Understanding Children with Learning Disability in Mathematics

Dyscalculia is not as well-known as dyslexia, and the people affected tend to struggle with mathematics at various levels, affecting their daily tasks.

An introduction to the session.

Sandakan District Education Office remedial officer Dr Fu Sai Hoe gave a virtual talk titled “An Introduction to Dyscalculia: Supporting Young Learners with Learning Difficulties in Maths” on 19 March 2022. About 90 people attended the event organised by the School of Education, Humanities and Social Sciences (SEHS), including Dean, Assoc Prof Dr Thomas Chow Voon Foo.

Dr Fu cited a 2017 study which showed that 6% of the population suffers from dyscalculia, irrespective of gender. “There are various characteristics of dyscalculia that may vary within individuals, including number sense, slow responses, reasoning, memory, visual spatial, and estimation,” he said.

Dr Fu explained the characteristics of dyscalculia.
The speaker, Dr Fu Sai Hoe (profile picture).

He informed that researchers believe dyscalculia to be caused by genes, brain differences or even environmental factors. He explained how we can identify dyscalculia in three steps, beginning with early detection using a Dyscalculia Checklist or Dyscalculia Assessment.  “We then move to the identification step where the Dyscalculia Screener is used for ages six to 14, while DyscalculiUM is for screening teenagers and adults,” he elaborated.

Parents can follow these three steps to identify dyscalculia.

He said that a dyscalculia screener called the Malaysian Dyscalculia Instrument (MDI) is also available in Malaysia, stressing, “We can only classify someone with a tendency for dyscalculia after the screening procedure.”

Dr Fu said parents would need to send their child to a child development specialist by completing the comprehensive diagnosis assessment, the last step that must be taken to confirm a diagnosis.

He highlighted that it is important for students with dyscalculia to understand the mathematical concept because if the questions vary, they will only comprehend the procedure but not how to obtain the answers.

Available teaching aids for students with dyscalculia.

“We must employ a variety of teaching aids, including pre-number skills (using shapes, dominoes/dice), number recognition (using number cards), and counting (using counter/counting sticks). There are several teaching tactics that can be used in conjunction with content knowledge to teach students,” he said.

Dr Fu shares a few teaching strategies.

Students can participate in group work like storytelling, simulation, classroom discussion, student debate and gallery walks. Dr Fu mentioned that peer interactions such as the think-pair-share (TPS) strategy, learning cells, class games and debates can help the students. “Teachers can also encourage students to engage in individual activities such as brainstorming, writing a one-minute paper, and taking a think break,” he said.

Examples of play activities.

He also shared a few activities that educators can use to teach language, social skills and other subjects but added that they must be paired with mathematics content when teaching mathematics. This include structured play (incorporated into the lesson plan with step-by-step guide for students to understand the learning material), messy play (using hand painting to count the number of fingers), and free play (play anything and then reflect on it).

Part of the participants at the online talk.

WOU offers a 90-credit Diploma in Early Childhood Education (DECE) programme with a course on Young Children with Special Needs through open distance learning (ODL) for preschool or kindergarten teachers.

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