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Math Strategies for Dyslexic Students

By Marilyn Zecher, M.A., CALT

June 2017

Students with learning challenges begin to fall behind in math quite early, often before third grade. We know that learning to recognize and use quantity patterns is a core deficit in math. Students must learn the composition and decomposition of basic quantities such as what makes seven and what makes nine. They also need to understand how our place value system is organized and then to apply those early patterns across place value. If two plus three equals five, then twenty plus thirty equals fifty. By the time our students with dyslexia are in eighth grade, many are not proficient in math. Yet, they are expected to attempt algebra, a crucial course, armed with little reasoning ability and a calculator accommodation.

Parents and teachers worry about their ability to access grade-level content with below grade-level skills. And, with new approaches, students are introduced to multiple models when they do not fully comprehend one.
There are, however, some strategies that can help students with dyslexia understand core concepts and make sense of their pre-algebra and algebra content.

Let’s begin with the language. Students need to understand the meaning of key terms such as variable, equation, expression, and square. Don’t head for since most formal definitions are not
student friendly. Offer your student some non-math examples that will help him or her link to the math meaning.

Example 1: “The weather is variable at this time of year.” A variable is a letter representing a quantity that can change. Sometimes it is an unknown that we can discover, but it can also be something that can change. We use variables to create expressions and equations for making predictions and modeling. “Wow” and “oops” are expressions in English. They convey meaning but they are not complete thoughts. The math expression 2n+7 is not a complete equation. It lacks an equal sign and therefore can only be used to “evaluate” different choices or options.

Example 2: Now, let’s make a word web of all the ways we can think of to say “plus” or “add”: plus, increased by, added to, 7 greater than, 7 more than. We can also say multiplication many ways. Think of two times a number, the product of two and a number, twice a number. Now let’s construct all the ways we can say 2n + 7.

Most teachers begin with the math and expect students to comprehend the words. With students who have language challenges, begin with the words. The numbers are often easier.

The same is true for linear functions. Begin by helping your student build a model for a real life situation. Use linking cubes or even different colors of construction paper squares.

Example: If Tim pays a $10 fee to enter the climbing gym and then $2 per hour, how could we model that? Let’s build the ten as our starting value and then use different colors of paper squares to model that constant rate of change.

Using simple manipulatives, you and your student can build linear functions in slope intercept form without ever using resorting to equations. Meaningful math begins with real life applications. Reasoning mathematically is at the heart of becoming fluent in math.

My favorite models for linear functions involve high priced athletes with signing bonuses and per game salaries or depreciation of VERY expensive luxury cars. Make up some wonderful examples for working with your child and then have some fun with math.


Marilyn Zecher is a nationally certified Academic Language Therapist and former classroom/demonstration teacher, Ms. Zecher is a specialist in applying multisensory, Orton-Gillingham-based strategies to a variety of content areas. She trains nationally for The Multisensory Training Institute of the nonprofit Atlantic Seaboard Dyslexia Education Center in Rockville MD and is a part time instructor at Loyola University, Baltimore.


Orton-Gillingham literacy tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards, 614-579-6021, or email


Help Kids With Tricky Homework

by Bob Cunningham at

[O-G reading tutor in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021]

At a Glance

  • It’s common for parents to have trouble helping kids with math homework.
  • Math is a process. It helps to walk through the process with your child.
  • Having examples of a similar math problem can help your child complete tough math homework.

Your child needs help with math homework, but you’re not sure how to do the math problems yourself. Does this sound familiar? You’re not alone. This happens a lot to parents.

Keep in mind that showing kids with learning or attention issues that it’s OK not to know the answers can be a good lesson. Here are some suggestions for approaching math homework with your child.

The Most Important Tip for Math Homework

It’s important not to spend more than 10 to 20 minutes working through math homework that neither you nor your child knows how to do. Spending more time than this will probably just be frustrating for you and your child without providing much benefit.

Try the steps outlined below. If they don’t work, it may be better for your child to get more instruction from a teacher in order to complete the homework.

5 Things to Do When Helping With Math Homework

Here are things to keep in mind when helping your child with tricky math homework.

  1. Start by acknowledging that not understanding what to do can be stressful.You can also say something positive to acknowledge that your child is trying. For example: “I’m proud that you know what the homework is and brought home the proper materials.”
  2. Ask your child to show you an example. This could include a math problem he did in class or a sample math problem from a textbook that includes the answer.
  3. If your child can’t find an example problem, try typing one of the homework problems into an internet search. Your child’s worksheet, textbook or notebook might have a title or math term to search for online. Your search will bring up a list of websites designed to help with math. Try a few sites if the first one doesn’t help.
  4. Once you’ve found a sample problem either from your child or online, ask how the teacher said to do the problems. Having a completed example in front of him can help your child recall any instructions and class discussions.
  5. Use the sample problem to figure out the process to follow to solve the problem. Make notes of each step your child remembers as you work your way through the first problem together. This reminds your child that math is a process. The list you create also gives your child something to take to the teacher to show his efforts, even if he doesn’t come up with the right answer. The teacher can use the list to correct the process so that your child can solve the problem in the future.

