Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Multisensory Math at ASDEC

As many of you have noticed, this blog has not had an entry for some time.  I have another blog just for my multisensory math classes.  It is where participants in my distance classes can interact, ask questions, comment on the class and generally interact with each other and with me. 

I will try to post more frequently in the near future.  Lots of things have been going on in the world of Multisensory Math.  I have given workshops in several states and am scheduled for several more presentations in the near future.  I seem to be traversing the country right now.

You can see two Multisensory Math Presentations at the NCTM Regional Conference in Richmond VA in November 2014.  I will also be helping to moderate a panel discussion about differentiation and reaching all learners.  Recent presentations have included full day seminars in Ohio and Seattle WA.  I will be giving presentations at the LDA National Conference in Chicago in February and in VA later in the spring.  Look for a new Multisensory Math website in the near future as well.  I am working on various projects as quickly as I can.

If you are accessing this blog as part of the ASDEC Multisensory Math Class, you are in the wrong place!  You should be accessing:  It is there that you will find postings related directly to the course. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Change: Tick Tock and Too Many Words

In the field of multisensory education there are some things that remain the same.  The use of concrete objects and tactile if not gross motor strategies to anchor the student in the learning are fundamental.  These strategies address the conceptual component as well as the attentional component of learning.  This is one reason that the multisensory strategies work well with language based learning disabilities as well as related learning differences such as ADD/ADHD.  They do not interfere with traditional learners and in fact enhance the learning for all students.  They provide experiences which are memorable through multiple learning channels.

Some things are open to interpretation and adjustment.  In the field of education, we sometimes practice certain strategies which seem to become imbedded in our practice without question.  They become tradition and though anecdotal evidence may suggest efficacy, in fact they are not as efficient or as effective as sometimes newer ideas.  Take for example the "mad minute."  Though this may work for and encourage some students, the timed stressful activity is a detriment to those who have processing or retrieval difficulties.  It is not that children do not need to practice math facts, it is just that some methods of practice may not be the best for some children.

When I formatted the new math manual, in fact as I worked on it over the years, I jettisoned some strategies that were based on a verbal approach to teaching facts.  As I reviewed the research on how the brain processes mathematics, it became clear to me that using too many words and convoluted stories to teach basic facts might be less useful than other visual and numeracy based strategies being suggested by researchers such as Dehaene and Butterworth.  Over the years, the mFRI studies continued to suggest automatic recognition of small quantities and building larger quantity awareness on the construction and deconstruction of smaller quantities.  Thus I jettisoned the traditional O-G based strategies based on language. 

As I have updated  the Multisensory Math Manual, the approach of this program has become multifaceted.  I am attempting to combine the best of what we have from the traditional multisensory approach and the best of what we can learn from the research in mathematics.  Please review the addition and subtraction chart in your manual.  You will find no verbal strategies which ask children to use working memory to traverse and link known facts to others.  Directionality is an issue for many alternative learners.  Back and forth addition and subtraction based on words is not easy for many of our students.  Instead, the student is encouraged to create the mental imagery for the construction and deconstruction of quantity based on numeracy patterns. With these he can continually draw on that mental imagery to solve even more complex problems.

I have demonstrated this in our Skype sessions with subtraction across place value.  The What Works Clearinghouse suggests that multiple representations be used for concepts and strategies.  This is one reason I  use craft sticks, Unifix cubes, base ten place value blocks, tally marks, dice etc.  All of these can be used to create mental imagery to support computation.  Repeated exposure to numeracy patterns can form the basis of more complex calculations.  Experience with these patterns will support memory and extensions to larger more complex applications.

Many new text book series are beginning to employ this idea of pattern recognition and numeracy in developing number sense.  Older strategies such as go to the ten and counting on may still be used.  They are based on skills and visual imagery.  The number line and concrete manipulatives are only tools in helping students develop full numeracy awareness.  We use all the tools available to us but for those students who have language based differences we need to be careful of using strategies based on too many words or associations of patterns based on words.  We need to remember that quantity does not have a single color or shape.  Over reliance on a single manipulative or rigid verbal strategy actually may limit a student.  Multiple representations are key and memorable patterns based on visual stimuli and concrete constructions are only the beginning.

