“Everybody could rock through their multiplication tables and I could do my ones and my twos and my zeros and my tens, and that was about it.” – Jack Laws, naturalist

I’ve been enjoying a book, Mathematical Mindsets written by Stanford Professor Jo Boaler.

It’s great stuff. She’ll help a lot of dyslexic students if they adopt her approaches to teaching math.

The first concept is deceptively simple, but resonates with me after seeing over a decade of dyslexic students work math problems in our clinic. There is a high degree of overlap between dyscalculia and dyslexia although there is also a significant number of dyslexics who are solid or even outstanding mathematicians. The weak ones almost invariably struggle with basic math facts and require calculator accommodations as they advance in their schoolwork. One might expect that students with spatial talents might excel in certain types of math subjects like geometry, but what is the secret of success for math gifted dyslexic students?

More often than not, we see that these students have a flexibility with numbers and a strong enough working memory that allows them to keep the numbers being worked on ‘in mind’. Flexibility with numbers means being able to see the number 18 as 10 + 8 or 9 x 2 or 20 – 2, all the while proceeding to the solution of a math problems. These are kids who sometimes arrive at an answer before anyone else, but then get bogged down if they are required to ‘show their work.’

Dyslexic students learn well by patterns and flexible problem solving, that’s why Dr. Boalers approach can really help young math students. Listen to her explain then also listen to how many different ways Stanford math students try to solve the problem 18 x 5 in their heads:

Some of the students told me that they stumbled onto their own way of mental math themselves when they found they couldn’t remember them by rote like some of their classmates. In Jack Laws case, if he had been taught some of the pattern finding approaches of mental math, he might have been able to learn his multiplication tables…not by rote, but by strong knowledge of his 1’s, 2’s, and 10’s and pattern finding on a 100’s chart.

See below for a Mental Math Strategy Sheet. For Premium subscribers, we’ll also add a teacher’s ideas for teaching math patterns using a 100’s chart.

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