Teaching Mental Math to All Elementary Students

Many people think that mental math is too difficult for elementary learners, but, in fact, youngsters have wonderful imaginations and capacities to visualize that can be utilized while doing mathematical calculations.  In addition, it teaches them how to use their brains in an efficient, mindful and active manner.  What's more it develops working memory, executive functioning skills and attention abilities that can serve them for the rest of their lives.

How Can Mental Math Utilize and Develop Working Memory, Executive Functioning and Attention?
Working memory is the key mental process that enables one to hold, manipulate, organize and process both new and stored visual and auditory information.  When employing working memory, students also develop their executive functioning skills as well as their attention so that they can retrieve, integrate, and process the problem at hand.

Teaching Children the Power of Visualization Makes Mental Math Fun and Memorable
Another important component of an efficient and robust working memory is the capacity to visualize what one is learning.  Creating mental imagery that can be adjusted like an internal movie can make learning both fun and memorable.  If you are interested in helping students to develop this capacity, you can play activities and games that will help young learners to develop this skill.  To learn about why and how you can teach this, CLICK HERE.

What Types of Mental Math Can You Teach Children?
You can begin by teaching very simple mental math problems by encouraging your students to visualize objects that they can then count in their head.  I also love to use mental math to teach simple addition and subtraction.  Instead of rote memorization, I have a different approach.  Here are a few examples.
1. Students can learn to add and subtract simple addition problems by visualizing dice.  I have them do art activities and play games with dice until they feel comfortable that they can picture them in their heads.  Then when they have to add numbers that integrate 1-6, they can visualize a die and count up for addition and countdown for subtraction.
2. I teach funny memory strategies that students can visualize for learning how to add identical digits like 2+2, 3+3, 4+4 and so forth.  For example, with the problem 9+9, I tell them that the two nines are in love, and they get married.  When this happens they become one (1), and two heads are better than one (8).
3. Once they can add the identical digits, the mental manipulation comes in.  If they know that 6+6=12, then they can compute 6+7.  All they have to do is 6+6=12 and 12+1=13.
You would think that mental math is only for bright or gifted children, but I have found that it works brilliantly with children with learning disabilities and even those with low IQ scores.  In fact, it works quickly, and I find that my students have great fun with it.  I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter.  Do you, too, use mental math when instructing elementary students?

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to https://godyslexia.com/www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz

Back to School: Planning, Time Management and Organization Instruction

Many teachers can not fathom how apparently simple tasks such as using an agenda or turning in an assignment can be very difficult for some of their students.In fact, many students need comprehensive instruction and scaffolding to learn to plan, manage time, and organize.Executive functioning, which encompasses these skills is the last part of the brain to fully develop, and in actuality, does not reach maturation until students reach their early 20's. How Hard Can it Really Be to Plan, Manage Time and Organize? I have to admit, when I first started working with students that struggled with executive functioning, I was surprised how challenging planning, time management, and organization could be for some of my young, bright learners.What seemed to be clear and obvious was obscure, taxing and problematic for them.
These Students are Often Misunderstood: Instead of compassion and strategies, students that have difficulties with executive functioning are often intimidated, harassed and …

You can create your own overlays by using whole sheets or cutting strips of transparent, colored report covers, dividers or overhead projector film.

Step one: Buy a variety of colorful transparent sheets.  You can use - color, transparency filmcolor, transparent report covers (plastic)color, transparent dividers (plastic)

All of these options can be found at office supply stores.
Step two:  Everyone is different.  Let your students try out the different colors and see which one they like the best. Step three:  For some students, keep whole sheets so that students have the option of changing the background color of the entire page of text.  Other students might like a thin strip of color, as it can help with tracking from one line to the next.  I make them a variety of lengths and widths, and often let students decide for themselves.  Note: The strips also make wonderful book marks.
Step four (optional):  Place a plain sticker on the end of the overlay strip or the bottom of a whole sheet…

10 Free Ways to Improving Visual Tracking for Weak Readers

While reading, tracking across the page from one line to the next can be tricky when the text is small, but for students with dyslexia or weak reading skills, it can be a problem regardless of the font size.  So why is this the case?  Perhaps one of the problems is poor tracking skills.
What Exactly is Tracking? Tracking is the ability for one's eyes to move smoothly across the page from one line of text to another. Tracking difficulties happen when eyes jump backward and forward and struggle to stay on a single line of text.  This results in problems such as word omissions, reversals, eye fatigue, losing your place while reading and most importantly it can impact normal reading development.
Can Tracking be Improved? Tracking can be improved by strengthening eye muscles as well as getting your eyes and brain to work cooperatively.  There are three eye movements that need to be developed:   Fixations: The ability to hold one's eyes steady without moving off a target.Saccades: Th…

Multisensory Teaching Accommodates the 12 Ways of Learning

Teachers are always trying to reach more learners and improve retention.  One of the best ways to do this is to employ a variety of teaching methods.  This involves integrating the 12 ways of learning into instruction.  Here is an infographic that reviews the 12 ways of learning and provides some statistics on how learning improves when teachers implement multisensory instruction.

