Episode #260: The Myth of the Math Brain and the Underdiagnosis of Dyscalculia – An interview with Dr. Sandra Elliot

Nov 20, 2023 | Podcast | 0 comments



Episode Summary:

“I’m not a math person.” I’m sure that is something you two have heard more than once. But have you ever heard someone say, “I am not a reading person?” It seemingly is socially acceptable to be bad at math, but there may be more to it, including the underdiagnosis of dyscalculia


The research shows… 

  • Dyscalculia is less well known, and there are fewer screening and diagnostic tools (Jaya, 2009), but its prevalence is similar to dyslexia- 5-7% of the population (Menon et al., 2020; Price & Ansari, 2013; Santos et al., 2022). 
  • Add to that an estimated comorbidity of 35-70% with other neurological disabilities, including dyslexia, and suddenly there are a staggering number of students who are at risk of failing math when early identification and intervention can mitigate the problem in many cases (Kisler et al., 2021; Litkowski et al., 2020).
  • In the last 20 years, there has been a push to address illiteracy through early identification with universal screeners, but the same focus has yet to be there for innumeracy. Even with the increased need for math skills due to technology, there have yet to be national campaigns to address the problem (Bryant, 2008; De Visscher, 2018; National Center for Education Statistics, 2022).


Dr. Sandra Elliot, Ph.D., has spent over four decades working in education as a Special Education teacher, a five-time principal in Florida and Colorado, and a district-level administrator. She is now making it her mission to champion increased awareness of dyscalculia. 


What You’ll Learn:

  • What is dyscalculia? 
    • Dyslexia vs. dyscalculia
    • In the last 20 years, there has been a push to address illiteracy through early identification with universal screeners, but the same focus has not been there for innumeracy. Even with the increased need for math skills due to technology, there have not been national campaigns to address the problem (Bryant, 2008; De Visscher, 2018; National Center for Education Statistics, 2022).
  • Underdiagnosis and the academic and social consequences;
  • Importance of early detection and intervention;
  • Best practices for screening and intervention;

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00:00:00:13 – 00:00:22:05
Sandra Elliot
And all of the teachers that were actually talking and writing the curriculum and going, This is not how I was taught mathematics. This is not how my teachers and I are teaching mathematics in our schools ongoing. This makes total sense. So then I started digging into the neuroscience about how humans learn mathematics and the fact that it’s a survival trait we’re born with.

00:00:22:05 – 00:00:42:11
Jon Orr
I’m not a math person. I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase before and probably more than once. But it’s rare. That’s actually rare that you hear someone say, I’m not a reading person or I don’t know how to read. It’s definitely socially acceptable to be bad at math, but there’s more to it, including the unearned diagnosis of dyscalculia.

00:00:42:16 – 00:01:01:15
Kyle Pearce
Dr. Sandra Elliot has spent over four decades working in education as a special education teacher, a five time principal in Florida and Colorado, and a district level administrator. She is now making it her mission to champion increased awareness of dyscalculia.

00:01:01:17 – 00:01:24:06
Jon Orr
Stick around. And you’re going to hear how dyscalculia has been under-diagnosed. The academic and social consequences of that. We’re going to talk about the early and important ways to detect dyscalculia and its intervention methods. And we’re also going to be diving into best practices to help students who are affected by this learning disability so that they can be successful in the classroom.

00:01:24:06 – 00:01:25:04
Jon Orr
So let’s go.

00:01:25:05 – 00:01:46:12
Kyle Pearce
All right, my friend, Stick around, because guess what? We learned a ton and I think you will learn a ton, too. Here we go. Ooh.

00:01:46:14 – 00:01:50:16
Kyle Pearce
Welcome to the Making Mouth Moments That Matter podcast. I’m Kyle Pierce.

00:01:50:16 – 00:01:53:00
Jon Orr
And I’m John. Or we are from Mcmafia Edmunds.com.

00:01:53:01 – 00:02:02:06
Kyle Pearce
This is the only podcast that coaches you through a six step plan to grow your mathematics program, whether at the classroom level or at the district level.

