Contributed by:
Sharp Tutor
Here, we cover some difficulties faced by math teachers.
1. Practical Recommendations and Interventions: Math Difficulties 1
Use other instructional formats besides paper and pencil to teach math problems (such
as pictures, pie charts, and graphs). This helps children who have difficulty reading to
learn math skills.
Maximize success by giving different assignments to different children based on their
level of ability.
When grading math assignments, take notice of incorrect answers and discuss with
the student the process they used to reach the solution. Otherwise the student may
develop an incorrect habit of calculation (e.g., borrowing wrong).
Make learning relevant. For example, instead of using worksheets to teach students
how to round, have an activity where the students round the amount that they would tip a
server in a restaurant.
Use a combination of modeling (demonstration) and feedback when introducing a
new math concept. Show the student how to do a problem, and then allow them to try it.
Keep demonstrating until the child can do it on their own. Provide “scaffolding” –
support that is gradually reduced until the student learns the skill.
Use demonstration plus a permanent model. Work through an example, verbalize the
procedure and then leave the sample as a model for the class to refer to.
Consider background knowledge before teaching new skills. Ideally, prerequisite
skills should be reviewed for several days before the introduction of newer, more
complex skills.
Explain goals. Prepare students for what they need to do to achieve the goal and what
they will learn in the process.
Provide step-by-step instruction that covers why the skill is important and discusses
when and how to apply the skill.
Teach generalization by having discussions about usefulness of the skill – this
provides motivation for learning. This can also be accomplished by making a list of
everyday situations where mental computation is important.
Make lessons activity-centered (hands-on). This helps to get students actively involved
and it bridges the gap between concrete and abstract.
Teach students to group numbers to make mental calculations easier. Have them
look for easy to handle combinations (ex. 10s = 6+4, 7+3) to add together in their head.
2. Practical Recommendations and Interventions: Math Difficulties 2
Memorizing certain common numbers may help to make mental calculation easier
(e.g., memorizing equivalents such as common decimal forms of fractions – ¼ = .25).
Teach children the use of mnemonic strategies, such as using concrete imagery (e.g.,
door = 4, gate = 8. To demonstrate what 8 x 4 is, show a picture of a door in front of the
gate with the number 32 on it.)
Use CRA (concrete-representational-abstract) sequence. This involves teaching
students to understand the concepts of math prior to making them memorize facts.
Ex. What is 5 x 2?
1) concrete: see 5, count out five groups with paper, see 2, count out that many
objects and add to each group, count up the total number of objects.
2) Representational: draw pictures of the above example.
3) Abstract: perform the operation in your head.
Use “linking” where students learn to connect one problem to a related problem.
Ex. 5 + 6 (think 5 + 5 = 10, so 5 + 6 = 11)
Teach children to use a referent for estimation. For example, give a picture of two
people, if a student knows the height of one they can use this information to estimate the
height of the other.
Students should use chunking. This involves estimating parts of a picture to determine
its overall value. For example, to estimate the distance to the store from a house, the
student can break the whole distance into parts (estimate the distance from the house to
the street sign, the distance from the sign to the traffic light, etc.) and then combine the
parts to come up with the estimate of the whole.
For word problems, use simple language. Avoid emphasizing strategies where
children look for key words such as “left”, “gave”, or “remaining” as symbols to subtract.
Instead, focus on helping students to understand the concept of the problem.
When solving word problems, teach the children to use pre- and post-organizers to
check their work. Pre organizers: read problem, underline numbers, reread and decide
on operation sign and problem type. Post organizers: read problem, check operation,
check math statement, check calculations, and check labels.
Encourage students to use tips for mental problem solving: make notes, develop a
plan, use simple numbers, make a diagram, and guess and then check the answer.
Encourage children to read aloud (verbalize the problems). Teach students to use a
running dialogue where they ask themselves questions that help them reach a solution
(e.g., what operation is the problem suggesting that I should use?)
Emphasize writing to learn math skills. Explaining work in writing is a key to
understanding. Students can keep learning logs where they record examples of lessons or
3. Practical Recommendations and Interventions: Math Difficulties 3
questions about their assignments, or they can write a math autobiography where they
record their experiences with math in and out of the classroom.
Encourage children to set daily “self-goals” as to how many problems they would like
to work on (within a reasonable range).
Hand out facts review one-page sheet of all learned facts so that students have a
reference guide.
To improve mental calculation skills, encourage children to practice, practice,
Additional Resources:
Transforming teaching in math and science. (2003). New York, NY: Teachers College
Press. Math Forum: Teachers’ Place. Practical Ideas for
Teaching Math.
Diana Fell