How Can I Learn Multisensory Teaching?
The Eclectic Teaching Approach unites the theories of information processing, cognitive styles, multiple intelligences, and multisensory learning to reveal 12 diverse and unique ways of processing or encoding information. All of these learning modalities lie on a continuum and individuals have preferences based on their cognitive strengths as well as their exposure to each methodology. Eclectic learning helps teachers, therapists, parents and even employers to be more mindful of their instruction and work expectations. Then, by evaluating preferences with the contained E…

Following Directions: How Do I Teach this Skill?

Learning to follow directions is a crucial milestone in any student’s learning program.  It is the foundation of learning and difficulties in this area can impact a student’s ability to take notes, follow a sequence of steps, as well as show their knowledge on written assignments and even multiple-choice tests.

Even if a student is listening carefully or reading and rereading text, it doesn’t mean that they will succeed at following directions.  Weaknesses in attention, executive functioning, and language processing (both auditory and visual) can present as great obstacles for these students.  So what can be done about this?

We need to teach students how to follow directions.  They need to learn the subtleties of linguistic cues.  They need to learn to carefully analyze each word and then know how to decipher what it all means.

Whether it involves listening comprehension (auditory, receptive language) or understanding written directions (reading comprehension), there are a number of t…

Remediating Dyslexia with Orton Gillingham Based Reading Games

Students with dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities often learn differently and require an alternative approach to learning basic reading. In addition, most of these young learners are working full tilt while sitting in the classroom and by the time they get home and have to complete their homework, they are mentally spent. As a result, tagging on remedial reading lessons to a cup that is already overflowing can be enough to turn these kids off to learning altogether.

How Can We Help These Students Learn the Core Skills Needed to be Successful Readers?
First, employ an individualized approach as each student has unique challenges and gaps in knowledge.  If you need to assess the areas that require remediation be sure to use an assessment tool such as the Good Sensory Learning Reading AssessmentSecond, the process needs to be fun and engaging.  Many programs require students to slog through boring lessons, complicated rules, and bland workbook pages. Many of these conc…

15 Ways to Nurture a Growth Mindset in the Classroom

How can we nurture resilient, active learners that embrace challenging academic material and become successful lifelong learners? Carol Dweck suggests that what we need to do is help students shed a fixed mindset and adopt a growth mindset. What's more, Dweck contends that developing a growth mindset will also result in less stress and a more productive and fulfilling life.

What is a Fixed and Growth Mindset?
In a fixed mindset, students believe that their abilities are dependent on fixed traits that can not be changed such as intellect or talent. Individuals that think this way, often cultivate a self-defeating identity, feel powerless, and many struggle with a sense of learned helplessness. In contrast, students with a growth mindset accept that abilities and aptitude can be developed with persistence and effort. As a result, these individuals are not intimidate by failure, because they realize that mistakes are a part of the learning process. They continue working hard despite a…

How Can I Improve my Executive Functioning?

Executive functioning, or what I like to call the conductor of the brain, is the process of the mind gathering together and making sense of all the information we receive from our instruments or senses.  Helping us to create meaning from what we see, hear, touch, taste and experience, executive functioning also allows us to focus our attention, think about new information, and make connections to what we already know.
Many teachers and parents have trouble understanding how simple tasks such as remembering appointments, using an agenda or turning in assignments can be difficult, but unfortunately these and other similar tasks can be extremely challenging for some individuals.  However, the good news is the part of the brain that manages executive functioning, which is called the frontal lobe, continues to develop through high school and college.  Therefore, many kids that struggle with executive functioning can significantly improve their abilities.
You Might have Executive Functionin…

Improving Spelling for Students with Dyslexia

Not all students require the same remedial process even though they struggle with the same academic difficulties.  Diverse combinations of cognitive processing weaknesses and deficits can unite to create the "perfect storm" that can cause challenges with reading, math, writing, spelling and more.  In fact, no two students have the same cognitive profile, so to provide the optimal solution, one needs to consider both a student's strengths and weaknesses when designing a remedial approach.
Occasionally, I like to present the questions emailed to me from parents and teachers.  This week, I will share an email that I received from a parent in England as well as my response.