“When things just don’t add up!”

Mathematics can often be an area of difficulty for people with dyslexia. Mathematics has its own distinct language and symbols. Mathematics also has a heavy reliance on processing speed and working memory. There is also a high incidence of dyscalculia as a comorbidity with dyslexia.
5. Difficulties mastering number sense, number facts, or calculation (e.g. Has poor understanding of numbers, their magnitude, and relationships.” Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorder (DSM-5)
There is a high co-morbidity rate for children with developmental dyscalculia and dyslexia. Between 60% and 100% of dyslexics have difficulty with certain aspects of mathematics (Miles, 1993 & Joffe, 1990).” Dyslexia help University of Michigan

The fundamental principles of the remediation of mathematical difficulties are;
-Teach concepts and understanding in a hands on way.
-Mastery of basic facts and concepts is essential.
-Focus on students area of weakness.
-Variety and repetition until automaticity of essentials.
-Play games and make relevant to life to alleviate anxiety and increase motivation.


“I was, on the whole, considerably discouraged by my school days. It was not pleasant to feel oneself so completely outclassed and left behind at the beginning of the race.”  “a quadratic equation belonged to the world of Alice in Wonderland and the Differential Calculus was a dragon” Winston Churchill  ” Winston Churchill’s description of mathematics echoes the feelings of many people with a mathematical disability. For them, the world of numbers, equations, and mathematic problems is populated by evil creatures, designed to make their life miserable.” Understanding Dyslexia and other Learning Disabilites Linda Siegel 2013 Pacific Educational Press

Mathematics anxiety is a well researched area and can have a significant impact on kids struggling to cope with the extra demands learning difficulties place upon them everyday in school. Mathematics, as taught in the curriculum, gives children the belief that they are either right or wrong and leaves little room for creativity.

The greatest level of anxiety for my daughter currently is mathematics. She is actually doing well in English. With the help of remediation she reads slowly but at age appropriate level. With the help of the great assistive technology features of her IPAD her creative writing has blossomed and she writes for pleasure. With Math if she gets stuck on the initial problem in a set of many she has to wait for help. She will rarely take a punt a giving it a go, because to do that she risks a whole page of red pen. Getting her spelling wrong in a beautiful written piece still earns her praise.

Years of Mathematics failure have lead to a lot of anxiety. At home what she can understand and achieve in Maths is not in line with the classroom. She says that she freezes up just walking into Mathematics. What are we doing wrong? Why are we creating generations of children afraid of Mathematics? Not just kids with learning difficulties but Maths anxiety is well documented in the general population. For a comprehensive examination of Math anxiety Steve Chinn’s essay is worth examination. http://stevechinn.co.uk/child%20devel%20beliefs.pdf


Manipulatives and exploration of Mathematics concepts in the early years does not play enough of a role and is pushed out early by wrote learning and speed of calculation. My daughter actually spent quite a few psychologist sessions discussing her severe anxiety over weekly Maths Mentals! Children, especially those with learning difficulties, need to be given the opportunity to master basic skills and concepts before moving forward otherwise they risk missing basic essential foundations. These foundations I have had to re teach to my daughter.

We need to allow more exploration of Mathematics concepts and allow children to find other ways of solving a problem. Many times in the teaching of my daughter we threw out the way she was being taught at school and examined her own ways of doing calculations. Sometimes weeks spent doing something one way, without success, a conceptual understanding would be achieved in one lesson using a different approach. At home we have had many light bulb moments.

I think we can probably take a lot of lessons from the rise of Singapore to the top of the maths world. In Singapore maths the focus is on mastery of basic concepts and problem solving skills. There is a significant use of visual aids and manipulatives in the classroom and not just in the first year or two. Children are not shoved into the slow group but the class moves ahead when mastery is achieved for all. This avoids development of anxiety and poor maths self concept. Maths moves slower but mathematics foundations are solid. In every High School Mathematics classroom in Australia there are many children with large skill and concept gaps.


Singapore maths is a method of teaching mathematics which emphasises problem solving. It works with people’s ability to visualise things, recognise patterns and make decisions. It does not resort to rote learning, memorisation or other tedious tactics that put most people off mathematics at a very early age. The goal is to make sure people understand what is going on and that they are not performing procedures that don’t make any sense to them. There is very little reliance on tedious calculations, memorisation and meaningless repetition as those things don’t help anyone to become a thinker; and creating thinkers is the goal.” https://mathsnoproblem.com/singapore-math-singapore-maths/

For someone like myself who found Maths effortless it has been a big learning curve for me to turn around and teach my daughter the basic concepts when school left her behind. We are still working on Maths and I am not sure if we will ever overcome her hatred of math and the anxiety that has developed. She loves reading and writing despite having Dyslexia and Dysgraphia but the fear of Maths weighs heavily.

