Students with dyslexia often struggle not only with reading but also with processing, memory, spatial reasoning and handwriting. Math requires all of these functions and can be challenging for students with dyslexia. Multimodal strategies engage multiple parts of a student's brain to create new pathways for learning and understanding mathematical concepts.
Walk the Talk
Model the internal reasoning behind each concept, and teach students how to recognize and attack each step of a problem. Encourage students to verbalize their internal process as they solve a problem, and show them how to ask and answer, "What do I need to do next?"
Experts recommend creating a physical representation of a problem large enough to walk out the steps. This can be done with sidewalk chalk outside, large sheets of paper or tape on the floor. Painter's tape works well and is easily removed. Allowing students to verbally talk through a problem while physically walking it out not only helps with memory processing but also with generalizing information from one example to the next.
Vocabulary is a key to math that can make all the difference for a student with dyslexia. Clearly define phrases, and ensure that dyslexic students understand necessary vocabulary words in each lesson. Attach visual representations of words, and encourage students to draw a diagram next to each vocabulary word on a reference sheet.
For example, instruct a student to sketch a T-shaped graph next to "Coordinate Plane." Emphasize each word as it applies to individual problems in guided practice. Use vocabulary phrases often and in context, and regularly bring up older words to tie in previous concepts to the current lesson.
Mark It Up
Real-world word problems can be difficult for any student, but students with dyslexia need extra guidance and steps to translate words into numbers. Develop and teach a system for marking up word problems to break them down. For example, instruct students to circle all the numbers given in the problem, and have them underline what the problem is asking them to find. Use colors to make key phrases stand out, and highlight key vocabulary words. Make a key to help students translate phrases into operations, such as recognizing that is always means "equal to," or difference means "subtract."
Two of the most important skills to teach are persevering in learning a difficult concept and learning when to ask for help. Before beginning a new lesson, explain the significance of the concept and how mastering it helps students either in the real world or in future math classes. In other words, help students understand why the skill is important. Also, teach students how to identify what they need when they are stuck and how to get it on their own. For example, when students cannot remember a particular vocabulary word, direct them to the notes and resources rather than providing the answer outright.
Hannah Richardson has a Master's degree in Special Education from Vanderbilt University and a Bacheor of Arts in English. She has been a writer since 2004 and wrote regularly for the sports and features sections of "The Technician" newspaper, as well as "Coastwach" magazine. Richardson also served as the co-editor-in-chief of "Windhover," an award-winning literary and arts magazine. She is currently teaching at a middle school.