, such as confusing the letters d and p.
Strategy: Have students read it aloud (or whisper) and repeat it as they write in order to rely on their auditory and working memory skills rather than their visual skills.
5. Copying Problems Incorrectly
Again, this is not referring to reversals. You might notice students who are copying from the board and grab a number from one problem and a completely different (and incorrect) number from another problem. This will more than likely result in the wrong answer and we might laugh it off. However, if this is happening often, it might be the result of a visual processing disability.
Strategy: Have students use highlighters to check off what is done, fingers to point, or desk pets to indicate where they have already been and what’s coming next. They need a place to remind their eyes where to go.
6. Numbers Being Written Backward
I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve see the numbers 2, 3, 5, 7, and 9 written backward.
Strategy: I use a hundreds chart to help my students self check before they write or record a number. I also like to have students who do this often self-monitor themselves before or after they write a number that they know is difficult for them.
Students with auditory based processing difficulties are often unable to differentiate between those teen numbers and numbers that sound a bit similar.
Strategy: You can never go wrong with a hundreds chart! Have students point as you count aloud. And don’t forget, you can’t rely on the one that is hanging in the front of the classroom. Allow students to have their own hundreds chart and point as the group or class count.
8. Regrouping Struggles
For some of our students, they often struggle to place numbers in the proper places when regrouping, whether that be for addition or subtraction. This can be the result of not understand place value well enough OR it could be that the student is getting lost visually on the paper.
Strategy: Write “tiny” versions of the sums and have your students draw arrows to the correct columns. I often rely on repetitive phrases that are used over and over, such as “Carry the one.” When dealing with three or more digit numbers, they can use a ruler to slide from one column to another.
Students with difficulty processing visual information are often unable to identify standard groups of objects, such as the dots on dice. This slows down their ability to recognize groups of objects and counting quickly.
Strategy: Dedicate more time for the memorization of groups of objects that would require students to subitize. If that isn’t effective, teach students to begin making groups of two!
10. Always Behind
As we are rushing through our small groups and daily lessons, some of our students just struggle to keep up. BE on the lookout for students who are processing auditory information. Have you ever had a student (or maybe yourself), and say, “Huh?” or “What did you say?” but then immediately answer the question you just asked? They are often in need of extra time to think.
Strategy: Begin teaching students some self-advocacy strategies. When the pace is too fast, we begin creating environments that are too much for our students. So, for yourself, slow down. And for your students, teach them that it’s ok to politely ask you to repeat information, slow down, or give them time to think.