Much of the work that is undertaken with pupils and students who are dyscalculic involves helping them understand the basic functions of numbers and simple maths.
And this of course is quite reasonable because it is self-evidently helpful to everyone living in contemporary society to be able to understand what maths is and how numbers work.
But focussing all the time on the using of numbers and the making of calculations can make what is already a troublesome area of study for the dyscalculic child, ever more troubling. The very word “maths” and associated words such as “multiplication” and “times tables” can become enough to take the young person into a state of panic.
For this reason it can be very helpful to spend some time working on resolving the effects of the dyscalculia, especially if this can be undertaken in a way that is more enjoyable or at least less frightening than dealing with raw numbers (as in, for example, times tables).
For example, one can work on estimations in an activity in which the individual, or indeed a group of individuals, estimates something with a numerical value, and then their estimation is put to the test.
For example, one might ask how many desks there are in a room. The dyscalculic pupil or student might just say a number, but then the question is, why do you think it is that number?
Quite often in the early stages of this sort of work the individual will simply blurt out a number, but then when asked why, will not be sure why she or he said that number.
This doesn’t matter at first because the number can be checked by counting. But then the question arises, how could I have made a better estimate?
Obviously the best solution is to consider the number of desks in a row, and the number of rows, and then multiply them together, but the child may need leading slowly towards such a solution, perhaps estimating the number of coins on the table, with the coins set out neatly in rows.
One can then progress to other approaches – for example by watching a film of cars passing by and estimating how many pass by in ten seconds, and from this how many pass by in a minute.
It is also possible to use the estimation process with those who find time difficult. At first, a dyscalculic child who has difficulty with time might not be able to estimate the time at all, so one might ask, “have you have lunch yet?” and on the basis of that question limit the guesswork to morning or afternoon. “Have you had your English lesson today with Miss Jones?” and so on helps refine the guesses.
Much depends on where the child’s difficulties lie, but anything that can make part of the learning more concrete is to the good. To give a final example, a dyscalculic child asked how many toes there are in the room might have no idea how to work out an answer.
The question, “how many people are there here” is, however, easier to answer – if it is just the pupil and the teacher that is two. Then on to “how many toes on each foot” and so on.
Repeating the question over several sessions can make the numbers more real and more meaningful, and allow other questions to be answered more quickly as the methodology becomes understood.