Many kids struggle with math. A learning disability in math is often found when the student reaches third grade, because this is when math changes from concrete to more abstract. No longer can a student rely on his/her fingers or a number line to solve math problems. Math becomes more complex and students are expected to not only be able to calculate and answer, but use reasoning to know how to solve the problem. There are two types of math learning disabilities, math calculation and math reasoning.
Math calculation is the ability to calculate an answer. For example: calculating 2+2=4 or 10-3=7. A student’s ability to calculate is evaluated by his/her ability to answer single digit math problems quickly. If a student needs to use counters (fingers, markers, hash marks) or a number line to solve the problem and is past the primary grades (K-2) this may be a sign that he/she has a learning disability in math calculation.
Math reasoning is the ability to “figure out” how to solve the math problem. This can be seen when solving a word problem. A student needs to read the problem and understand how to solve. For instance, when the word problem says in all or altogether you add; when it says how many more or how many less you subtract. It can also be seen when learning math families (i.e. 3+1=4, 1+3=4, 4-1=3, 4-3=1).
Many students who struggle with math will struggle in both of these areas. Although, some will only struggle with one or the other. Similarly to reading, practicing math can help. Having students make their own flashcards can help reinforce facts as well as practicing their flashcards can help them with automaticity (the ability to know the facts automatically). Some kids, even with loads of practice and repetition, may just need to use a calculator, number chart, or another math device/chart.
Math reasoning can be worked on using language skills. Teaching (very specifically) what clues to look for to know how to solve the problem can help. Also, showing in multiple ways, that addition and subtraction are opposites; multiplication and division are opposites; decimals and fractions give the same information but written in different ways; and so on. Teaching kids “tricks” to solve problems can help too. Most of us learned Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally to help us remember in what order to solve a multi step mixed equation (i.e. 7(2+3) -4);
P=parenthesis, E=exponents, M=multiplication, D=division, A=addition, S=subtraction. Memory tricks can be helpful, but sometimes there needs to be more. More time given, more practice needed, smaller class size, quieter environment, more one-on-one or small group time, etc.
If you have a student with a learning disability in math, try to keep math fun. It is easy to become overwhelmed, and if students only see math as a chore; they won’t want to practice. Find some math games online or board games that reinforce the skills learned in school without the frustration.