For more information on Dyscalculia and maths difficulties I recommend;
Steven Chinn who started out in Dyslexia remediation and realised a lot of children also struggle with Math. Dyscalculia is certainly less understood and has less resources than Dyslexia. Steve Chinn has a range of books and resources. http://www.stevechinn.co.uk

Ronit Bird has a range of books and some free resources. This is a list of 10 tips for parents. http://www.ronitbird.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/toptentips.pdf

Maths No Problem https://mathsnoproblem.com/en/blog/

Judy Hornigold. Judy Hornigold will be running a 2 day worshop this year in Sydney Brough to you by SPELD NSW https://speldnsw.org.au/event/dyscalculia-and-maths-interventions-2-day-pd-with-judy-hornigold/. I attended her one day SPELD worshop last year and it was excellent. http://www.judyhornigold.co.uk/dyscalculia.html

Maths Fact Sheet https://www.dropbox.com/s/a7cosgpdc2oto4v/Math%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf?dl=0


For ideas, tips and articles please follow my Facebook page Dyscalculia Awareness Australia https://www.facebook.com/SupportMath/?ref=bookmarks


Phonics myth buster 3 “Nonsense words are silly and we should teach reading in context.”

“Nonsense words are nonsense” is utter nonsense!

One myth that immediately shows the tigers stripes is the myth about nonsense words and context. Straight away your opponent has shown their lack of understanding of learning to read, the importance of phonics and their alliance to multi cueing.

Are nonsense words really nonsense? After all any word that is not in a child’s vocabulary is a nonsense word. Without the ability to decode nonsense words the reading of some of the best children’s literature would be impossible!

Crodsquinkled’ – The BFG by Roald Dahl

Woozles’, ‘Wizzles’ and ‘Heffalumps’ – Winnie The Pooh by A.A. Milne

Hornswogglers, snozzwangers, whangdoodles and Oompa-Loompas –Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Nonsense words or pseudowords are an essential part of the phonics check. Pseudoword decoding issues are a well established predictor of reading difficulties. Nonsense word tests such as DIBELS have been used for some time as an indicator of decoding difficulties.

Keith Stanovich (2000) …cites several experimental studies that conclude;

• “the speed of naming pronounceable nonwords is one of the tasks that most clearly differentiates good from poor readers” (p. 40).

• It thus is not surprising that pseudoword naming is discovered to be a “potent predictor of reading ability at all levels” (p. 100).

• there is an “incredible potency of pseudoword reading as a predictor of reading difficulty” (p. 207). http://www.nrrf.org/old/essay_pseudowords.html

The phonics Screening check has been examined for validity. “Our analyses show that the phonics screening check is a highly valid measure of children’s phonic skills. The check showed convergent validity by correlating strongly with other measures of phonic skills (e.g., teacher judgements of phonic ability and psychometric tests of nonword reading and spelling) and with broader measures of reading (e.g., single-word reading accuracy, prose reading accuracy and comprehension). It also demonstrated discriminant validity, by showing weaker correlations with more distal skills (e.g., vocabulary and maths).

Furthermore, the phonics screening check seemed to be sensitive with respect to identifying children at risk of reading difficulties.” (Duff 2015) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/1467-9817.12029

It needs to be emphasised that this is a simple check of one essential element of reading. An element that can certainly derail a child’s road to effective reading quickly. We also now understand that the majority of children with Dyslexia have a phonological deficit and these children make up the great majority of children who fail to learn to read and require intensive intervention.

In my daughter’s case we were told time and time again she was going ok despite the fact that my parent alarm bell was ringing. It wasn’t until half way through year 2 ,when our new school learning support teacher tested her phonics, that we knew something was really wrong. My daughter could not decode even the most simple nonsense words. Yet she had given the impression she was reading for over 2 years due to her wonderful ability to “guess”. My daughter was read to from a young age and has an enormous vocabulary so she has the ability to guess in context. She would often finish sentences that were over the page. This is not reading.

