Both knowledge and skills in mathematics are necessary for childhood and adulthood due to their practical implementation. Children with learning disabilities may have problems with counting real-life objects and purchasing, which is caused by complex neurologic and cognitive issues. In turn, the inability to perform simple manipulations leads to the failure in arithmetic operations and resolving diverse situations. Poor mathematical skills limit employment opportunities, forcing adults to work for lower wages. In this connection, children with special needs should be given more assistance from teachers.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) define the term of math disability (MD) as mathematical difficulties that result from an inherent flaw in mathematical cognition (Soares et al., 2018). Dyscalculia can also be identified as a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects specific areas of the brain that is responsible for math skills. Numeracy is considered the basic skill that is to be learned to master further topics. Among the cognitive processes that impact MD, it is possible to note difficulties with mastering fundamental number facts, arithmetic weakness, and the language of math.
The majority of students with MD struggle to memorize basic number facts, having no adequate understanding of operations. These children continue to count on fingers instead of working on the automated knowledge that 2×4=8, for example. Arithmetic weakness, also known as math talent, refers to the inconsistency in calculation even though a student is aware of math concepts. This disability can be expressed in paying no attention to operational signs and the steps that are needed to perform operations (Swanson et al., 2013). Some students have problems with understanding the language of math, failing to master terminology and explanations. This issue is closely associated with different reading disabilities.
To assist children with MD, teachers should adjust their strategies according to the specific needs of students. For example, if a student needs accommodation with memorizing basic math operations, it is possible to strengthen the use of counting. Two options for intervention include decomposition and retrieval of arithmetic facts, which positively impact the development of memory representations (Swanson et al., 2013). The strategy of direct retrieval means that children are asked to refer to their long-term memory to state the answer. A teacher can prepare a brief list of basic math facts to help the students with memorizing. The strategy of decomposition can be used to reconstruct the answer and promote the understanding of math operations. For example, to calculate 2+3, it is possible to make 2+2 and then add 1. These interventions encourage both automation and comprehension of basic math operations.
For the identified problems with basic math operations and mentioned interventions, the direct instructional design seems to the most relevant decision. It is estimated that 5% of US students studying in public schools (2.5 million) had dyscalculia in 2018; but in the last decade, the application of instructional interventions led to the decline of mathematical learning disabilities (Soares et al., 2018). The choice of the direct instruction can be justified by the need to accommodate the learning for a particular student, while other children show better results. Compared to universal design learning, the key advantages of the chosen teaching method for the given example are a focus on student participation and timeliness of intervention. Considering that the direct instruction teaching method is teacher-directed and explicit, it is likely to benefit students due to the effective instructional delivery.
The changes in curriculum design and teacher-student interactions seem to be important for clear communication and a more detailed approach to students with special needs. In particular, students with MD should be supported in terms of additional materials and guidance to perform classroom tasks (Swanson et al., 2013). For example, motivational games can be used to involve these students in the process of mastering math skills. These games can be interactive based on electronic devices, or they can be offered by means of traditional pencils and papers. It can be necessary to allocate some more time after classes to practice math operations. However, such sessions should be about 15 minutes instead of longer periods, which is important to maintain students’ interest in the subject. A method of self-charting can be mentioned as another beneficial tool to show students that they progress through the curriculum (Swanson et al., 2013). Since students track their own development, one may suggest that it will stimulate them to achieve higher results.
To conclude, math disability is often referred to as dyscalculia that can be expressed in a variety of forms. While some students experience difficulties with memorizing and recalling basic math operations, others lack the understanding of their meaning. To help students with special needs in mastering their math skills, teachers should allocate more time and efforts for delivering instructions. In case if a child needs assistance with memorizing math operations, the strategy of direct retrieval can be used. Direct instruction is the best option for approaching such a child as this method implies accommodation of the curriculum, materials, and instruction for a particular student.
Soares, N., Evans, T., & Patel, D. R. (2018). Specific learning disability in mathematics: A comprehensive review. Translational Pediatrics, 7(1), 48-62.
Swanson, H. L., Harris, K. R., & S. Graham, S. (2013). Handbook of learning disabilities (2nd ed.). Guilford Publications.