3 Things to Avoid When Helping With Math Homework

Here are three things to avoid doing when your child asks for math homework help.

  1. Try not to begin by asking your child what the teacher said to do. If your child remembered that, he likely wouldn’t be asking for your help.
  2. Try not to contact the teacher right away. Kids with learning and attention issues might give up easily or get angry if they’re not sure what to do. But it’s important for them to try to think of ways to approach the situation before going to the teacher.
  3. Try not to write a note that just says your child didn’t understand the assignment. Give the teacher information about what your child has trouble with, such as adding fractions. This can help find the “missing piece” to solve math problems.

For more help with sticky homework situations, here are tips on how to win homework battles. And visit Parenting Coach for ways to work with kids who give up too easily.

Key Takeaways

  • Try not to spend more than 10 to 20 minutes working through math homework that you and your child don’t know how to do.
  • It’s good to take notes while you’re trying to help solve a math problem.
  • If the process helps your child solve the math problem, great! If not, he can show these notes to his teacher for more instruction.

About the Author

Bob Cunningham


Orton-Gillingham reading tutor in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards, 614-579-6021. Or email

+ STEM Curriculum and Students with Learning Challenges

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Linking complex math equations to tangible tasks and objects  students could see, touch and interact with, increased their competence and fluency in different subject areas.

According to an article by Richard G. Collins and Joseph J. Viscomi in IDA’s “Perspectives” newsletter, the Brehm Preparatory School in Carbondale IL   has responded to the pressure for increased STEM education.

Brehm is a grade 6-12 coeducational boarding school for students with complex learning disabilities.

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

Brehm has increased its instructional opportunities in forensics, physics, chemistry, anatomy, precalculus, calculus, assistive technologies, and computer programming.

Programming classes were implemented.  Students are now given  the ability to think abstractly and solve complex problems with a computer.  A programming language, SCHEME, was selected for its simplified set of rules which allow students to learn all the syntax in less than 30 minutes.

Much like the game of chess, say Collins and Visconti, this language is quickly learned, but it requires practice and an ongoing implementation of strategy for mastery.

Students successfully used the computer to apply complex concepts in order to solve otherwise impossible problems.  

SCHEME  gives immediate feedback, a distinct advantage when dealing with bugs or short attention spans common to students with possible executive function issues.

The school turned to  the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) ( 

The FRC  competition allows engineers to work with students in an innovative and exciting setting, where  they build robots to solve problems.  According to the article,

The competition was a great opportunity for all involved, and, with the help of some mentors, served as the foundation of a successful program that is very exciting and motivating for students.

It gives them the opportunity to demonstrate their skills head to head with teams from around the world in a very competitive environment ruled by gracious professionalism.

Since students with learning challenges often excel in creative thinking and hands-on projects in the arts, they also excel in fun hands-on STEM projects that combine science and technology.

Brehm students learned science skills in order to design and test theories for solving problems related to tasks for their robots.  

In order to use the latest industry standard computer, electronics, robotic parts and programs, students had to understand and use technology.

This kind of difficult application involves melding creativity, understanding, cooperation, stressful timelines and individual experience.    When Brehm students linked complex math equations to tangible tasks, the result was engagement with objects students could see, touch and interact with.

So, while these students were strengthening their STEM education, they were learning leadership and teamwork skills.   They dealt successfully with stress and tight timelines.  And faculty noticed that the program has a positive impact on all areas of school life and decisions.

In order to quantify the experience at Brehm, administrators looked at graduation placements.  This is what they found: prior to the introduction of the robotics program, students weren’t selecting STEM-related majors. 

But since the three-year inclusion of this program, the first graduating class who participated in the project went to CalPoly Tech, DePaul, Carnegie Mellon and Wisconsin Stout in majors that included computer science, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and chemistry.

Brehm School is located at  1245 E. Grand Avenue   Carbondale, IL 62901.   Phone: 618.457.0371    Fax: 618.529.1248   Visit  Information:

The Brehm School also offers their Options program, which  is a comprehensive transitional program for post-high school students with complex learning disabilities.  For that information, visit  

sole source for this information is the article by Richard G. Collins and Joseph J. Visconti in the  Summer 2010 issue of “Perspectives,” a quarterly publication of the International Dyslexia Association.   

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email

+ November 2010 — Lindamood-Bell Workshops in Cincinnati

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Lindamood Bell Learning Processes is bringing five of its teacher-training workshops to the Cincinnati area November 8-18, 2010.

Teachers, parents and educators will have the opportunity to attend the workshops at the Holiday Inn Concinnati Airport in Erlanger Kentucky.