We must ultimately move students on to the abstract level and gently encourage memory and retrieval through successful repeated practice which does not discourage or lead to despair.  The NCTM is emphasizing perseverance in problem solving.  It is emphasizing the great glow that students get when they accomplish something challenging.  Student should be challenged, especially our gifted one.  This is important but we need to ask ourselves what exactly those challenges should be.  Some of our gifted students are gifted in ways that are not tested by a ticking clock or their ability to remember stories about how to get to a target sum.   They can be defeated before they get to the mathematical starting gate which is applications.  To this end, the multisensory programs always emphasize teaching for success and mastery.  Thus, we seek the best tools and strategies available in an ever changing educational landscape. The new NCTM publication, Principles to Actions, emphasizes concept based instruction and seeks to summarize where we are today.  The executive summary is available on line.   

Friday, April 11, 2014


A word we use in the language field is "linkage."  This is the connection between things like the sound and symbol correspondence.  In math it might mean the connection between the quantity, the numeral and the name. 

Numeracy is such an essential component of all mathematics and it must be addressed if it is a deficit for any student.  Quantity awareness allows a student to fluently calculate, to estimate and apply.  It has a spatial component when thought of along a number line.  This can be an important component which lends itself to gross motor activities for the learning disabled child or the alternative learner. 

One aspect of numeracy that goes beyond subitizing is pattern recognition.  Think of place value and recognizing of four and four hundred are related.  Subitizing allows us to recognize quantity but pattern recognition allows us to apply it at higher levels.

The What Works Clearinghouse  suggests that children need to see multiple representations of math concepts.  Absolutely, I agree.  Keep in mind though that children need to have those representations linked so that the broad concept makes sense.  Think fractions, decimals and percent!   If a child comprehends 1/2 and taking one half of a quantity, he should also be able to link that to multiplication by 0.5 and taking 50% of a quantity.  The careful teacher makes sure to revisit previously taught concepts and connect the dots and not just teach each new topic as if it exists as a set of procedures unto itself. 

I routinely encounter teachers who attend my workshops and say, "I wish I had been taught this way."  I believe it is because I stress a concept based approach and as we would say in the field of dyslexia, an approach that is incremental, sequential, cumulative and thorough with practice to mastery.  To too many people though that sounds like procedures.  It is not.  The concept in math is the central piece for understanding.  Without, applications are hit and miss.  Procedural knowledge may get a student through one high stakes test but may be lost over time and not lend itself to applications such as problem solving.  Procedures do not lead to deep thinking about mathematics.

The NCTM has a new publication which is really worth a look.  Check out Principles to Actions on the NCTM website:

Friday, March 28, 2014

Thinking Vertically About Teaching Math

Thinking Vertically:  For remediation with older students, one needs to think of skills introduced but not mastered.  Begin to think about concepts which bridge multiple operations and levels.  Two examples are "Regrouping" and "Place Value."  With older students who have been taught procedures without concepts this is a terrific place to begin. 

Start by using manipulatives to model whole number operations with the place value mat you were given.  Ask students to "prove by construction" answers to basic problems without regrouping.  With severe students I would recommend the craft sticks because as I have said, the student may need to physically bundle and unbundle quantities.  If the student needs only to reinforce the concept, base ten blocks may be used.  After regrouping is introduced, practiced and mastered, you can move the student to fraction concepts.

Creation of fractions with your fraction circles is a first step.  Students may keep one circle uncut to remind them of how many pieces it takes to make a "whole."  Other fraction pieces may be used to add and subtract like fractions.  If the solution is an improper fraction, the students quickly see that laying the whole circle on top "simplifies" the fraction to a mixed number.

The next step is helping them understand that we may "regroup" from the one's place value to the fraction place value by moving "one" to the fraction place value and representing it as the required circle "cut" into the required size pieces.  The whole can never be in the fraction place value unless it has been "cut" into its required number of pieces, thus creating an improper fraction in the fraction place value.

