Training in the teaching of pupils and students who have dyscalculia.
By Tony Attwood C.Ed., B.A., M.Phil (Lond) F.Inst.A.M.
The issue of arranging a training programme for teachers who find themselves working with pupils or students who may well be dyscalculic is one that has faced the Dyscalculia Centre from the moment it was launched.
We realised early on that the traditional approach of running courses for teachers would be something that would involve schools in significant costs – especially if we were to run the events in different parts of the UK. Worse, such courses would involve those involved in taking time out of school – when they could in fact be teaching those with dyscalculia.
So we set about finding a unique solution: a way of providing information about dyscalculia and materials for the teaching of dyscalculic students which incorporated the training that might otherwise be given on a traditional course.
Thus we now provide the background information we have on dyscalculia, plus a range of teaching materials, so that both maths teachers and SENCOs can rapidly gain the relevant knowledge and skills required to teach dyscalculic pupils and students, without having to go on courses
Naturally everyone starts with a different level of knowledge and awareness in relation to dyscalculia and maths education, and so we don’t have a prescribed process that we say everyone should follow, but rather a series of options.
Part 1: The Background
The most common starting point is a set of six articles that were written for SEN Magazine which are now reproduced on our web site and available without charge. I would suggest that you start by having a look at these articles before moving on.
Part 2: Dyscalculia and how pupils and students can be taught.
Many teachers then choose to read one or both of our two downloadable books on dyscalculia.
- Understanding Dyscalculia – a general guide for schools and colleges
- Methods of Teaching Maths to Pupils and Students with Dyscalculia
You can find these on the website (just click the link above), and you will find one particular extra benefit with these. Because these are books that are downloaded, you can then share them with colleagues in your school (either in part or in full), so that others can see how dyscalculia can be approached.
Part 3: Resources for use with dyscalculia pupils and students
If it is clear to you where the problems with your pupil or student lies, you can then opt to use one or more of the sets of materials that we provide that make up the lessons for those with dyscalculia.
These lessons are all totally practical and involve teaching maths in a totally multi-sensory way. They are now used in schools across the UK, as well as in Australia and New Zealand.
The lessons move from the very basis of number, through the four basic functions of maths, and onto fractions and percentages. There is also a separate volume on time which is an issue that a large number of dyscalculic students can find complex and difficult to grasp.
The books contains numerous activities to be carried out with the pupils and students and the materials can be copied for use within the school so that others beside yourself can also use the materials without buying extra copies of the books.
Books for use with pupils and students who have dyscalculia.
Part 4: Testing for Dyscalculia
To help understand the exact nature of a pupil or students difficulty we have the on line diagnostic test for dyscalculia which can be taken through the Dyscalculia Information Centre.
Taking a test is not an essential pre-requisite for helping a young person overcome the problems they face through having dyscalculia, but it can be a very helpful way of ensuring that you are aware of exactly where each individual’s particular difficulties lie.
Obviously the above does not constitute a course in teaching dyscalculia in the traditional sense, but it is a route towards such work which many have used and found just as effective (and generally far less expensive!) than the traditional notion of going on a training course.
Chair, The Dyscalculia Information Centre
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We receive many calls and emails from people with dyscalculia who would like to be teachers. They find that because they cannot pass the entry level maths test they are debarred from training to be a teacher. This short paper aims to help with this problem.
First it is important to note that each institution that trains teachers tends to consider dyscalculia in slightly different ways, and many have their own assessment programme, so it is not possible for the Dyscalculia Centre to answer individual enquiries relating to specific universities concerning this issue specifically, but hopefully the following points will be helpful.
The notion of getting extra time and support in examinations, or indeed an agreement that one does not have to take a specific test because of a special need, centres around the idea of helping a student whose ability to pass the exam is inhibited by a factor outside of the subject matter itself. In the classic case, a person studying history might have difficulty taking an exam in history if he/she has dyslexia. This is deemed unfair because the problems with English mean that the individual’s ability to grasp the essence of history, and reveal a knowledge of historical facts and an understanding of historical development, cannot be properly tested. So support in terms of having a reader or extra time in an exam is often made available.
However most GCSE, A level and degree courses in English do not give extra time or support to dyslexic students because they argue that reading and writing English is the essence of taking a course in English.
Likewise, when a nurse wishes to become a prescribing nurse she/he has to take a maths test, and no allowance for dyscalculia is made, because being able to prescribe and administer the correct dose of a drug is considered to be the essence of the work.
It seems that some exam boards now take the same position with GCSE maths – no extra time is allowed for dyscalculia.
With primary school teachers it appears that the government is arguing, or has argued, that an ability to grasp maths at GCSE level is inherent in being able to do the job of a primary teacher, and thus some universities will give no allowance for anyone who is dyscalculic.
If, however, the university with which you are dealing suggests that they will consider making an allowance, it is important to establish exactly what they require for this to be the case.
The most helpful universities will not only explain their situation clearly, but also indicate if they have their own testing and support centre (we understand Loughborough University does have such a centre through the group known as DDIG.)
