Here are several desirable features for remote math programs for dyslexic students:
– Comprehensive (math builds on prior knowledge; programs must be comprehensive)
– Spiralling (reviews and deepens knowledge of concepts over time; more info here)
– Video and Audio Support
– Visual and Animation Examples for Concepts
– Interactive Activities
– Option for manipulatives
– Explicit instruction
– Adaptive and positive reinforcement
– Not requiring excessive repetition or practice
– Reduced writing demands
– Use of color coding
Some strong personal learners may prefer to learn from a person (even if recorded) rather than impersonal software platform, whereas others may prefer the opposite.
The dilemma for individual students is having the “just right” amount of practice and options for review. Many dyslexic students don’t need a lot of practice questions assigned for homework – they just need to understand the concepts being presented – and why they made mistakes if their answers are wrong.
Many dyslexic students have working memory overload problems as well as dysgraphia; as a result poorly fitting programs may greatly contribute to stress.
Another student’s complaint over the disastrous I-Ready program mentioned in the previous article:
“I-ready is absolutely garbage. I took a diagnostic and it gave me 5th grade math. I’m in 9th grade, I…didnt put any effort into the test. I ended up testing on a 2nd grade level, Even though I did 5th grade math. So instead of I-ready giving me lessons on things I was struggling on and things I needed to learn…”
Now obviously, the above student made the mistake of not taking a diagnostic test seriously, but programs should also have some statistical guidelines to see if a student’s performance may be invalid because of poor effort.
BENEFITS OF DISTANCE LEARNING MATH TO SUPPORT DYSLEXIC STUDENTS
As of the writing of this article, there are some predictions that the very active phase of COVID may be at its peak with omicron and soon turn down, but regardless of whether school gets disrupted by closures, having a distance learning option for math can support dyslexic students in many ways.
The typical developmental time course for dyslexia often is a poor match for conventional education because working memory, writing automaticity, and reading fluency tend to be late blooming. As a result, young children with dyslexia can look as if they are weak in their math skills, but then in the middle-high school grades, they may undergo a spurt in abilities such that they can make more progress than they could have possibly dreamed in the early grades.
One of the challenges, then, is to not go entirely off the rails in the early grades, and to make up for weaker foundational skills in the teen years (including reviewing more basic concepts) if necessary.
Our son had fairly flat progress in the early grades, then jumped up in 8-9th grades and scored high enough on math and English parts of the PSAT to be in the top 3-4% of college-bound test-takers. It was a very non-linear path, with constant forgetting of basic math facts in the elementary school years and little progress for years in the early grades. There were also glimmers that things were not bad as it seemed. Although he seemed very forgetful with math facts and procedures, he had intuitive strengths with algebraic thinking (Hands On Equations) even in elementary school. Working with that program helped his confidence about other parts of math.
When trying to find a good match for a student, quantity matters. Most students can tolerate lessons and practice that last 10-20 minutes depending on age. Some students may struggle depending on the settings of the programs – for instance thresholds that are too high for advancing levels (not accounting for accidental mistakes) or programs that require too many repetitions to move ahead.
Tried and true and low tech, Khan Academy with its free videos remains a helpful resource that can be used as a standalone or as a backup for explaining math problems. It is more rote sequential (inchworm and not grasshopper if you know that terminology), but clear and helpful when parents or students are stuck on certain types of problems.
The best programs will allow some customizations for individual students; if you are investigating a match for a particular student, try a free trial to see how well the program might fit.
HOW DO YOU WANT TO USE THE MATH PROGRAM?
With most students suffering at least some “pandemic loss” in math because of school disruptions, some families may choose to have a backup program to test for math gaps and close them in as easy a way as possible.
Others may be focused on a backup plan if students don’t understand new math concepts in class.
Still others may want to “go nuclear” and have a comprehensive math program that can completely take the place of math at school.
Some families love the low-tech Khan Academy as a backup program, but although it’s comprehensive, video-based, and free, it takes a more recipe-oriented approach to math, showing you step-by-step, but not necessarily why something is correct or works. It also has fairly limited use of visuals and manipulatives.
DOES YOUR STUDENT WORK BETTER WITH VISUALS AND MANIPULATIVES?
For the early grades, here are some programs that employ more visuals or manipulatives: