Hi math teachers,
As you are continuing to adjust to teaching online and figuring out how to create effective learning experiences for all of your students, one concern I see coming up is how to support students with learning needs including those with math learning disabilities. When it comes to teaching students with math learning disabilities online, here is some good news: virtual tools work extremely well to support students with visual processing challenges! Here are 5 ways that you can support students with math learning disabilities while teaching online.
1. Make things bigger
The first strategy I use when working with any student with a math learning challenge is to make everything bigger. Whether a student is having difficulty seeing and perceiving the visual information due to a developmental delay or their brain just isn't cooperating at the moment, they will have an easier time perceiving, processing, and manipulating visual information when it is larger.
How to do this: When you are showing visual representations on a screen, find ways to enlarge or zoom-in on the specific content you are teaching.
2. Reduce visual distractions
Students with math learning disabilities have to work harder to process visual information than their peers, which means they take on a higher cognitive load. When there is extraneous visual material on the page or screen, their brains have to work harder to select the relevant visual information while filtering out the irrelevant material. This leaves little brain space to learn and do math. Excluding non-essential visual stimuli will lessen students' cognitive load and make it easier for them to perceive and focus on the relevant visual information and solve the math problem.
How to do this: Eliminate extraneous words and problems using drawing functions such as erasers or white boxes.
3. Show visual relationships
It can be extremely difficult for students with math learning disabilities to perceive the pieces within visual representations and to visualize their relationships. These students benefit from direct instruction using a combination of drawing and descriptive language to help them to see what they cannot see on their own and make the connection between these visual pieces and the mathematical concepts.
How to do this: Use colors and words to isolate individual parts within visual representations. Once students can "see" these pieces, use the same colors and words to connect the pieces to the mathematical concept.
4. Scaffold visual manipulations
Whether solving a multi-step algebra problem or transforming a graph from a function, students with math learning disabilities struggle to fluidly manipulate visual information to obtain a desired result. This process requires them to not only perceive visual information, but to work with it flexibly while also keeping track of multiple steps. Students will do best when they are able to focus on one step or visual attribute at a time and have easy access to the visual information and tools they need as they move forward to solve the problem.
How to do this: Provide students with supporting tools including visual scaffolds (e.g., large graph paper) and a list of math details they need (e.g., equations, variables), and encourage them to solve the problem one step at a time.
5. Scaffold visual organization
Students with visual processing challenges may experience difficulty organizing visual information. For these students, not only is the input of visual information challenging, but so is the output. This leads to visually unorganized papers, which contributes to more visual processing challenges. These students will benefit from direction instruction on what to write and where to write it.
How to do this: Verbally and visually articulate what, where, and how students should write things on their page. Using color blocks to demonstrate can help.
Click here to download centimeter graph paper and other free printable math tools.
Check out my post "10 Things to know about students with math learning disabilities" to learn more about students with math learning disabilities and download my free fact sheet.