It is more than likely that after a prolonged period of disruption to normal educational activity, possibly including a prolonged period away from school, many dyscalculic pupils and students will have slipped back in terms of their maths ability.
Informal evidence that I have gathered from both parents and teachers does suggest that dyscalculic pupils and students do tend to need regular practice activities to retain both the knowledge they have gained, and to enable them to hold onto the additional confidence that this knowledge brings.
Therefore, if you are working with a child or a teenager who has (or who you suspect might have) dyscalculia, it is worth being prepared to re-start working with the individual by going back a few stages and trying to find some work that the individual will be able to do comfortably.
If the young person does remember the previous work all well and good – the return to work will have started out on a positive note. If there is any sign of the individual struggling with work that has previously been covered, generally the best thing to do is to abandon the new work and go back to earlier work and revise what has been covered before.
Such an approach secures the previous knowledge, and rebuilds confidence.
I appreciate that this approach might seem somewhat defeatist, in that it is anticipating that past work might well have been forgotten, but engaging the individual in a way that builds his or her confidence can be more vital for individuals with dyscalulia than moving on to the next topic.
In short, it can be best to assume as little as possible, and explore what has been remembered, before going on any further.
Thus, my suggestion is that as we start to think about working with dyscalculic pupils and students again in the new school year, we should also start by thinking primarily in terms of confidence building, not in terms of teaching some more maths.
By doing this we can help to start the new term with a positive feel rather than a suggestion that the pupil or student should remember the work, because it was covered in the past. Also, we can avoid suggestions that we will “go over that again” or “see what you remember”.
Indeed if it is possible to avoid any overt suggestion that the individual might have forgotten something, so much the better. If instead, we simply assume that this has happened, then if the individual pupil or student has NOT forgotten anything then this is an opportunity for praise and reward. If the individual has forgotten a lot, then we can seamlessly return to earlier work and go through it again.
Of course, this is a general point which applies every autumn when dyscalculic pupils and students return to school after a long break, but this year it is doubly important because of the additional disruption to education that many pupils and students will have suffered.
And this is not just in terms of the length of time that individuals might have gone without support for their dyscalculia, but also because not having to study maths for a while might have been a blessed relief for some dyscalculic pupils and students. Going back to maths might be an unwelcome reminder of past failures.
So, the more chances pupils and students have of getting some work right, and showing what they have remembered, the better it is for their mental well-being.
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Tony Attwood C.Ed., B.A., M.Phil (Lond), F.Inst.A.M.
Head of the Dyscalculia Centre