00:02:02:08 – 00:02:14:03
Jon Orr
And we do that by helping you cultivate and foster your mathematics program like a strong, healthy and balanced tree. So if you master the six parts of an effective mathematics program, the impact you reach will grow far and wide.

00:02:14:05 – 00:02:28:22
Kyle Pearce
Every week you’ll get the insight you need to stop feeling overwhelmed, gain back your confidence and get back to enjoying the planning and facilitating of your mathematics program for the students or the educators that you serve.

00:02:28:24 – 00:02:53:04
Jon Orr
Hey there, Sandra. Welcome to the Make Your Math Moments That Matter podcast. We are super excited to have you here to talk all things math, but specifically about your area of expertise. But before we dig in, before we get there, let our listeners know where you come from. Sounds like a storm is approaching. And then also just give our listeners a little insight of what field you’re currently working in and in your role in education.

00:02:53:08 – 00:03:15:16
Sandra Elliot
Okay. Yes, I live in Florida, and today we’re expecting ideal year to hit. So a cat three hurricane. But I grew up here. So all’s good. Everything’s batten down. Nothing to go flying around as far as how we’re I am an education. I’m a chief academic officer for touch math. So it’s a 48 year old special ed mathematics company.

00:03:15:18 – 00:03:37:11
Sandra Elliot
And I basically, as the chief academic officer, I get to work with a phenomenal team of current and former educators supporting districts who have students who are struggling with math either because they have a disability like we’re going to talk about, or because they’ve had excessive absenteeism or variety. So go on. And so they’re temporarily struggling.

00:03:37:13 – 00:04:04:08
Kyle Pearce
Awesome. That is fantastic. And we definitely want to dig in and learn all about that. Now you are working for a company, a spec ed company that does focus on mathematics, specifically. So that’s why you’re here. And before we dig in, we’ve got to roll all the way back into your past and ask you what would you say is that math moment that is still with you from your own learning experience as a student?

00:04:04:12 – 00:04:05:13
Sandra Elliot
Can’t be a bad one.

00:04:05:19 – 00:04:08:07
Jon Orr
Yeah, sure. Lots of people share those, which.

00:04:08:07 – 00:04:10:01
Kyle Pearce
Is really it highlights mind.

00:04:10:01 – 00:04:11:03
Jon Orr
Boggling. Mine’s bad too.

00:04:11:03 – 00:04:36:09
Kyle Pearce
Yeah. And it highlights, sadly, the state of mathematics education in general. Right. And I think sharing that, it just helps to drive more educators, more math moment makers out there to say like, we’ve got to change this. Something needs to change. If the majority of these moments are negative, then we can’t be surprised when so many people say that math was not their favorite subject or in many cases it was their least favorite subject.

00:04:36:09 – 00:04:39:15
Kyle Pearce
So share away and don’t hold anything back.

00:04:39:17 – 00:05:00:16
Sandra Elliot
You know, mine was one of those. I was one of those kids that kind of like no math boring, which I’m hoping we can talk about too, because that’s like, Oh, but so I grew up decided that at the ripe old age, being in my forties, I wanted to go for a Ph.D. So of course I thought I would take the great route of doing a qualitative.

00:05:00:18 – 00:05:29:16
Sandra Elliot
But the chair said, No, you’re going to do a quantitative. You can talk rings around people, you’re going to do the math. And it’s like, Oh, total freeze. And I’m sitting here going, I’m an elementary school. I know my profession, but math, I mean, terrified. And when he told me I had to take statistics as a graduate work, go into a room, and it’s all people who are wanting to get their degrees and be psychologists and statisticians.

00:05:29:18 – 00:05:51:22
Sandra Elliot
Well, I felt like a total idiot. I didn’t know anything. It made no sense. I froze every single class. I scraped by, but that just sort of turned the tide. It’s kind of like there is no way that I can be dumb at math. Why does it not make sense? So I pretty much started picking up the baton and studying and trying to find out and encourage other people.

