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 Post subject: Help with Dyscalculia
PostPosted: Thu Feb 13, 2014 7:07 pm 
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I tutor an 11 year old girl who is being treated for cancer. She is a very bubbly, happy child despite her problems, but has a fundamental problem with Maths. Her problem relates mostly to having no concept of the size of numbers. It manifests itself strongly when dealing with number lines or even a simple question like "what is a half of 200?" She simply cannot grasp that. When I started teaching her she was a SATS 1a and she has now reached a 3B but that is because she (and I) are working really hard to work round her difficulty. I have been waiting to see whether she would suddenly grasp the idea but she isn't and it is causing a fundamental barrier to her progress.

I think she needs help from an Educational Psychologist, but her school are satisfied that she is working towards the correct level (but only by superhuman efforts on her and my part!).

Does anyone know what facilities are available to help such youngsters? Her parents are not well off, so ideally what is available at no cost from our local authority? Or does everything come with a cost? (I have seen for example a fee of 550 pounds quoted for an initial assessment - though the document seemed to be targeted at schools, not parents).

Any help gratefully received!


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 13, 2014 8:30 pm 
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Hi. I used to work with the Hospital Education Education Service (we had an an outreach team for children with medical needs at home) so have an idea of what you are up against. Is there no such facility in your area? I used to have to liaise with other services all the time - from Ed Psychs to CAMHS. I found that working for them opened up a world of services which are usually hard to access. Maybe worth speaking to them? If the difficulties are radiotherapy/chemotherapy/brain tumour-related then specialist advice is available from the relevant charities. Though a lot is just trying what works - chemo tends to tire children out so may be worth avoiding teaching much just afterwards; and radiotherapy can also make them floppy and tired post- treatment, depending on which bit is being treated. One of my bright little leukaemia patients was very receptive two days after his infusion, and bouncing off the walls, so we used to try and teach new things then, rather than when he was shattered from receiving medication. Brain lesions are very unpredictable in their effects and often leave subtle learning difficulties post-treatment - these can be very hard to tackle without specialist advice. I think maybe the school will be the key here - I gather she is still in school/has returned to school, but presumably there is a case worker in the hospital ed service you could speak to? In my experience children being treated for cancer tire very quickly so short bursts are more effective than a long-drawn out lesson.

Anyway, on the question of the size of numbers, I bought a fabulous book when one of my children was tiny and was obsessed with number. I have since used it with children as old as 16 (if you approach it in the right way it can be a laugh, as it is clearly a book for little ones - but actually it does help for visualising number). 'How big is a million' by Anna Milburn - and actually the poster with a million stars is quite beautiful.

I taught children who couldn't halve and double and used to buy boxes of sweets (Quality Street/Roses type are handy for all kinds of things) and did it in a concrete way - less insulting than using counters which they associated with primary school, and the added incentive of a sweet if they did well. I did halving by using concrete examples - Divide these sweets up between both of us...it is amazing how many children have kind of missed out on really understanding what it actually means. Use small numbers first - your example could be started with 2 sweets, and then to illustrate how adding a zero adds 10, use 20. I am not suggesting buying 200 sweets but if you do enough with the numbers below 50 you can start to extrapolate slowly. We used to do fun stuff with adding 100 at a time, just to get them understanding patterns - like a game - ok add a hundred, now add another hundred, now take away a hundred - always ready to catch them if they trip up. Once they are secure on the zeros start going over the boundaries, and using the odd 9 or 11 to get them to see that once you can do 10 then other numbers are just a snip away.

Not sure this will help; but I think moving away from national expectations and getting right down to what she can do, what is fun and what she is confident and comfortable with is the key. Good luck - and hope she is well soon.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 13, 2014 8:32 pm 
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Joined: Fri Aug 30, 2013 7:30 am
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Amber wrote:
Hi. I used to work with the Hospital Education Education Service (we had an an outreach team for children with medical needs at home) so have an idea of what you are up against. Is there no such facility in your area? I used to have to liaise with other services all the time - from Ed Psychs to CAMHS. I found that working for them opened up a world of services which are usually hard to access. Maybe worth speaking to them? If the difficulties are radiotherapy/chemotherapy/brain tumour-related then specialist advice is available from the relevant charities. Though a lot is just trying what works - chemo tends to tire children out so may be worth avoiding teaching much just afterwards; and radiotherapy can also make them floppy and tired post- treatment, depending on which bit is being treated. One of my bright little leukaemia patients was very receptive two days after his infusion, and bouncing off the walls, so we used to try and teach new things then, rather than when he was shattered from receiving medication. Brain lesions are very unpredictable in their effects and often leave subtle learning difficulties post-treatment - these can be very hard to tackle without specialist advice. I think maybe the school will be the key here - I gather she is still in school/has returned to school, but presumably there is a case worker in the hospital ed service you could speak to? In my experience children being treated for cancer tire very quickly so short bursts are more effective than a long-drawn out lesson.

