Supporting children with dyslexia in mathematics

    Published: 29 September 2016

    Gill Shearsby-Fox is a Primary Mathematics Adviser for Herts for Learning.

    Many people think that Dyslexia purely impacts upon children’s learning of reading and spelling and therefore does not have a huge influence on their mathematics. A difficulty in reading does of course lead to children finding most of the curriculum difficult because it is an essential skill and is needed to access learning and succeed. However, having dyslexia does impact on children’s learning of mathematics in more ways than having difficulties reading the questions.

    Children with dyslexia have processing difficulties as Gavin Reid (2009, pg. 4) says “It can also have an impact on cognitive processes such as memory, speed of processing, time management, co-ordination and automaticity.” It is this aspect of dyslexia that can have the biggest impact on the difficulties facing children when learning mathematics.

    The new SEND code of practice (2015) states that ‘All children and young people are entitled to an appropriate education, one that is appropriate to their needs, promotes high standards and the fulfillment of potential. High quality teaching, differentiated for individual pupils, is the first step in responding to pupils who have or may have SEN.’ The expectation is that class teachers are responsible for children with SEND and are expected to make reasonable adjustments to support these children in the classroom. For children with dyslexia this is not unmanageable if the curriculum is designed in a way which encourages ‘relational understanding’ (Skemp 1989).

    Teaching for relational understanding occurs at the point new learning is delivered: children are given the opportunity to explore, discuss and make connections with previous knowledge to help build links in learning. Therefore, the impact on memory and processing speed is reduced – two aspects that dyslexics have difficulty with. This way of teaching fits in well with the methods described in a mastery curriculum which encourages all children to move through the curriculum together ensuring all gain deep conceptual understanding.

    To fulfill the expectation of children gaining a deep conceptual understanding of mathematics, they will need to have the opportunity to explore concepts in a variety of ways, using a variety of manipulatives and representations. Links will need to be made to previous learning and the bigger picture of what is being mastered will need to be shared. This all supports children with dyslexia’s preferred learning style and ensures that their processing weakness does not impact on their progress in mathematics.


    Reid, G (2009) Dyslexia: A Practitioner’s Handbook, 4th Edition, Chichester: Wiley-BlackwellSkemp, R.R. (1989) Mathematics in the Primary School Routledge

    SEND code of practice: 0 -25 years

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