00:05:51:24 – 00:06:17:20
Sandra Elliot
What is it that is so terrifying about math literacy? So it has taken on this path. And so I’m thrilled to be here with you guys because from what I can tell, from listening to a lot of your podcast, you’re on the same page. I am math deserves equal attention as literacy. It is critical for kids to have a mastery of math so that they can have their dream careers, and it just does not get the attention that literacy does.

00:06:17:22 – 00:06:25:08
Sandra Elliot
And if you happen to have the learning disability for math dyscalculia, nobody knows what it is. Everybody knows what it is.

00:06:25:08 – 00:06:48:02
Jon Orr
But exactly. Yeah, exactly. I’m a little curious about your transition where you walked into that classroom or that stats class and you felt that fear. You felt you probably the inadequacy on on the wrong spot. And you said something key that I wanted to kind of learn a little bit more. You said you decided to dig down and make it a priority, but what do you think?

00:06:48:04 – 00:07:12:04
Jon Orr
What was it that pushed you over the edge to be like, No, I got to do this because a lot of a lot of people would still shy away from that math and go like, I’m just going to get through this. It’s not going to be something I need to dig down and double down on. So I’m curious about what was going through your mind or what was your mindset going to push you in the direction of building your math confidence research articles.

00:07:12:06 – 00:07:32:20
Sandra Elliot
Having one come across you, how sometimes you’ll pick up something and read it and you go, Oh, this makes perfect sense. It explains so much. Is this an anomaly? Let me go see if there’s others out there. And at that time people were starting to talk about math, anxiety and how it could freeze working memory. And so you couldn’t access what you needed.

00:07:32:22 – 00:07:59:03
Sandra Elliot
And the fact that there is no such thing as a math brain. So I think it was going in and doing the research, going there is no such thing. I have been fooling myself. I can do this and that mindset that positive mindset that I can. But I had to start back from the beginning and then I got very lucky and couple of years later I was able to be in at the start of engaged New York process.

00:07:59:05 – 00:08:20:01
Sandra Elliot
Yeah, I was able to sit at the feet of the people from LSU and I think it was USC and all of the teachers that were actually talking and writing the curriculum and going, This is not how I was taught mathematics. This is not how my teachers and I are teaching mathematics in our schools. I’m going, this makes total sense.

00:08:20:01 – 00:08:40:19
Sandra Elliot
So then I started digging into the neuroscience about how humans learn mathematics and the fact that it’s a survival trait. We’re born with it. So it’s like, okay, there is no math brain. So it’s just been this constant evolution and finding that more and more is out there to support it. But it’s not general knowledge. It’s still a massive myth.

00:08:40:19 – 00:08:58:24
Sandra Elliot
So one of the things that I’m excited about being with you guys is can we all help proselytize and convince others that this is one of those things we need to address because it is hurting a lot of children and it has held a lot of people back from what they can do and where their dreams.

00:08:59:01 – 00:09:38:13
Kyle Pearce
It’s so true. You said so many key pieces there. And in speaking to Engage New York, which became Eureka, and actually Dr. Baldwin and I have co-presented at a couple of conferences. Fantastic, fantastic math education and just mathematician in general as well is brilliant when you get into those conversations. The fact that he has such a depth of understanding in mathematics, in such an abstract world, I find it fascinating that he’s able to come back to where a child is and to be able to help them along that trajectory, which I find that sometimes people have a hard time once they get too far down that path, that can be a struggle.

00:09:38:13 – 00:09:57:20
Kyle Pearce
So definitely great. So awesome to hear that you were a part of that process and then just highlighting, I don’t know if you’ve had an opportunity to do so, but we talk about six parts of what we call our math program Tree. And one part is the mindset and the beliefs. Like one of the key pieces. It’s not an afterthought.

00:09:57:20 – 00:10:28:14
Kyle Pearce
It’s not something that’s nice to do or a feel good thing. It is necessary work in order, and we call it the sun, soil and water of our tree, because without it, the tree will essentially die, right? It will starve, it will not grow and it will not be strong. So that piece is so key and there are so many people out there, and in particular, there are even many educators out there who have this belief and you were talking about the way that math was taught.

