Do you have students with a poor sense of number?

With mid-year reports completed, the second half of the year now presents the challenge of helping those who experience significant difficulties grasping the size or quantity of a number and the relationship of numbers to one another.

Dyscalculia is a mathematics disability causing significant difficulties with:

  • mastering a sense of number
  • grasping, and understanding the size or quantity of number
  • learning number facts
  • performing calculations
  • demonstrating mathematical reasoning.

Approximately 3 to 6 per cent of children suffer from dyscalculia. Despite its prominence, most teachers, psychologists, and many researchers have known very little about it until recent years. Unfortunately, maths difficulties are often not detected until students are nine or 10 years old when they are significantly behind their peers in mathematics. This makes it difficult for them to catch up.

Psych4Schools members have access to a Year 2 Maths Screen

To counter late detection the Psych4Schools Year 2 Maths Screen helps with early identification. Administer this 20-question screening tool with individual students identified as ‘just average’ to ‘poor’ in mathematics during Year 2. The screen takes about 10 minutes per student to administer.

Children with dyscalculia display significant mathematical delays

When compared with peers or to benchmarks or standards these students often have a dislike of, and anxiety about, maths and experience difficulties with:

  • Learning to count forwards and backwards
  • Giving numbers meaning (size, quantity, magnitude, place value)
  • Understanding the relationship of numbers to one another – such as ‘greater than’ or ‘less than’ or ‘the difference between’, as well as using number lines.
  • Estimating – size, number, distance, and volume.
  • Knowing and/or confusing maths signs +, –, x, ÷ and =.
  • Understanding and remembering arithmetic facts, maths rules, concepts, and formulae.
  • Transferring knowledge from one maths area to another or using existing maths knowledge to solve a maths problem.
  • Improving maths performance and attainment. They show little or no improvement following repeated instruction or one-to-one assistance.

How can teachers best work with these students?

  • Assess what the student specifically can and can’t do across the mathematics curriculum. Do not assume they have pre-school counting skills or other basic mathematical skills because of their age. A full assessment is fundamental to developing an intervention approach that will assist the child.
  • Provide a targeted teaching group. If there is little change over a 6 – week period recommend referral with parent permission for further assessment with a psychologist who specialises in learning disabilities and follow their recommendations.
  • Build number sense. These students have significant difficulties in having a ‘sight recognition’ for quantity and have difficulty understanding the size of a number and its relationship to other numbers. Assist the student to practice recognizing by sight quantities to 7.
  • Use number facts charts and technology such as calculators. If number facts are mastered, reliance on supported learning can be reduced as appropriate. The student may always struggle to acquire and use basic number facts. Support resources, including calculators allow the child to overcome ‘computational barriers’ to participating in more advanced mathematical topics in later years.
  • Assign the child a tactful buddy, aide, or other adult support during maths. The child will require significant one-to-one assistance using multi-sensory approaches to understand basic concepts, and each new concept as it is introduced.
  • Focus on ‘personal best’. Chart individual progress (with the child) to promote learning.
  • Identify maths strategies used by the child. Are they efficient strategies that foster understanding and automatic recall? For example, can the child ‘make to ten’, use doubles, count on (or back) from the largest number, skip count, and round numbers up or down?
  • Does the child’s recall of equations and number facts improve with flash cards and private time trials?

For more information and practical classroom strategies Psych4Schools members can access the ebooklet Working with children diagnosed with dyscalculia (mathematics disability).

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Need further information? Contact me via the website or by email at

Murray Evely, Psych4Schools Psychologist/ Guidance Officer

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