I’ve heard teachers and parents claiming good readers fail the test and they get tricked by the nonsense words. Nonsense Words are clearly indicated with a monster symbol! There is only one correct pronunciation!

It’s highly Likely that these mystery children have been taught to read using context clues and guessing strategies. These children also may have had the phonics check nonsense word section poorly explained to them. They are also likely to be at risk of reading failure later due to inability to decode.

What about the teachers who in the UK are teaching nonsense words? I’ve heard this as an argument. I haven’t seen any evidence. If they are teaching nonsense words then this is the fault of the teachers and not the check. The only way to teach how to decode nonsense words is to teach decoding explicitly and systematically.

There are some situations when a very limited teaching of nonsense words is valid. It is probably appropriate to explain to children before the phonics test what a nonsense word is, give some examples and show that it is indicated by the monster. Also explain to kids these words have to be decoded. In the case of my daughter we use nonsense words as a diagnostic tool. She has such an extensive vocabulary and has poor guessing habits so we need to test whether she can actually decode. Whether she has learnt a phoneme or guessing is very evident once we throw in a few pseudowords.

Using cues in context for reading comprehension as an adult or a capable reader is a useful strategy. Reading in context for word identification using multiple cues for beginning readers is not a useful strategy and is often a fallback coping mechanism for the poor readers. Encouraging of guessing is not reading and is a very difficult bad habit to undo in struggling readers. It took a long time for us to teach our daughter to decode rather than guess. Going through every word starting with a “D” that you know when faced with an unknown word is not efficient. As a parent it is maddening when my child does this. When she is encouraged to decode she will get the word quickly.

Scientific evidence strongly demonstrates that the development of skilled reading involves increasingly accurate and automatic word identification skills, not the use of “multiple cueing systems” to read words. Skilled readers do not need to rely on pictures or sentence context in word identification, because they can read most words automatically, and they have the phonics skills to decode occasional unknown words rapidly. Rather, it is the unskilled readers who tend to be dependent on context to compensate for poor word identification.” http://www.readingrockets.org/article/use-context-cues-reading

The year 4 reading slump is well documented and is often when children with Dyslexia are diagnosed. In year 3 we switch from learning to read to reading to learn. The text becomes much more difficult at this point and the pretty pictures that children have used to help them guess have vanished. Lack of ability to decode unknown words becomes very evident at this point and affects fluency and comprehension if decoding is not automatic. Reliance on multiple cueing systems fails miserably.

“The 3-cueing approach is a microcosm of the culture of education. It didn’t develop because teachers lack integrity, commitment, motivation or intelligence. It developed because they were poorly trained and advised. They didn’t know the relevant science or had been convinced it was irrelevant. Lacking this foundation, no such group could have discovered how reading works and how children learn.” (Seidenberg, 2017, p.304) For further information on the three cueing system read https://www.nifdi.org/news-latest-2/blog-hempenstall/402-the-three-cueing-system-in-reading-will-it-ever-go-away

Anyone who declares nonsense words are nonsense does not know how to teach reading or how to identify children at risk of reading. I need a big digital stamp for every time I hear this nonsense.

Let me leave you with a little nonsense.

Jabberwocky a nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:

Long time the manxome foe he sought —

So rested he by the Tumtum tree,

And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

He left it dead, and with its head

He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?

Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”

He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

An explanation of the poem can be found here….including how he made up the words. http://www.alice-in-wonderland.net/resources/analysis/poem-origins/jabberwocky/

Cutting down phonics Screening Check myths feels a bit like slaying the Jabberwocky …

Phonics Myth Buster 2 “Learning to read is a natural process and advocating just a phonics approach destroys a children’s love of books!”

This myth makes me super mad for a number of reasons. It’s the ultimate straw man and is frequently trotted out when faced with research and logical arguments. It is also one of the most ridiculous arguments in the anti-phonics arsenal.

Surrounding children with books does not teach them to read.

Yes being exposed to a rich language environment does give a good foundation of Phonemic awareness and vocabulary but excellent oral language does not ensure excellent reading. A child who struggles to learn to read because they have not been given explicit systematic phonics instruction will not love books no matter how much they are exposed to great literature.