00:10:28:14 – 00:10:50:07
Kyle Pearce
But in reality, when math is taught in the way that you have articulated in your own experience, what that does is that creates the belief that that’s what math is. And the reality is, is that is not mathematics. That is one part of a story that we have told ourselves. And now that story for so many kids is a reality.

00:10:50:11 – 00:11:14:11
Kyle Pearce
And those kids obviously become adults and here we are and we’re just repeating that process. So I think it’s fantastic that you’ve taken it upon yourself, like so many others in the math ed space to do something about it. So I’m wondering, can you take us down a little bit of a path here and take us down the work that you’re engaging in now and what does that look like and sound like?

00:11:14:11 – 00:11:37:03
Kyle Pearce
So it sounds like you’re going to define a term for us here. And can you tell us a little bit more about it, This dyscalculia and the fact that everyone knows dyslexia, you would already reference this, but yet even two math guys, me and John, are going like we’re like, I think I’ve read about that in research before, but I don’t know if I could 100% define it.

00:11:37:05 – 00:11:45:01
Kyle Pearce
That’s actually pretty sad in reality, right? So tell us a little bit more about it and let’s bring all of our math moment makers up to speed.

00:11:45:07 – 00:12:04:03
Sandra Elliot
And I have to say, John and Kyle, that that is sad because I was assuming that you would know what it was. So all over the world and because of this research that I’ve been doing and my team has been doing, I literally got started on this by asking people if I asked you if you like reading, what would you say?

00:12:04:08 – 00:12:24:20
Sandra Elliot
Everybody raises their hands. Do you like math? Very few people in a room will raise their hands. So I said, Do you have any friends that would admit that they don’t like to read? Nobody raise their hands. Do you have friends who say they just don’t like math? They suck at it, so avoided at all costs. Everybody’s hands go up and I’m going.

00:12:24:21 – 00:12:49:05
Sandra Elliot
Interesting. So if I ask you what dyslexia is, do you know what it is? Almost 100% all the time. Everywhere, dyscalculia, maybe a hand goes up. And so I thank them for proving my point, which is that math is not important. And you would never admit to being illiterate, not able to read. But it’s perfectly okay to say that you can’t do math.

00:12:49:11 – 00:13:04:05
Jon Orr
Yeah, it’s socially acceptable and it’s like a badge of honor to say I’m bad at math and it’s okay. I’m bad at math. And that’s I’m proud of it. Which is crazy because you. Right. No one says they might say, I don’t like to read, but I can’t read. But it’s not something I’m proud of.

00:13:04:06 – 00:13:29:04
Sandra Elliot
Right. But part of that mindset has led to the fact that if you can’t read, parents and everybody will really try hard to find out. Do you have the specific learning disability, dyslexia? And they’ll do early screenings. I mean, native our states now have laws, early screening intervention immediately starting in pre-K. Okay. The mindset I believe of is okay to be innumerate.

00:13:29:04 – 00:13:53:11
Sandra Elliot
Not like it. I struggle with it. I was bad at it. So my kid’s going to be bad at it. It’s helped lead us to a gross under diagnosis of a specific learning disability that has the same prevalence 3 to 7%, according to the research. So you’ve got all these students who have this specific learning disability, and it’s a neurodiverse mental disorder, yet you’re born with it, just like dyslexia.

00:13:53:13 – 00:14:20:14
Sandra Elliot
You can find it early. It does not have a cure, but the research is very clear. The consensus is that this is a neurodevelopmental disorder, primarily comprising or development or disruption in the myelin sheath, the neural pathways in the regions of the brain where we do terrible processing and we solve math very addressable, you can screen for it and find it at three years of age.

00:14:20:16 – 00:14:46:05
Sandra Elliot
You can target those areas of math, number sense math calculation and mathematical reasoning. If you target those with interventions to dyscalculia, can’t have the same academic growth typically developing peer has. And I’d love to take you down the rabbit hole of the mile and sheath and neuroplasticity, but it’s practice makes that grow so these children can do math.

