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How Parents Can Find Answers to a Child's Mathematics Problems

Feb 27, 2008
According to some research reports, few students are referred to special education testing for mathematical disabilities. In fact, mathematical disabilities do not exist as a structured whole in testing situations but rather as a group of abilities, usually distilled into the arithmetic or computational disability. Children and even adults who cannot remember multiplication tables or add a set of numbers are often thought of as disabled or un-abled while those who are said to have spatial talents are often viewed as talented. Many separate mathematical abilities and disabilities may exist side-by-side and either may be neglected based on the teacher's or the school's approach to teaching math.

What is viewed as mathematical ability cannot just depend on the computational, but should also take into account the spatial reasoning, symbolic reasoning, logic and broad problem-solving ability.

Many have heard of the child known as the autistic savant who can tell someone the day of the week on which they were born within seconds when given only the date of birth. There are many people who are blessed with a high degree of intelligence and ability in a very narrow area, such as calculations of calendar dates, but who lack broader abilities in more conventionally accepted areas.

While many students have difficulties remembering multiplication tables and formulas, these same students may have talent in problem-solving or in computer programming. Mathematical reasoning is not monolithic and it is not a simple quality to define.

If a parent feels one's child is experiencing difficulty in math class, this may not mean the child needs remediation in all areas of mathematical reasoning. Various techniques, such as drill or mnemonic devices, may help to alleviate specific difficulties with a trained and sensitive teacher or tutor.

If a parent's child is failing in math, it is important to ask some questions: What specific skills is my child deficient is? Computation? Reasoning? Logic? Verbal problems? Spatial relationships?

If the teacher cannot specify areas which need improvement, ask for a review of the child's anecdotals to pinpoint areas of weakness. Is the math syllabus geared to specific areas of competency? If so, what are those areas?

Does the child seem to have specific problems with language in math? If so, has the teacher given the students an extensive and detailed list of definitions of terms used in the course? Are mimeographed sheets being used instead of modeled lessons with reinforcement by homework? Is the child given time and opportunity to use manipulatives in the classroom if it appears the difficulty is related to understanding word problems?

It's important to remember that no one is born mathematically challenged and that many are born with great capacities in a very narrow area. To expand a child's math abilities, work with the teacher to determine whether the child's difficulties lie in the area of language or perception of quantity or space.

If, after talking to the teacher, a parent still has questions about pronounced deficiencies, the questions should be further pursued to the department chair or to the principal.

Parents are often a child's best advocate for ensuring optimum education.
About the Author
Ann Knapp writes articles for Math Made Easy - an organization that provides Math help for Algebra, Geometry, math homework - using math online tutorial services and math tutorial cd so you can watch your math scores soar.
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