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Dyscalculia: tutors trained to tackle weaker maths skills

Dyscalculia: tutors trained to tackle weaker maths skills

At Osborne Cawkwell we invest a great deal of time and energy into making sure the tutors we work with feel confident and knowledgeable about working with students with a variety of different needs and learning styles.


Our attention and focus is often drawn to dyslexia (a specific learning difficulty primarily affecting the skills required for accurate and fluent reading and spelling). Learning how to support dyslexic students with basic literacy skills has a positive and far-reaching impact across all academic subjects, where reading and writing are crucial.

Much is known about how to support students with dyslexia, but less so in the area of maths. Problems with maths, or more specifically arithmetic, are less understood and are more commonly dismissed with a comment like “I just don’t get maths”. Whilst many of us do struggle with maths, dyscalculia is a specific difficulty with maths. It comes under the umbrella term of ‘Specific Learning Difficulties‘ (SpLD).  Learners may have difficulty understanding simple number concepts. They may also lack an intuitive grasp of numbers and have problems learning number facts and procedures. (Department for Education and Science, 2001).

Dyscalculics have a poor sense of number so would struggle to understand that the number 4 is related to a group of 4 separate units/things/objects. Additional difficulties may include poor spatial awareness, which can affect the ability to do fractions, coordinates, graphs, decimals, geometry and so on. Dyscalculics also have a poor working memory. This can affect their ability to hold onto and manipulate information in their mind. This is required to do mental maths and equations.

Our job as tutors is to facilitate optimal learning. Students do not all learn in the same way, especially if they have an SpLD such as dyscalculia. Osborne Cawkwell recently provided training to some of the maths tutors on our books in how to support weak mathematicians (including those with dyscalculia). They were trained under the expert tutelage of Dr Simon Horbury at the Mcleod Centre for Learning. Dr Horbury was Head of Science at Sussex House School for many years and is currently a specialist coach in support for students with weak Executive Function Skills​. He has a wealth of experience in Maths (dyscalculics, SEND students age 4-16) and Science (age 4-university level); and has also been a member of ISI Inspection teams​.

Here are some of the comments and observations from the tutors who attended the course:

“Simon presented an interesting and engaging course covering a range of issues from dyscalculia to visual processing and dyslexia. There were lots of practical ideas for support plus concrete resources that could be printed or bought cheaply. The session contained plenty of insight across a range of SpLDs. It will definitely help working with very weak maths students, especially younger ones”.

Joe, science and maths tutor

“As I have done a degree in psychology, and my previous two dissertations were in psychiatry and memory, I have realised that I have ended up using the techniques I have learnt in my teaching. The first two hours were going through ways in which you can improve memory, and techniques which can be used for various conditions. The second part was examples of different types of materials out there which could be used when teaching. There were several tangible, colourful objects to stimulate their senses. Also another point he stressed on, which is very common in psychology, was the terminology we use with children. For example, saying a topic is really easy and they should be fine – if the student finds it difficult this can reduce their levels and they may think they are not as clever as the average individual.”

Rosie, maths tutor

“The course was very interesting… I feel like I would have tools to be able to decide if someone had dyscalculia now. It was interesting to see the learning aids that are now available.”

Richard, maths tutor

“It was very valuable, and Simon taught it well. It is an amazing centre that they have. I feel more able to work with dyscalculic students than before. However, I feel that I would probably need to get a fair amount of maths equipment to do it well. The multi-sensory is so vital it seems.”

Elysia, maths and science tutor

For more information on Dyscalculia please go to: http://octuition.co.uk/index.php/specific-learning-difficulties-dyscalculia/

Finally, to book tuition please call us on 020 584 5355 or email us at: enquiries@octuition.co.uk

Sarah Cox​

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