Dyscalculia for Educators

Why is knowing about dyscalculia important?

Dyscalculia impacts approximately 6% (six percent) of the population. In the UK that equates to about 1 million (one million) children and young adults, but we know many more have maths difficulties – approx. 25% (twenty-five percent)

Unfortunately, dyscalculia is under- represented in the field of neurodiversity and knowledge of dyscalculia is limited. Dyscalculia is currently not taught about on PGCE courses – even for maths teachers!

We want to help change this lack of awareness and knowledge so all educators have heard of dyscalculia and know how best to help, so we can together make sure all learners have every opportunity to reach their full potential.

Dyscalculia for Educators

What is Dyscalculia and what are the indicators?

Dyscalculia is a learning difficulty that significantly impairs an individual’s ability to understand and manipulate numbers, often described through a collection of indicators. A person with dyscalculia typically has a poor memory for maths facts and procedures, which hampers the acquisition of basic maths skills. This is compounded by a weak number sense, making grasping numerical concepts and values challenging.

Individuals with dyscalculia might also find it tough to judge if a numerical answer is reasonable, reflecting a deeper struggle with numerical estimation and mental arithmetic. They often have difficulties with generalising mathematical concepts across different problems and situations. A noticeable symptom is the inability to subitise, or instantly recognise the quantity of a small set of objects, which most people do effortlessly.

Processing speed for numerical information is usually slow, impacting the ability to notice patterns, critical for understanding mathematical relationships. Memory issues, both short-term and long-term, exacerbate learning difficulties, especially in tasks that require recalling sequences of steps or numbers, such as multi-step calculations.

Money management becomes a challenge due to issues with understanding financial concepts. Visual and spatial orientation weaknesses affect the interpretation of graphs and geometric shapes, while difficulties in sequencing can lead to a misunderstanding of numerical order. Learning to tell the time and comprehending time-related concepts can be especially tough, often accompanied by directional confusion, which might manifest as mixing up left and right or reversing numbers.

Word problems are a particular struggle because they combine language with numerical information, requiring a level of comprehension that dyscalculia impairs. Additionally, counting backwards and adopting effective strategies for calculations, like counting by numbers other than one, are often unreliable. Language difficulties may further complicate these challenges, highlighting the multifaceted nature of dyscalculia.

The Jenga Effect

Building a firm foundation in maths is vital. For many learners with dyscalculia or maths difficulties a firm foundation is never built, instead they have a very wobbly maths tower; the foundation concepts knowledge and understanding of maths, like number bonds, times tables and place value are not fully grasped.

However, the next, harder level concepts, knowledge, and understanding is still taught to the learner as the class moves on. They then move to the next year group with even harder concepts and expectations and often fall further and further behind.

Maths is a building block subject, one layer relies on the next, for example times tables and division is vital for understanding and completing fraction processes, so then the learner with dyscalculia and maths difficulties doesn’t have the pre-skills they need to succeed.

Dyscalculic adults often describe this as like they are trying to complete a puzzle where the pieces shift around, move, and don’t fit together.

When this happens for a prolonged period, often even with small group intervention, the learner becomes, understandably, more and more unsure and maths anxiety kicks in which further impacts their ability to process information.

This is why the key to success for a learner with dyscalculia and maths difficulties is to give them work at the level they are at and not at the ‘expected level’.

To achieve this, we need to complete an assessment for intervention, so we know what level the learner is at and then pitch our teaching, intervention etc at this level (or ideal just before the level of breakdown to improve confidence)

Assessment for intervention

An assessment for intervention is essential to assess where the learner is with their knowledge and understanding of maths to be able to best support the learner and ensure they reach their full potential.

The Maths and Dyscalculia Assessment

Jennings and Emerson

DANS - Diagnostic Assessment of Numeracy Skills

Sarah Wedderburn

The Dyscalculia Assessment

Emerson and Babtie

More trouble with Maths

Steve Chinn

Available on-line screening, and assessment resources (may also include intervention programmes):