  • Attend the two- day “Seeing Stars” seminar November 8-9.
  • Visualizing and Verbalizing” is a two-day workshop as well: November 10 -11.
  • “Talkies”  is a one-day workshop on November 12.
  • The LiPS (Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing) workshop is a three-day workshop November 15-17.
  • “On Cloud Nine Math” (OCN) is a one-day workshop on November 18.

Call 800-233-1819.  Register for the workshops at

tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021  or email  

+ Tips for Teaching Math Facts

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From TeachHub, these twelve tips for teaching math facts, by Randi Saulter.  For the entire article, visit

  • Teach a limited number of facts at a time
  • Add new facts only after the previous set has been mastered
  • Do cumulative practice 
  • Form a verbal chain (recite problem and answer aloud)
  • Mastery = automaticity
  • Set  realistic, individual fluency goals
  • Have a routine for daily practice sessions 
  • Have a routine for corrective feedback during practice 
  • Keep practice sessions short 
  • Have a process for monitoring progress 
  • Begin memorizing multiplication facts in Grade 4 (at the latest)
  • Celebrate success! 

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021  or email

+ Math Camp for Pre-College Students at OSU

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The Ross Program at the Ohio State University is an intensive summer experience.  It’s designed to encourage motivated pre-college students to explore mathematics.  Over eight weeks, students are immersed in a world of mathematical discovery.

Founded by Dr. Arnold Ross, the multi-level program began at Notre Dame in 1957.  Spurred by the launch of the Sputnik satellite, and the subsequent surge of interest in science education, the program has run every summer since then.  It was moved to Ohio State in 1964.  At this time, the program is also supported by the Clay Mathematics Institute, OSU, and The Epsilon Project of The American Mathematics Society (AMS). .


The central goal of the program is to instruct bright young students in the art of mathematical thinking, as well as to inspire them to discover for themselves the value and importance of abstract ideas. First year participants take the basic course in number theory.  For most students, this is the first time they’ve been asked to consider entirely new questions, to develop entirely new methods of thinking, and to justify every answer.

The value: students gain proficiency in computational tasks and build a foundation for critical thinking. Only students who can ask why things work the way they do will be able to lead the way in future scientific innovation.  The Ross program strives to nurture precisely this type of questioning and independence of thought.

Who is eligible?

According to the web site — — ambitious pre-college students with interests in mathematics and science are invited to apply.  First year students range in age from 14-18 years of age.  Admission decisions are based on several criteria:

  • the applicant’s work on some challenging math problems
  • essays concerning the applicant’s interests and goals
  • teacher recommendations 
  • school transcripts

Costs and financial aid

The fees for the program are determined entirely by the cost of eight weeks of room and board.  For the 2010 session, the fee is $2,500.  Some financial aid is available.

Visit the site for more information or to print out a brochure.

tutoring in Columbus OH:  Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021   or email

+ Take Ten Minutes and Teach Your Child

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The LDA Early Childhood Committee places an occasional article in its Newsbrief called “Take Time for Ten Together.” 

Here are ten “teaching” tips from the January/February 2010 issue: You’ll be teaching math, science, cognitive skills, time planning and self-esteem! 

  • Introduce a child to a ruler or yardstick.  Include them in the task if you’re measuring a room, building a deck, or estimating how much paint will be needed for a project.
  • Ask a child for ideas when you plan a renovation.  Ask him or her to make the sketches or draw up a materials list.
  • Include a child when you design the layout of a vegetable garden.  Ask what veggies they’d like to plant.
  • If you’re planting flower seeds, ask a child to help measure the depth of the hole for the seeds.  Ask their assistance in planning where which flowers will look best.
  • When you’re doing routine maintenance on a vehicle, explain to a child what is being done.  Explain the reason for each tool.  When the oil needs changing, take the child with you to your recycling place.  
  • When you purchase new household or garage tools, take a child to the home improvement or auto store.  Explain what the tools are used for.  Calculate costs.
  • If you can, buy child-sized tools so your child can help with routine yard maintenance. He or she will “learn by doing,” bond with you, and experience a big sense of accomplishment.
  • If you’re making plumbing repairs, show your child where the water shut-off valve is located.  Explain why the water must be shut off before repairs are made.  Explain the purpose of the Teflon tape used in plumbing repairs.
  • Changing furnace or air conditioning filters?  Explain why.  Let them help.  They can mark the calendar for the next scheduled change.
  • As you change the batteries in your smoke detectors twice a year (schedule it with the changing of the clocks) explain how the detectors work.  Show how to insert the batteries.

These activities are teachable moments, and the benefits for the child (and you) can last a lifetime. 

Join LDA, the Learning Disabilities Association, by visiting  (By the way, they are accepting proposals for grants until March 15, 2010.  This year five organizations were awarded a total of $35,000.) 

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards  614-579-6021  or email