“The scientific evidence that refutes the idea that learning to read is a natural process is of such magnitude that Stanovich (1994) wrote:

That direct instruction in alphabetic coding facilitates early reading acquisition is one of the most well established conclusions in all of behavioral science. . . . The idea that learning to read is just like learning to speak is accepted by no responsible linguist, psychologist, or cognitive scientist in the research community (pp. 285-286).” http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar98/vol55/num06/Why-Reading-Is-Not-a-Natural-Process.aspx

“Scientists have established that most students will learn to read adequately (though not necessarily well) regardless of the instructional methods they’re subjected to in school. But they’ve also found that fully 40 percent of children are less fortunate. For them, explicit instruction (including phonics) is necessary if they are to ever become capable readers. These findings are true across race, socioeconomic status, and family background.” https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED498005.pdf

Not only is this supported by research I can attest to this through personal experience. My daughter adored books until she went to school. I read to her constantly. It was our main activity. Her first sentence was “read dis book yep” as she followed me around the house toddling and carrying a book. She had a lovely kindy teacher who read her books and played games but she was not so good at teaching phonics. My daughter developed severe anxiety centred around school and reading and would throw her readers across the room with ferocity. I can attest to the fact they were not great literature either!

In year 3 we hired a structured literacy tutor who taught her explicitly and systematically phonics, Fluency, comprehension, phonemic awareness and vocabulary. Gradually her love of books outweighed her fear of books as she learnt to read. So she has gone from being a non reader in year 3, without the ability to even sound out “cat”, to year 7 loving books. I still read to her every night. She has dozens of books piled into her bed to read. To calm her anxiety she reads. She writes stories constantly and says “books are magic portals to other worlds.” English is one of her favourite subjects.

Can anyone please point out who the phonics only advocates are?

I’m not sure who these so called phonics only advocates are because they get mentioned so much and I’m yet to meet them. I’d really like to meet them and tell them how stupid they are…..but I fear they are but a mystical creature. They are the boogie men of the phonics world. Made up to scare all the teachers who don’t want to accept the science that conclusively shows the importance of an explicit and systematic approach to the teaching of reading, including phonics.

Let’s examine some of the phonics check expert advisory panel. Do they advocate a phonics only approach?

Jennifer Buckingham is behind the Five From Five initiative which aims to improve literacy levels by ensuring all children receive effective, evidence based reading instruction. I will give you a clue…..Five from Five….not one from one. Jennifer Buckingham advocates “The simple view of reading is that learning to read requires two abilities – correctly identifying words (decoding) and understanding their meaning (comprehension). Acquisition of these two broad abilities requires the development of more specific skills. An extensive body of research on reading instruction shows that there are five essential skills for reading and that a high quality literacy program should include all five components…..Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabluary and Comprehension.” http://www.fivefromfive.org.au/five-keys-to-reading/ Five from Five is a great website with substantial research information. It is worth taking a look.

Pamela Snow, according to her University profile, specialises in research in “the oral language skills of high-risk young people (youth offenders and those in the state care system), and the role of oral language competence as an academic and mental health protective factor in childhood and adolescence and applying evidence in the language-to-literacy transition in the early years of school.” So put simply she researches the role of oral language and effect on literacy.

What Pamela Snow says about the myth …”One of the tired and hoary old chestnuts that is regularly trotted out against those who argue for better and more systematic phonics instruction is that there’s more to reading than simply decoding text. That’s a bit like saying that there’s more to making a cup of tea than boiling the kettle. Advocates for evidence-based phonics instruction have always seen learning to decode as a necessary but not sufficient part of literacy learning. The Simple View of Reading (Gough & Tunmer, 1986) asserts the importance of both decoding and comprehension. So if you can’t get words on and off the page, what hope do you have of participating in digital, critical, multi or any other sort of literacy?”http://pamelasnow.blogspot.com.au/2016/04/reading-is-verb-literacy-is-not.html

Check out her blog the Snow report as it is excellent.

Mandy Nayton states “Explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, structured synthetic phonics, vocabulary, reading fluency and reading comprehension strategies provide all children with a clear learning advantagehttp://auspeld.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Balanced-Reading-Programs-What-are-they.pdf

So stop trotting the myth out that phonics is promoted as the cure all to reading. Also stop throwing the love of books back at us “phonics advocates.”

The phonics check is a simple check to identify children most at risk of reading failure and ensure all children are given adequate phonics instruction. “We know that children taught to read using structured synthetic phonics will be a year ahead of controls and national norms initially and will maintain or even add to this advantage over time (Johnston and Watson, 2003; McCardle and Chhabra, 2004).” http://auspeld.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Balanced-Reading-Programs-What-are-they.pdf

It is time to drop the myths and ideologies and follow the evidence. We are leaving too many kids behind. Pamela Snow could certainly give you the research on the consequences of illiteracy and as an admin of Dyslexia Support Australia I can give you the horror stories.

