From Miles and Miles’ wonderful Dyslexia and Mathematics book:

Here is an example of a dyslexic student’s sharing of how she becomes confused by what a teacher is saying. The capital letters indicate words that required her to stop and think.


“We are going to TAKE 25 FROM 61. WRITE DOWN 61 first (I sometimes wrote the first figure I heard before the second one). WRITE DOWN 25 UNDERNEATH it. Put the 2 UNDER the 6 and the 5 UNDER the 1. Draw a line UNDERNEATH. Start at the bottom on the RIGHT. Take 5 AWAY FROM 1. It won’t go. Start again. Borrow 2 10 FROM the 6 (Confusion here because you take smaller numbers from bigger ones, and 10 take away 6 is 4). ‘Where do I put the 4?’ There isn’t a 5 in the sum. Now pay attention…start again.

You are borrowing 10 FROM 60. (Confusion again because that seems to leave a 50 somewhere). You borrow the 10 from the 60 and add it to the 1 to make it 11. Then you take the 5 AWAY FROM 11. That leaves 6. Put the 6 DOWN, UNDER THE LINE BELOW THE 5. There is no need to take so long. Take the one you have borrowed AWAY from the 6. ‘Which 6?’ Then take 2 AWAY FROM 5. That leaves 3. If you like you can pay back the 10 to the 2 and that makes 3. Then you take 3 AWAY FROM 6, and you get the same answer, 3. Put the 3 DOWN, on the LEFT of the 6. Not that 6, the one in your answer. Read the answer from LEFT to RIGHT – 36.”

Eventually Street taught herself to subtract by her own private method (which involved adding), despite the disapproval of her teacher who said that this method was too confusing!”

It may have been easier if the teacher hadn’t spoken at all when pointing out the steps for the subtraction question.

Base Ten materials can also support the steps.

Reduce verbal confusion by minimizing spatial instructions (away from, move over, place holder etc.). A picture may be worth a thousand words.