Mathematics and Dyslexia










After a few consecutive years of scheduling conflicts, I finally got to attend the Quebec Teacher’s Association convention.

My first workshop of the day was “Success in math with dyslexia (and other visually-based learning differences)” by Lori Kiteala. The syllabus promised to expose how math is perceived by the dyslexic brain and I was definitely not disappointed.

I recently became more curious about dyslexia, having once thought the issue was restricted to problems with b’s and d’s and a tendency toward mental fatigue. Thanks to Lori Kiteala, I now know differently.

A very long list of potential symptoms can signal dyslexia.


Today’s conference opened my eyes to a learning disability of which I knew very little. I will feel far more capable of teaching a dyslexic once I fully understand how they perceive spoken language, written communication and mathematical concepts.

For now, here are the critical elements that I will retain:

1- Dyslexics transition well to high school because they have spent all of primary school acquiring learning strategies
2- Dyslexics tend to show great strength of character
3 -Dyslexics are hard-working and tenacious, so much so that they often go on to complete advanced degrees.

This list makes me want to work with them even more!

As the speaker continued her presentation, I was captivated by her intentionally dramatic and color-accented slides. She offered many visual examples of how dyslexics “misinterpret” mathematical situations.

At the risk of writing an overly long blog, I share some of my new learnings here:

1. Dyslexics are literal thinkers. As one example, I remember a friend teaching young kids how to interpret idioms such as “raining cats and dogs”. In a similar way, math tutors and teachers need to be conscientious about the words they choose to teach procedures. Something as simple as “re-copy the algebra on each line” or “the left side is for positives” can be interpreted unexpectedly.

2. Previewing content. This accommodation is very helpful to dyslexics. A teacher who sends out pre-reading material can greatly help a dyslexic student. Admittedly, this can be difficult for a busy or novice teacher.

3. Peer-teaching.  When two students work together at the white board, it helps the learning. Allow dyslexics to move around and stand up.

4. Sub vocalizations.  Quietly talking through math or science problems is an accommodation frequently allowed on examinations and it can make a huge impact on marks. Students are moved to a separate room so as not to disturb others with murmuring sounds.

5. Exam coaching. Dyslexics use considerably more brain energy and are usually wiped out (exhausted) after a three-hour exam. A coach can keep them going. Trained coaches can motivate a student to remain focussed. This is even more necessary when extra time is allocated for disability (3 + 1 = 4 hours!).

6. Color coding. Using colored, fine-point, felt pens can make note-taking smoother and more visually organized in a copybook. Using up to 6 different colors can help learners locate various notes (e.g. black for titles, blue for notes, red for formulas, purple for examples, etc). Boys, as much as girls, should use a variety of bright fuchsia highlighters from Staples (green, mauve, yellow, pink, orange).

7. Exam Strategies. Having only one question per exam page will reduce visual clutter, mental fatigue and discouragement. Letting dyslexics separate their exam sheets into two piles (remove the staple) can help. In one pile go the problems they can confidently solve. In the other pile go the questions that may be challenging or discouraging. After students have finished the first pile, let them get up, change desks, stretch or drink water. They may need the change of scenery to tackle the second pile.

9. Different perception. Let us not assume that a dyslexic sees exactly what we do. As one example, most of us take for granted a visual display of two similar triangles. Teachers often draw them  juxtaposed to show the ratio of their sides. A dyslexic may actually see a small triangle and a trapezoid. (refer to image). This difficulty may explain why some students struggle to learn trigonometry. dsylexic similar triangles

10. Fractions may be erroneously interpreted as a number less than zero (a<0). This may explain why my science students struggle with operations on fractions (ex.: ½ divided by ½).

Dyslexics are particularly astute and can excel at higher math. They just need the right support, a few accommodations to ease the burden of note-taking and many mental breaks during long exams.

I left the conference with so many tricks that can help tutoring but I should mention that, through no fault of their own, dyslexics can be resistant to the benefits of tutoring. Tutors need to be extra patient, creative and empathetic to this reality.

Thanks to my colleagues who let me photograph them at the conference.
2013-11 Science math and language teachers


Love at First Sight: Prezi Software


You may know Prezi. It is a free, open-source software which has revolutionized the communications industry. I had heard of it a year ago, at teachers’ staff meeting. I was captivated. I could easily see Prezi being used in the business sector where PowerPoint is still the go-to-software for marketing presentations and continuing medical education.

With a PPT deck, the audience sees (and reads) slide after slide in a very linear and predictable format. While links and embedded videos are always a possibility, the default flow remains sequential and pre-determined. It can be easy for the mind to wander (especially the busy minds of technologically driven youth). It is practically impossible to zoom in on any aspects of a slide.

With Prezi, the flow is not linear. The presentation is based on a complex canvas of ideas which are posted and grouped within a simple, thematic background. The software does all the work of introducing flair, design, imbedded videos and royalty-free images. At any point, the viewer can take steps to zoom into or enlarge portions of the slide contents. I have begun to see youthful and upbeat television commercials that use this “zooming” approach.

Sounds technical and artsy? Not at all. Okay, well maybe just a little. However, the free online platform is very user-friendly. I made my first two “rookie” Prezi attempts last evening at midnight (I was committing to learning Prezi the same day as the conference).

I selected personal, timely and low-risk topics that required no research. I practiced making a presentation that I could use with my kids (e.g. How to make a Science Fair Project). Note that I am still working on adding the audio (music or narration is essential in my opinion) and I will get more proficient with each presentation that I  ‘throw’ together. In the name of extra practice, I may make a digital birthday card for a friend or a digital compilation of my child’s artwork. Or maybe I could make a virtual “business card” to attach in my emails.

I may also take a friend’s uber-serious literature review on cancer and see how his medical PowerPOint slides transfer over into a Prezi. There is lots of opportunity for me to practice and I can see endless reasons to use this technique for personal branding, professional portfolios, corporate marketing and, of course, for medical meetings.

2013-11-22 13.28.36

Annual Parents Conference – Technology?

I attended a stimulating conference last weekend for parents of school-age children. You may be wondering why a parenting conference should appear on a blog for Teachers, Tutors and Corporate Trainers.

Well, that’s because I actually avoided all the traditional parenting (I can find those subjects in a parenting magazine). Instead, I signed up for all the technology topics – anything related to trending social and digital media.

I was expecting a good day of learning and boy was I NOT disappointed. I was so captivated and filled with intellectual joy that I could hardly sit still. You know you are in a great conference, job, marriage or friendship when you experience a spontaneous and steady surge of creativity, endorphins and adrenaline.

In fact, as the last presentation ended at 3 pm, I sat in the hallway dazed and still reeling from the high calibre of the talks. I was actually annoyed when the conference was over!

I have much to share.

My very next blog posting will focus on Prezi software. The speaker, Tanya Avrith, had expertly used Prezi for her talk “Harnessing the Power of Social Media”. I was so blown away by her zooming “slides” that I waited after the talk and begged to know what software had been used.

Stay tuned for my next posting!