00:14:46:09 – 00:14:51:07
Kyle Pearce
So it’s like the growing of those neural pathways. Is that essentially what’s happening?

00:14:51:09 – 00:15:14:01
Sandra Elliot
Myelin sheath, the fat that goes around it, that allows the signals to flow if it’s got disruptions in it or it’s not fully developed, it’s too thin. The signals are very slow. So students with this help who are often slow at solving problems, they know what three plus three is today, tomorrow they don’t. So working memory issues, their spatial relationship issues, all of those things.

00:15:14:01 – 00:15:35:11
Sandra Elliot
But we know from watching it with the Four Eyes, there’s some research that shows here’s a student with dyscalculia. The brain is moving at this speed, the brains are firing. You’re typically developing fear of moving at a completely different speed. You go through practice, you do the teaching, you give them the time, do the MRI again, and guess what?

00:15:35:13 – 00:15:48:07
Sandra Elliot
The speed is almost exactly the same. And over time it can approximate. So it’s like this is addressable, there is no need for this. We just have to identify these children. Actually, screening and intervention absolutely works.

00:15:48:09 – 00:16:05:12
Jon Orr
So it is amazing that we have these interventions in place. We have these next steps that we can do. We have proof that we can make it better, just like some of the other learning disabilities that students have been identified with. And once we identify them with, we do have a pathway for them to feel success in a scenario.

00:16:05:17 – 00:16:28:10
Jon Orr
You’re right, it’s completely in literacy. It’s a big thing for an educator to watch out for some signs, and it’s not mathematics IN Do you think this mass under diagnosis is because of teachers not knowing or teachers also having the same mindset that the rest of the public have? Some kids are good at math and some kids aren’t.

00:16:28:12 – 00:16:39:05
Jon Orr
And because of that belief that the mass public have, it’s something that we don’t even watch for anymore. It’s because like, Oh, you’re just one of those not so great at math, and that’s okay. You’re going to grow up.

00:16:39:05 – 00:16:41:19
Kyle Pearce
And there’s nothing we can do about it, right? It’s kind of the belief you’ll.

00:16:41:19 – 00:16:58:16
Jon Orr
Get by, you’ll get by. But if you can’t read, we’re going to do everything under our power to make that happen. But it’s okay if you don’t get better at math because you only need up to grade six to be successful in life. And there’s all these things that float, right? Is it because we just don’t know? Or is it because of mostly mindset?

00:16:58:16 – 00:17:02:06
Jon Orr
Like what is your experience on kind of feeling that out?

00:17:02:08 – 00:17:28:03
Sandra Elliot
That’s a great question and was thinking it through. It’s both. We’ve got a cultural mindset that’s been in place for generations. Boys are better at math than girls. I was bad at math. My kid’s going to be bad at math. They were born with a math mind. They’re just natural at it. And because there’s also lack of awareness of the fact that that’s a pseudo myth, not even a word, it’s how.

00:17:28:05 – 00:17:30:02
Jon Orr
It is now.

00:17:30:04 – 00:17:54:05
Sandra Elliot
Is not known from inventing them. It’s a math myth. And since nobody talks about this particular learning disability, you’ve got both things sort of interacting together and making it much, much worse. And yet the whole world is going, We need STEM jobs. You can’t do STEM. That stands for mathematics, last time I checked. And yet we’re cutting out a lot of children.

00:17:54:07 – 00:18:13:04
Sandra Elliot
One from the cultural belief that you’re born with math or not. So that takes in the kid who’s struggling to. My dad and mom are saying it’s okay to make a C or D, I’m not even going to think about being an engineer when in fact it’s a matter of instruction. And without the diagnosis, you’ve got 7% of the kids.

00:18:13:04 – 00:18:35:04
Sandra Elliot
There’s nothing wrong with their IQ. Dyscalculia has nothing to do with that. So they could have had their issue addressed. Also, maybe they wanted to be a nurse and you can’t be a nurse, especially in the UK. I found out unless you pass the math portion of your final exam and unless you have the diagnosis, you’re not allowed to take any accommodations and so the test your go on.