Horrors of homework for kids with learning difficulties

With a daughter in high school I am now faced with the horrors of homework on a daily basis. It has been without a doubt difficult and stressful. Sometimes, before we even start, the mention of homework causes anxiety to rise. For someone with learning difficulties and slow processing speed saying “finish it for homework” inevitably sets the most homework for the child that is the least capable of getting it done.

In primary school I had an arrangement with teachers that her tutor and I would set her homework. This allowed us the freedom to assess her mental health before attempting any homework and focusing on remediation in areas that she desperately needed. My daughter is absolutely exhausted after a day at school. Homework can be extremely challenging to complete. We still have it in her adjustments that homework is at my discretion. So I decide whether it is worthwhile. Something I can do after working with my daughter for 6 years and as a former high school teacher. Often concepts have to be retaught by me before she can attempt homework as children with learning difficulties need repetition. Often concepts are either not understood or forgotten.

We have attempted most assessment task so far without adjustment but this has taken its toll and the latest extensive assessment task we have asked to be adjusted to meet her learning needs. If a child can not complete an assessment task or homework without significant help than that task needs to be adjusted. Parents you have already been to school and it is not your homework.

Assessment tasks and homework need to be adjusted to meet the learning needs of students with dyslexia. Modifications need to be made in format, content and amount. Failure to adequately adjust homework tasks and assignments may lead to increased stress on the child with dyslexia. This is an important consideration when secondary issues such as low self esteem, anxiety and depression are common. Not making adjustments to homework may see school’s in breach of the DDA and Disability Standards for Education.

Homework needs to be adequately explained to students with dyslexia. Teachers should check that the child understands the task. Organisational and memory difficulties are characteristics of dyslexia. Students should be encouraged to adequately record and keep track of homework through the use of assignment books, homework planners and written or digital calendars. Parents of younger students should be informed of assignments and homework tasks.

It is generally agreed that teachers should assign homework that takes into account the needs of the students. This is especially the case of children with learning disabilities in mainstream schools. Research has shown that tasks which may be simple for some students may take a student with a learning disability a considerable amount of time to comprehend and complete.” Education and Training Committee, Inquiry into the approaches to homework in Victorian schools (2014)

Priority must be given to the remediation of a student’s weaknesses. This should include focusing on individualised homework set by dyslexia specialists and learning support teachers. The amount of homework set for students with dyslexia or other learning difficulties needs to be set with the consultation of the teacher, parent and student. Students with dyslexia require extra time to complete the same amount of work. Students with dyslexia are often extremely mentally and physically tired at the end of a school day due to the additional cognitive load required to produce the same work as their peers.

It is far more valuable for the student to be given less homework that can be completed well than to burden a student with excessive homework. Consideration must also be given to the fact that students with dyslexia will require assistance from an adult to complete homework thus affecting the harmony of the parent child relationship. Parents with children with dyslexia often report concerns about the anxiety, stress and battles that homework creates in the house.

It is important that homework priority is given to reading for students with dyslexia. Students should read 10 minutes out loud to a parent and 20 minutes of silent reading. Reading should also be modelled to the child by an adult. Daily reading is essential.

Homework can be effective in supporting learning if it:
-Is varied and differentiated to individual learning needs
-Allows time for family, recreational, community and cultural activities and employment pursuits relevant to the student’s age, development and educational aspirations
-Is balanced across learning areas to avoid stress and overload
-Is achievable and leads to an increase in students’ self-confidence
-Is disassociated from any form of punishing students or a means of discipline
-Refrains from requiring dependence on unreasonable levels of parental assistance or resources that are not readily available to the student (e.g. when assigning homework which may have a computer component, where appropriate a suitable alternative should be made available)”
Tasmanian Department of Education Homework guidelines (2012)

Adjustments need to be made for children with learning difficulties in the setting of homework and assessment tasks. Often even the task itself has such a high literacy requirement that the child may not even understand what they are suppose to do. Homework that is set at a too difficult standard that substantial parental involvement is required not only destroys family harmony but is against the fundamental principle that homework should be a revision of class work. Take some time to adjust or discuss with parents the setting of homework for kids with learning difficulties.