The Good News for Effective Help and Warning Signs to Avoid Getting Off Track.

Photo courtesy of  CollegeDegrees360 ( CC ShareALike )

Photo courtesy of CollegeDegrees360(CC ShareALike)

The school year is up and running. 

It’s the perfect time for parents and teachers of students who struggle with reading, writing and math skills to think about finding the very best help for their children and students.  

It is also Dyslexia Month; a time to focus on children whose reading and math skills often do not keep up with their peers, or only do so with an extraordinary amount of hard work.  

The International Dyslexia Association or IDA provides excellent guidelines to help parents and teachers find appropriate instruction for these children. 

First the Good News:

Most Reading Difficulties can be resolved or diminished.

IDA has established knowledge and practice standards to inform and develop knowledgeable and skilled teachers so that all students in every classroom can benefit from successful literacy instruction. 

The need for good teaching instruction in every classroom has been clearly documented. 

The Bad News:

Not all educational promises meet the knowledge and practice standards. Some make promises of a quick fix that are just too good to be true. Others while meaning well, do not provide long term gains that translate into academic success.

IDA cautions parents and teachers to:

  1. Be Aware: parents and educators will do almost anything to help a child who is struggling in school. This makes it all too easy to get taken in by treatments and programs that make big promises, but do little except waste valuable time and resources.

  2. Be Wary of: Exaggerated claims, false guarantees, pseudo science and quick fix claims. Be  wary of any approach  that focuses on fixing a single underlying condition to address complex difficulties. 

And There is More Good News: 

IDA provides guidelines to evaluate treatments and programs for struggling students.

  1. Ask questions. Do treatments and skills gains actually transfer into improved reading, writing, math or study skills?

  2. Invest time well for the long term. When a child fails to progress, frustration and loss of self-esteem can be devastating. Time is lost and hopes are dashed.  Best practices and interventions are most effective when the brain is most plastic (or young). Wasting time during the early years can have life-long consequences. 

It ‘s important to recognise a solid structured approach to reading and math instructionthat will move your child or student forward this school year and those to come. 

Take some time to ask the questions you need to ask and consider your educational options without pressure. 

We wish you great success in your education journey. 

Marilyn Wardrop and the OG Academic Team

The Final Pieces to OG Math Strategies - How Math and Language are Strongly Connected

Here's what we've all been waiting for: the final four of our ten techniques for helping the struggling math students, O-G style. You can read about techniques 1 through 6 in our previous blog posts

7.  Help them to talk the talk, as they walk the walk. The difficulties that students have with the language of mathematics are the same as their difficulties in learning the English language: vocabulary terms, syntax, semantics and discourse features are difficult. (In fact, don't we all have to stop, sometimes, and think again about which number is the called the divisor and which one is the dividend?)  Drawings, cue cards and diagrams are useful in much the same way as pictures are sometimes used to reinforce letter sounds and key words in O-G. Directions should be given clearly; key vocabulary must be repeated often and reinforced continually. Let's say that again. Key vocabulary must be repeated often and reinforced continually.  In other words, key vocabulary must be repeated often and ... you get the idea.

8.  Knowing the language, not just the words.  There's a story about a tourist who was anxious to show off his newly found fluency in German, when he ordered coffee at a Berlin restaurant.  As the waiter brought his order, he said, confidently, “Danke Schoen” (Thank You) to which the waiter replied, “Bitte.” (You're welcome), and the tourist said, “No, it's not bitter at all.” Likewise, the instructor must directly teach the real world use of new vocabulary. Connect new words to known with information that is interesting and generates “rich connections” (Stahl S 2004). The technical terms related to math concepts such as numerator, denominator, quotient, multiples and factors must be practiced repeatedly in a multisensory manner on word cards, tactile surfaces, and reference charts. It isn’t enough to know the words; students must have the concrete VAKT experience that makes the concepts lively and memorable.

9. Colour me confident. The use of a colour code or visual cueing is another effective way of focusing attention and sequencing steps in place value. For example, a separate colour may be designated for the ones, tens, and hundreds columns. It helps with recall of information and identifies starting and stopping points when punctuation is highlighted in colour within word problems. Another colour highlighter may be used for important key words thus providing cues to an appropriate response. Such strategies increase the student’s ability to be independent. (Thornton & Bley, 2005; Kramer, 1983)

10. When the going gets tough, the tough get all of the tools out of their toolbox ... or something like that. Moving from the simple to the complex is another key O-G teaching concept. There is more than one way to gradually add bits of new information when working through math equations. Teach alternate strategies to students through the use of manipulatives and the drawing step: drawing a picture, sketching a sequence, looking for a pattern, making predictions (Foss, 1991), and making a simpler or more authentic problem, trial and error, acting it out, recording results on a table or chart. These are strategies that enrich and empower students mathematically as they bridge over to traditional algorithms and generalizations."


