Strategies that Strengthening Math Abilities for Struggling Elementary Students

Posted by Erica Warren on

There is often an easy solution to helping elementary students that struggle with math.  But first, we must understand that the cause of the math troubles.

Student having fun with math

Finding the Root Cause of Math Problems

Elementary math difficulties often results from one or more of the following:

  1. lack of experience and practice working with numbers and symbols.
  2. drab or humdrum instruction.
  3. problems activating the needed areas of cognition to solve these problems.
  4. weaknesses in the cognitive areas of quantitative reasoning, spatial skills, visual processing sequencing, and working memory. 

What Happens to These Struggling Learners?

Young learners often lose interest and motivation quickly when they have problems learning concepts. What's more, when their peers exhibit learning mastery and they do not, it can feel embarrassing and humiliating. If left unaddressed, anxiety, a poor academic self-concept and even helplessness can result.

Child learning multiplication tables

Negative Thoughts Quickly Damage One's Academic Self Concept:

What can we do to protect a students academic self esteem and nurture resilience?

  • Choose names for lessons that bring excitement and anticipation to the learning process.
  • Make lessons "magical." Like a magician, teach your students tricks in an animated way that helps them uncover the answer. To read more about this CLICK HERE.
  • Bring fun and enticing activities to the table. Integrate manipulatives, games and movement into lessons.  CLICK HERE for some suggestions.
  • Go multisensory in your lessons and teach to the 12 Ways of Learning.
  • Pay attention to popular fads. When I saw my students' obsession with rainbow looms, I quickly integrated the color bands and geoboards into my lessons.
  • Ask your students for strategy and lesson ideas? When learners get involved with the teaching process, they often get more excited about the topic or instruction.
  • Provide scaffolding. Continue to walk your students through the sequence of steps required to complete a problem, until they can do it independently.
  • Offer memory strategies to help your students encode and retrieve new concepts. You can also ask them to generate their own strategies.
  • Teach metacognitive skills by thinking through the process aloud.
  • Integrate mindfulness into your class and teach visualization strategies.
  • Teach your students how to be active learners.

How To Activate the Needed Regions of the Brain and Strengthen Weak Areas of Cognition?

But what if the core difficulties are the result of weak areas of cognition or learning disabilities? One of the best ways to assist is to act like a personal trainer for the brain and help students activate and strengthen foundational skills.

I created Quantitative and Spatial Puzzles: Beginners for this population of learners. Eight, engaging activities help students improve upon:

  • quantitative reasoning
  • spatial skills
  • visual processing
  • sequencing
  • working memory

    These engaging activities were designed for 1-5 grade students, but I often use them with my older students to help fortify these key cognitive abilities. The activities also can be printed and placed into math centers, used or morning warm-ups and offered as fun activities for students that finish their class assignments early.

    If you would like to learn more about my new publication, Quantitiative and Spatial Puzzles - Beginners, CLICK HERE or on any of the sample images. I hope you found this blog helpful. Please share your thoughts and comments.

    Cheers, Erica

    Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.


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