Snap Maths

Dynamo Maths

DL Numeracy

Calcularis

Intervention – Top Tips

Dyscalculic learners in Primary Schools
  • Assess where the learner is in their current knowledge and understanding: use assessment for learning to identify gaps.
  • Begin intervention early and just before the level of breakdown: don’t be afraid to peel right back to build from what the learner already knows.
  • Use the Concrete, Pictorial, Visualise, Verbalise, Abstract approach: multi-sensory learning is key.
  • Scaffold learning: always revise pre-skills, teach concepts in very small, progressive steps, and move slowly to ensure learners have a good understanding.
  • Provide lots of practice opportunities. Aim for little and often: repetition and over-learning are key.
  • Allow plenty of time: allow extra time for processing instructions and avoid timed activities and/or timed tests.
  • Take time to explicitly teach vocabulary: talk about the meaning of maths words ideally in the context of things learners are interested in.
  • Play lots of games: games increase engagement, help make maths fun and can reduce anxiety.
  • Praise and celebrate each success: praise is the key to developing confidence.
  • Assess where the learner is in their current knowledge and understanding: use assessment for learning to identify gaps.
  • Begin intervention early and just before the level of breakdown: don’t be afraid to peel right back to build from what the learner already knows.
  • Differentiate class work; work needs to always be accessible for the learner.
  • Use a multi-sensory approach: hands on manipulatives are helpful.
  • Give handouts/ work that is on the board in advance: avoid copying from the board.
  • Make sure the learner knows they can use any strategy they find useful: but it helps to ensure consistent strategies are taught throughout the school.
  • Give learners extra time, and time to answer: don’t put them on the spot.
  • Ensure the learner understands the vocabulary: explicitly teach maths vocabulary.
  • Encourage maths talk: this ensures we spot and challenge misconceptions.
  • Give access to a basic calculator: learners can still then access harder concepts whilst they are developing mastery of basic calculations.
  • Give differentiated homework: preferably not online.
  • Make sure the learner has access arrangements in place: access arrangements can be given just for maths difficulties and make sure they are used for all tests.
  • Praise and celebrate each success: praise is the key to developing confidence.
  • Assess where the learner is in their current knowledge and understanding: go beyond the initial assessment, use assessment for learning to identify gaps.
  • Begin intervention early and just before the level of breakdown: don’t be afraid to peel right back to build from what the learner already knows- this is likely to be much further back than you might first think!
  • Be aware of masking: it is very common for individuals to have spent years masking their difficulties with maths, unmasking is essential to provide relevant support and to ensure learners feel safe. Find out about previous experiences of maths, any anxiety and talk about expectations.
  • Differentiate class/group work: work needs to always be accessible for the learner.
  • Use a multi-sensory approach: hands on manipulatives are helpful.
  • Link course content to the area of study: this ensures it is relevant to future careers and helps learners see the value in the maths learning.
  • Give handouts/ work that is on the board in advance: avoid copying from the board.
  • Make sure the learner knows they can use any strategy they find useful: but it helps to ensure they have some key, ‘universal’, strategies that they can draw upon e.g. partitioning to add.
  • Give learners extra time, and time to answer: learners need considerably more processing time and putting them on the spot increases anxiety and reduces processing time even further.
  • Ensure the learner understands the vocabulary: explicitly teach maths vocabulary.
  • Encourage maths talk: this ensures we spot and challenge misconceptions.
  • Give access to a basic calculator: learners can still then access harder concepts whilst they are developing mastery of basic calculations.
  • If applicable give differentiated homework: preferably not online.
  • Make sure the learner has access arrangements or DSA in place: access arrangements can be given just for maths difficulties and make sure they are used for all tests. DSA should be investigated for learners needing support in higher education.
  • Make sure the learner knows about Workplace Assessment and Access to Work: this will ensure that they have the best support in current/future employment.
  • Praise and celebrate each success: learners will often feel, ‘stupid’ and confidence will be easily knocked so praise is vital.
About Dyscalculia Network

Summary - Supporting a learner with dyscalculia

Complete a Dyscalculia Checklist
To gather more information
1
Collate evidence to help the learner receive maximum help
assessment for learning, intervention support, access arrangement assistance (via SENCO), diagnostic assessment.
2
Understand the Jenga Effect
Start at the right level for the learner.
3
Complete an assessment for intervention
Assess to inform intervention.
4
Follow our top tips for educators
Download our Information Sheets as a reminder
5
Look at the resources section of our website
There are great books on dyscalculia and maths difficulties to support you and your learners.
6
Join one of our free Q&A sessions
We host regular free Q&A sessions via Eventbrite if you have a specific question. Details can be found in NEWS or on our social media.
7
Get more training for you and/or your colleagues
We offer despoke training both online and in person and accredited specialist dyscalculia training links are also shown below
8

Useful FREE Downloads for Educators

Download All Resources

Download the School Assembly for Primary and Secondary Schools and Maths Activities for Primary and Secondary Schools.

Primary School Assembly and Crib Sheet

The Secondary School Assembly and Crib Sheet

Maths Activities For Primary Schools

Maths Activities For Secondary Schools

Information Sheet for Educators

Information Sheet for Primary Schools

Information Sheet for Secondary Schools

Information Sheet for Further Education

Lawrlwythiadau defnyddiol AM DDIM i Addysgwyr - Fersiynau Cymraeg

Cyfieithwyd y taflenni gwybodaeth hyn yn garedig gan wirfoddolwr. Nid oes gan rai geiriau gyfieithiad Cymraeg uniongyrchol felly mae'n bosibl y bydd dewis arall wedi cael ei ddefnyddio ac efallai nad ydynt ychwaith yn cyfrif am wahaniaethau mewn tafodiaith ranbarthol.

Taflen Wybodaeth ar gyfer Ysgolion Cynradd

Taflen Wybodaeth ar gyfer Ysgolion Uwchradd

Taflen Wybodaeth ar gyfer Addysg Bellach

Training

We offer both regular online dyscalculia training events for all our community to access as well as bespoke in person or online training for individual schools, colleges, and other educational establishments. From one hour awareness training, full-day courses to bespoke training programmes we can offer something to suit all your needs, and budgets
For more information or to book dyscalculia training for your educational setting

Accredited Dyscalculia training – Levels 3, 5, 7

Current SASC

Guidelines on assessment of Dyscalculia and maths difficulties in England

British Dyslexia Association

SEND Group

Judy Hornigold and Steve Chinn

Chester University

Edge Hill University

Information on Dyscalculia in Scotland

Games For Educators

Blogs for Educators

Case Studies

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