Experts

Cheryl: A Dyscalculia Case Study 

By Dr. Honora Wall, EduCalc Learning

 

When I first met Cheryl, she was entering fourth grade but was stuck doing kindergarten math work. Her school wasn’t willing to let her move ahead until she had correctly finished the kindergarten math book. Cheryl was diagnosed with dyslexia and dyscalculia; the teachers and administrative staff at her school understood dyslexia as a reading disability, but they weren’t familiar with the term “dyscalculia” at all. Cheryl, her teachers, and her parents were frustrated with Cheryl’s inability to do below-grade level work. Her teachers wouldn’t give her grade-level work until she could master her original worksheets. She didn’t know what she was doing wrong or what to do differently, and felt incapable of ever reaching this goal. Cheryl’s parents decided to move her to a small private school that might be better suited to meet her learning needs. The school recommended me as a math specialist who might be able to help.

 

Cheryl’s mom, Cynthia, phoned me to talk about summer tutoring. She didn’t know if there was much hope for her daughter. Cheryl already had four years of math struggles behind her, and it seemed she was destined to never understand numbers. The family’s goals for Cheryl were to see if she could do any math at all, and to make her school experience more positive. Cynthia and her husband weren’t concerned with Cheryl getting to grade level math. Her mom had “never been much of a math person” herself and they didn’t want to set unreasonable goals or make Cheryl feel more pressured than she already did. She told me that Cheryl was very shy and not very happy about doing math at all, especially not over the summer. We set a schedule of one-hour sessions, once a week.

 

Cheryl was polite but withdrawn, understandably so. Her lived experiences with math and math teachers were universally negative. She stayed in her room until her mom made her come out. She did not make eye contact with me and didn’t have a lot to say. I knew that jumping in with standard math tools– pencil, paper, worksheets– would shut her down even further, so I began our work by asking her questions. How did she feel about math? How did she feel about herself as a mathematician? Which math topics did she feel good about, or at least, which ones did she feel the least badly about? For every emotion-based answer she gave (“I hate it”, “math makes me sad”), I affirmed her feelings (“I can understand that”, “I would probably feel that way too”) without attempting to change or challenge what she said. When she talked 5 about her past math experiences in school or at home, I allied with her (“That must have been incredibly frustrating” or “No wonder you didn’t want to try after that”), rather than asking her to see things from the adult’s point of view. When she talked about math topics that scared her, I was reassuring, instead of contradicting her feelings (“Oh yeah, fractions are the worst. We’ll fix that, but not for a while. We have plenty of time before we worry about doing that!”). I’ve found that this approach is vital for helping struggling students: first, meet them where they are, without judgment. Validate their feelings without asking them to validate anyone else’s feelings. Acknowledge their challenges and struggles without making them feel bad for having them. I listen to a lot of teachers and parents who are pretty good at the first half (meet students where they are, validate feelings, acknowledge struggles) but terrible at the second half (without judgment, without disrespecting their feelings, without making the student feel inadequate).

 

I asked Cheryl to pick one math-related thing that she wanted to talk about. She chose shapes. She felt like she knew what shapes were, but she always got low scores on her work, and she wanted to know why. “Ok,” I said, “think of everything you know about shapes, and tell me what you know.” She could describe shapes by their names (“Well, there are triangles and squares and circles”) but was confused by their design elements (i.e., number of sides). “Ok,” I said, “I want you to look around the house and find me examples of all the different shapes you can think of.” She came back with a box of cereal and a bowl. We talked about the names for these shapes and how hard it is to find a triangle-shaped item lying around, unless there’s a bag of Doritos handy. We decided to make a poster of shapes, and she wanted to put the names of each shape inside the shape on the poster, because when she looked at a page filled with objects and words, she wasn’t always sure which ones went together. At this point, I learned as much as Cheryl did that day. I realized that she had a disconnect between text, drawings, and objects; they weren’t coded together into one concept. Once we identified this disconnect, we made a poster with large shapes so that Cheryl could write the shape name and its characteristics inside the shape itself. We also used colours to tie all important information together. Viola! Cheryl never had a question about shapes again.

 

Many of Cheryl’s math struggles came from this type of disconnect. Once we identified a disconnect we immediately created the necessary connections through discussions, creativity, 6 and real-world objects. Cheryl progressed quickly and we jumped into grade-level math topics, fixing her foundation as we went along. Cheryl was able to pass fourth grade math and remained on grade level. Five years later, she has become a confident, engaged math student who believes she can learn any math topic. She even ranks math as one of her favourite subjects!

 

 

A Dyscalculia Network Success Story – Pursuing a Dream

 

‘In school, I couldn’t get my head around math. I always struggled. I always felt I was stupid because I couldn’t understand the simplest sum.