Math isn't just a numbers game...

Math isn't just a numbers game:  writing, drawing, and talking about solving problems

As we discussed last time, teachers trying to help students who struggle with math need to use a variety of techniques. You can go back and review techniques 1, 2, and 3 in the last post. And, if you visualize a number line, you can see that number 3 is followed by numbers 4, 5 and 6. So technique number 4 is ... (drumroll)

4.  Use drawings (TA-DA!) to translate and visualize math concepts. Drawings in math are known as the representational level. They are crucial in helping students make the connection between the materials (at the concrete level of understanding) and numbers or formulas (at the abstract level of understanding.) Students' drawings, verbal explanations, and journals legitimately testify to their understanding of Math concepts .  Those drawings are also quite often easier to retrieve from memory than pen and paper tasks.

5.    Let's Give Them Something To Talk About, as Bonnie Raitt famously sang.  Technique number 5 is a mouthful of jargon that has its own acronym : S.O.M. or Simultaneous Oral Math. It's an adaptation ofthe Orton-Gillingham technique of Simultaneous Oral Spelling, or S.O.S. which is translated into a math format. It simply means that teachers need to encourage students to think aloud when solving problems, and have students give oral explanations of the thinking that leads to their solutions. With the O-G Math approach the teacher has the benefit of clearly understanding that the student will need time to process information before making a response.

6.    Let's take turns. As every O-G practitioner knows, demonstrated knowledge includes three things: comprehension of task demands, articulation of one’s own approach to the learning of similar tasks, and a grasp of the appropriate strategies for the task. The diagnostic/prescriptive aspect of O-G is easily employed with SOM when we hear the thinking process behind the student’s approach to solutions and see the results of their efforts on a day to day basis. By verbalizing step by step how a math problem is solved, students can self-correct their mistakes. And self-correction is where confidence and independence is built in O-G lessons.

When students write, draw or orally compose their own original word problems, these can be adapted and used for review. When teacher and student take turns writing and adding carefully measured complexity to math word problems, this activity can reinforce students’ reading and writing skills.

We'll finish out the top ten in our next post. Be sure to watch for it.

3 Ways to Succeed with Math Using the VAKT Approach

Do you feel inadequate teaching math to struggling math students who just don’t get it? 

 Join the club.

At one time or another, almost every teacher has had to deal with those kinds of feelings. It's not at all unusual for teachers and tutors to feel unprepared for the task at hand.

    Unfortunately, mathematical instruction for remedial and special education students has primarily focused on helping an entire class with the acquisition of basic skills and traditional arithmetic (Chinn, Ashcroft 2007; Montague, Jitendra, 2006). But, clearly, we also need to adapt mathematics instruction to respond to individual student’s needs (Gersten, Jordon, Flojo, 2005).

         For example, one of the things you realize when dealing with dyslexia and math learning disabilities is that teaching and learning are multisensory. In 1979, Dr. Joyce Steeves wrote one of the earliest papers to suggest a multisensory approach to the teaching of mathematics. Dr. Steeves advocated the same teaching principles for teaching mathematics as Dr. Samuel Orton had suggested for language.

We know today that these multisensory strategies are effective for all students. What are they? The VAKT approach. VAKT stands for visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile. It's a fancy way of saying that you should help students see, hear, move and touch things as they try to understand a problem. This approach is especially helpful to students with “short attention spans” as they are not expected to merely sit still and learn the material. Instead, they manipulate tangible concrete objects that help them conceptualize abstract concepts. By using the O-G approach to support the teaching of both language acquisition AND Mathematics, we discover the best practices for the teaching of math in general.

In the next few posts, I’ll outline 10 techniques that I’ve found most effective for teaching students who struggle with math.

Today will focus on the first 3 Big VAKT Ideas:

         1. Touch it – Feel it – Move it Make math playful and concrete. It's long been a best practice in math education to teach concepts with concrete materials and examples. Wise teachers know that it's only when the vocabulary and the process are understood, that they can then move to a more abstract approach.

         2. Challenge and Creativity:   Instructors are at their best when they use their creativity to further their student’s understanding of math concepts, instead of merely relying on flash cards and worksheets. At the same time, students learn in an enjoyable way with all senses engaged while making connections between the concrete ideas they’ve experienced and the abstract concepts they need for quick recall.

         3. Have Success with a Solid Plan: Don't you love it when a plan comes together? You can use what we call a cumulative structure and sequence designed to flow through lessons automatically. Yes, those are a lot of big words, but concentrate on the "automatic" part. OG Math has a built in structure for strengthening thinking skills.

We'll take a closer look at developing automaticity and thinking skills in the next post.

Do you want to keep up with OG Math? You can sign up here to be kept up to date.

We will never share your email or ever send you spam!