The student learns that we may get a "sum" which is improper in any place value by the operation of addition.  We then "simplify" the quantity to its proper form.  We may need to create an improper quantity in ANY place value in order to subtract.  This is a fundamental concept for both whole number operations and fractions.

The older student feels validated in that he or she is working at higher levels of math, but is also beginning to understand the fundamental math concepts which form the foundations of higher level skills.

What Comes Before & What comes After

What Comes Before & What Comes After 

In thinking about the math courses, I wanted to ask each of you to consider thinking about one concept such as multiplication or fractions.  Begin to think about how that concept appears at various levels of instruction.  What would be the earliest exposure a student might have?  What vocabulary is essential for the child to comprehend the concept?  How could a child experience the concept, practice the concept and demonstrate proficiency at an early level?
Then, I would like you to jump ahead several levels and years.  How is this concept applied at higher levels of math?  How does the early vocabulary continue to be important in concept formation and application?  How does one expand this concept to extremely abstract levels?

As a primary grade teacher, we need to understand how what we do at basic levels forms the foundation of what is to come.  As a secondary teacher, we need to understand the basic concept instruction and vocabulary so that we may go back to fill in gaps for those who need remedial instruction.

You might also choose a concept such as division or multiplication.  Try to spend a few moments considering the various levels and applications

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Gross Motor Activities

Those of us who work in multisensory education know the importance of using large motor muscles as part of daily instruction.  Using large movement helps to reinforce directionality and sequence.  It provides a direct path to the brain in a way that fine motor movements do not.  Think of the muscle memory involved in navigating a dark bedroom at night.  You know where everything is without the aid of eyesight.  You have tactile memory and spatial awareness. 

Now consider mimicking the direction and sequence of multi-digit multiplication operations, or numeral formation.  These activities allow students the opportunity to get up, flood the brain with oxygen and move.  Consider Geometry Simon Says, or even the direction and spatial movements associated with transformations of function.

Dr. Joyce Steeves believed that students needed the opportunity to get up during a lesson each day.  It might mean tossing a weighted object during skip counting or forming numerals in the air, but they do need to get up and not just to offer samples of homework worked the night before.

I observed a wonderful lesson in North Carolina in which the 4th grade teacher in an independent school, used dry erase pens to write problems for the students to solve on various desk surfaces around the room.   They were given a single sheet of paper quartered for completion.  They could move to the various desks to copy and solve, work collaboratively etc.  They were given a fixed amount of time and had to pass the papers in before exiting for the next class.  There was a seat time discussion of the problems before dismissal so there was an orderly transition to the next class, but the students were well regulated and engaged...up and actively involved in the math lesson. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

It's the Language

As I return from my latest two day workshop, I am continually impressed with the need to address instructional language.  When I completed my teaching degrees, I received no instruction in identifying and dealing with learning differences.  It was assumed that if a child were not in special education he or she would be able to learn in my class.  That was many years ago.  Within the first three years of my teaching, all teachers were required to take a special education class or some in house training in special needs.  That is when I first received training in multisensory methods as part of a public school O-G based program. 

Now teachers are expected to teach inclusion classes and sometimes work with another teacher to support special needs students in blended classrooms.  There is lots of talk about differentiation.  What I find in the field is that teachers are not always given sufficient professional development to feel confident in addressing the myriad learning differences that can occur in the same class. 

One of the simplest vehicles for addressing the needs of all students is clear, precise, concept oriented language with a rate of speech that does not race of some student's heads.  A well articulated lesson delivered at a moderate rate of speech is more apt to reach a greater number of students. 

Yes, there are times when a faster rate of speech, emotion and excitement should infuse the classroom with urgency.  These are moment which inspire students and engage them in questioning and analysis.  However, when a new concept is being introduced or sequential directions are given, the rate of speech should allow for processing speed deficits and be delivered in such a way to meet the needs of all students.