 

Throughout my whole life, I have always avoided math. Until one day, I couldn’t run any more as I had started a level 3 Educator Early Years course to become a teacher for young children and I needed maths.

 

I knew it was going to be a struggle to pass my Functional Skills Maths Level 2. I failed so many times when I had to do it remotely, I knew it might help if I did the paper exam. I paid two different tutors which didn’t work. I even tried doing it through a different exam board as well as through City and Guilds. However, I still didn’t pass (September 2021- July 2022). I was advised by my assessors that unfortunately I was running out of time and that I needed another solution.

 

One morning, I decided to have a look on Google’s search page to find adults that struggle doing math. I remember reading about an adult who said they always knew they couldn’t understand maths. It was later that I was diagnosed as having this same learning difficulty – dyscalculia. I didn’t realise there was actually a name for it. As I carried on looking on google, I typed in dyscalculia quiz and the result was that I had dyscalculia. I cried as I realised that I wasn’t stupid, but I truly had a reason for my difficulties. I was so happy to know why I struggled so much. I contacted the GP and explained my situation and she said that she will refer me. I went back and told my assessor, she checked with City and Guilds to see if they can give me extra time for my exam and they could.


I knew I had to find a dyscalculia tutor so I went on Google and I applied to quite a few until I found the one that fitted me and my needs. I contacted www.dyscalculianetwork.com and received an email from Cat Eadle who was ever so kind. Cat put me in touch with a tutor called Marijke Walters and forwarded me her email address. I emailed Marijke about my situation and she responded straight away. She said she was busy with many clients however she knew I needed her help so agreed to help me. We arranged a time to talk and then she booked me in for my first lesson. 

 

My first lesson was October 2022 and I knew Marijke was going to be a good tutor. She is patient, knowledgeable, understanding and extremely supportive. In my first lesson, I had a light bulb moment – that was the first time I understood prime numbers. It was the way she explained and breaks down hard question step by step that really helped me. I had tears in my eyes, for the very first time in my life I finally understood maths. As Marijke continued tutoring me, my confidence and understanding grew. We both agreed the paper exam was the best way to go. On the 14th December 2022, I did my exam and, on the 3rd January 2023, I was told by my assessor that I had passed my Functional Skill Level 2 Maths Exam!

 

As an adult I never thought the day would come that I would ever understand maths, let alone pass my maths exam. I’m truly grateful to Marijke Walters for tutoring me and for the Dyscalculia Network for everything they have done.’

 

Marijke can be contacted at –

info@mathssolutions.co.uk

Teaching Tips – Number Formation 

By Rob Jennings  

 

Writing numbers the correct way around can be difficult for younger learners and learners with Dyscalculia and Dyslexia.

 

In this great video Rob shares his top tips for helping students to form numbers correctly! 

 

Rob Jennings

Largest Number Game 

By Karen Go Soco 

A game for 2 or more players

This game provides practice of reading large numbers 

 

Large numbers can often seem daunting and can be tricky to read. Breaking them down into 3-digit chunks on a place value grid, trying to make the biggest number to beat your opponent, encourages understanding of the place value and helps build confidence and fluency in reading the resulting numbers.

 

This game can easily be played with the digit chunks written on cards instead of sticks. It could also be played using just two chunks, to focus on 6-digit numbers.

 

You will need:

 

Place value grid 

https://www.fixitmaths.com/web-content/place-value-grid-millions-simplified.pdf

A selection of mini Lolly Pop Sticks with 3-digit numbers on each / or cards

https://amzn.to/3WqMaHn

 

Decide how many rounds of the game you will play!

 

Take turns to pick a stick/card

 

Choose where to put your card on the place value grid

 

You cannot move it once placed

 

Read you and your opponents numbers 

 

The biggest number wins the round 

 

 

More great games ideas can be found at  https://www.fixitmaths.com

 

 

Bug Battles!

By Karen Go Soco 

 

 A game for 2 or more players

 

This game provides practice of finding all the factors of a number.

 

You will need:

Pen and paper

Number cards (choose numbers you want to find factors of)

A multiplication square can be used for support as needed

 

Agree how many rounds will be played.

Players each draw a card and then make a factor bug to record the factor pairs.

Each person scores points equal to the number of factors their bug has.

 

The winner is the person with the most points after the agreed number of rounds.

 

Variations

  • Play using an appropriate dice instead of number cards

  • Turn over cards equal to the number of players, then each player in turn chooses one of the cards. A different player should choose first each round.

More information about factors at: https://www.fixitmaths.com/howto-factors.html