If the university of your choice does not do this, it is vital to ascertain both whether they will consider dyscalculia to be a condition that allows for extra time or support in undertaking the maths test, and if so, the level of evidence they require.
In these circumstances it is common for universities to ask for a report by an educational psychologist which will involve a one-to-one session with the psychologist and is likely to cost around £300. (It is worth getting a price before entering into a contract with the psychologist, as prices can vary, and we are now seeing prices of £400.) And it is also worth checking that the psychologist you choose is one that the university recognises.
However in our view (and of course it is just our view) it is vital to get the university’s position expressed clearly in writing. The notion that one should “be assessed and then we will consider the situation” seems to us to be unhelpful in the extreme, given the cost of an educational psychologist’s assessment.
These links might be helpful if you are considering getting a report
But we would stress again that our advice is to check with the university first and get the fullest details you can of their position, as we have had reports of a university departmental administrator seeming to suggest that a dyscalculia report from a psychologist will be acceptable, only to find that when it comes to it the university says that all students have to pass the maths test (eg GCSE maths, or a specially prepared test run by the university) and there are no exceptions.
I am sorry not to be able to give definitive answers to the question of applying for a place to become a teacher, but this is because there does not seem to us to be a unified approach being adopted.
Tony Attwood, C.Ed., B.A., M.Phil (Lond) F.Inst.A.M.
Director, The Dyscalculia Centre
More Information on The Dyscalculia Test
The free materials
Once we have the test results we will email you not just our report and the results, but also a copy of a book that is used in many schools to help pupils and students overcome their dyscalculia.
If you are a teacher or a friend or parent of the person who is being tested you can use this book with the individual to help them overcome their dyscalculia.
The book is something that can be used by any adult who has maths skills of around GCSE grade C maths or above, or O level maths, working with the dyscalculic individual. (It cannot be used by the dyscalculic individual working alone.) It can be used with anyone from the age of seven upwards. The book is complete in itself save that for some of the books that we use you will also need cardboard, scissors, cards measuring 8cm by 2cm (approx) and ludo style counters in four colours. Should you not have the card and counters, we can supply these for a small extra cost.
Who constructed the test?
The test was written by Tony Attwood C.Ed., B.A. M.Phil (Lond), the chair of the Dyscalculia Information Centre. Tony is an educationalist who has written extensively on dyscalculia, dyslexia, and attention deficit disorder.
For clarity it should be noted that Tony is an educationalist who has taught in schools and at university level, as well as being the person who has developed the resources that the Centre offers. But Tony is not an educational psychologist. We don’t believe that this makes the Test for Dyscalculia any less effective, but we mention it because occasionally a school or employer will ask for a test conducted by an educational psychologist. We don’t offer that, and you may of course wish to seek one out. But do be aware that if you do use an educational psychologist you won’t receive materials that can help you overcome your dyscalculia, and the test will be perhaps five to ten times more expensive than the on-line test we offer.
Why be tested?
For most people, being tested allows the individual to find the right sort of materials to help overcome the problems that dyscalculia brings. It should be noted that being tested for dyscalculia does not of itself necessarily give exemption from passing maths exams necessary to enrol for a course or get a job. However with this test you are given resources that can be used to help get your maths up to the standard required.
You should also note that since the average employer doesn’t know what dyscalculia is all about, this is not going to help in getting a job.
Comparative test for schools
If you are a teacher working with a number of pupils there is the alternative approach of using a book of comparative tests: “Tests for Dyscalculia” also by Tony Attwood. They are intended to be given by teachers to school children so that you can spot any area in which a particular child is having unexpected difficulties. Thus, if the teacher knows that virtually all the children in one particular class can multiply fractions, the two children in that class who constantly fail to grasp the concept can be given a series of tests to find out where their difficulty lies. It might be within the notion of multiplying fractions itself, but it also might be that the child has no clear grasp of what a fraction is. Or the child might simply not understand multiplication. The tests will quickly point to the area of difficulty and allow the teacher to undertake some remedial action. The book doesn’t allow the teacher to say for certain that a child is dyscalculic – rather the tests are wholly practical, dealing with the much more important task of helping the child overcome the problem.
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Between 1994 and 1998 a team of researchers at First and Best worked on the first ever project to provide a complete set of materials for teachers of dyslexic students. Following the successful completion of this course, some of them began to undertake work to investigate whether the principles which underpinned the work on dyslexia could be used to generate materials for use with dyscalculic pupils.
This research has suggested that the answer is most certainly “yes” – although some additional factors have become clear:
- It became clear that children who have difficulty with maths often suffer from not having fully learned and understood some of the most basic of mathematical concepts. Thus they are continuously attempting to deal with more advanced mathematical issues (such as, for example, the division of fractions) without first having understood simpler issues (such as division).
- It is also clear that the best way to teach children who have a problem with maths is through using a multi-sensory approach in which they say, hear, write and handle numbers simultaneously. What has been devised is a dual system of maths in which the children learn a multi-sensory method of undertaking the required tasks and from this learn how to write mathematics in a conventional way.
- Finally, the researchers at First and Best accept totally the notion that maths should be taught in short blocks of time, with each session building succinctly on what has gone before. Ten minutes seems an ideal time.