Anyway, on the question of the size of numbers, I bought a fabulous book when one of my children was tiny and was obsessed with number. I have since used it with children as old as 16 (if you approach it in the right way it can be a laugh, as it is clearly a book for little ones - but actually it does help for visualising number). 'How big is a million' by Anna Milburn - and actually the poster with a million stars is quite beautiful.

I taught children who couldn't halve and double and used to buy boxes of sweets (Quality Street/Roses type are handy for all kinds of things) and did it in a concrete way - less insulting than using counters which they associated with primary school, and the added incentive of a sweet if they did well. I did halving by using concrete examples - Divide these sweets up between both of us...it is amazing how many children have kind of missed out on really understanding what it actually means. Use small numbers first - your example could be started with 2 sweets, and then to illustrate how adding a zero adds 10, use 20. I am not suggesting buying 200 sweets but if you do enough with the numbers below 50 you can start to extrapolate slowly. We used to do fun stuff with adding 100 at a time, just to get them understanding patterns - like a game - ok add a hundred, now add another hundred, now take away a hundred - always ready to catch them if they trip up. Once they are secure on the zeros start going over the boundaries, and using the odd 9 or 11 to get them to see that once you can do 10 then other numbers are just a snip away.

Not sure this will help; but I think moving away from national expectations and getting right down to what she can do, what is fun and what she is confident and comfortable with is the key. Good luck - and hope she is well soon.


Brilliant post Amber, how very helpful :)


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 5:16 am 
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Joined: Tue Jul 21, 2009 9:56 pm
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Yes I agree. Working with sweets or other concrete objects that help her visualise can help with all areas of arithmetic - but be very careful in you planning of exactly what you are going to teach and how. She clearly has potential but there are some blocks missing.

If she has not got any concept of the size of numbers you have to help give her one. An educational psychologist will probably only do some standardised tests which demonstrate what you already know - that relative to all 11 year olds she has a poor grasp of number.

I think you need to break down what you are thinking too - if she cannot halve 200 there is a lot of teaching and learning involved to get to that point. It is not the same as saying she has no grasp of the size of numbers.

Some maths websites are good - they use good visual graphics in the early stages of new topics to help understanding - look at ixl for example. Covers everything school year by school year from reception upwards. It is relatively inexpensive - certainly much cheaper than private tutoring. you could also try some books from power of 2 publishing. Start from the beginning with the most basic book. It builds up the basic concepts of arithmetic from nothing and provides lots of repetition. Done daily for 15 mins or so with an adult - the child does not need to write anything. It can work wonders. Anything you can do to keep the uplift effect happening while you are not there will be of great benefit.

Well done with the big increase in nc levels. however I struggle with the idea that a solid 3b child finds it hard to halve 200. She clearly has some early building blocks missing from her repertoire. By what measure is she a 3b? Is she hopefully starting secondary school in September? She can make huge strides between now and September - even if her ks2 test results are not great it is worth carrying on to improve her maths over the summer and the parents could ask the new school to reassess in September.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 6:31 am 
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Joined: Tue Dec 18, 2012 10:59 am
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It was 10 years ago now, and methods have probably moved on, but we used coloured cheerios...fruit loops?? Anyway they are very easy to pick up and move about, look like a zero, there are loads in a box for a few quid and they can eat them quickly to do subtraction or division. I think tangible is deffo the key here.
Not my idea, but the head of special needs...very clever and lovely lady, sadly since died.

She has done brilliantly though, well done both of you.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 14, 2014 9:45 am 
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Joined: Mon Mar 15, 2010 2:45 pm
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Nothing to add, but what lovely posts - this is what this forum is all about :) <warm fuzzy glow on a cold Friday morning emoticon>


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