00:18:35:04 – 00:18:55:00
Sandra Elliot
I ran into that a couple of months ago in London, a professor coming up and asking me these questions and I said, I hate to tell you this, but you just describe classic dyscalculia in an adult. They need to go have the diagnosis to have a legal protection because these young men and women was like four of them had gone through two years of training.

00:18:55:02 – 00:19:18:01
Sandra Elliot
And if they fail the test, they don’t get the license. Their entire career dream goes down the tube. So long, Sir John. I think it’s both. And they have interacted. And because we have a Tom Cruise or some other media personalities out there going, I have dyslexia here, I do things this way, but I can still be a famous actor.

00:19:18:03 – 00:19:37:15
Sandra Elliot
We need to find people who will step forward and bring attention to it, because that’s one things happen. You guys are part of that. So I’m I’m recruiting you to the cause. We need to get the equivalent to literacy and bring some attention to this under-diagnosed disability because it can be addressed.

00:19:37:15 – 00:19:57:24
Kyle Pearce
100%. And I had a funny feeling you were going to say that it is both. And that is, I guess, a sad reality. And I might even argue that there’s maybe even a hierarchy, because until that belief shifts and the mindsets shift around this, some are math people, some are not. And there has been a tremendous amount of work in all.

00:19:57:24 – 00:20:21:10
Kyle Pearce
Shout out. Dr. Joe Bolar has raised a lot of attention around mindsets and math mindset and helping people to see and enter into that world. That is massively important. The part that really scares me is until that happens, we won’t get to an awareness piece around this challenge and this learning disability that so many students are dealing with.

00:20:21:10 – 00:20:49:10
Kyle Pearce
And when you think about that, I guess what worries me the most about this is that even though reading and literacy in general has such a massive focus, we still haven’t done a really great job at addressing that challenge. Right? So if you really think about that, even though there’s been way more effort, way more funding, way more attention, yet we’re still dealing with a massive amount of students who are struggling and literacy.

00:20:49:12 – 00:21:11:07
Kyle Pearce
My worry here and this is kind of pleading to the math moment make our audience is that it’s going to take not only time for us to shift those beliefs in the mindsets, to build an awareness around this challenge, but then to actually get a solution going to start helping students. I worry about like how far down the road are we going to be?

00:21:11:07 – 00:21:34:23
Kyle Pearce
You think about the reading journey, how long that journey has been, and we still have challenges despite knowing what we know. And here we are, decades behind in mathematics. And that to me is really when we talk about equity and we talk about the importance of access and equity in education and mathematics, specifically, this is obviously a massive, massive issue.

00:21:34:23 – 00:21:56:20
Kyle Pearce
So I’m wondering if we were to start sort of shifting here. You’re talking to an audience of people who are doers, right? These are people who are on their walk right now listening to math education right now. How do I become a better teacher, a better math leader, a better administrator? These are people who are like going to be the doers, the people that you’re after here to get this message out to.

00:21:56:22 – 00:22:22:23
Kyle Pearce
So my wonder is what is something that they can do and what are some options? You had mentioned about screening? What popped into my mind here, which is really important, we know early intervention, be it math or literacy, is key. Early intervention of anything in health and everything is so key. You talked about by the age of three that we could actually start to identify students who were born with this challenge.

00:22:23:00 – 00:22:32:16
Kyle Pearce
And my wonder is what does that look like in sound like? How can we give our math moment makers maybe some actionable steps that they might be able to bring back into their math communities?

00:22:32:18 – 00:22:58:05
Sandra Elliot
Okay. So early screening, early intervention makes for better achievement. On the screening, we release one because we couldn’t find one that met our needs. As far as me being a former spent teacher and said administrator, there are some out there. There’s the new early numeracy screener, there is Butterworth screener over in the UK, but they go after very specific things and they’re aimed more at the therapist.

00:22:58:05 – 00:23:22:00
Sandra Elliot
I believe we aimed ours at the parent and the teacher who sees the kids struggling and has to gather data in order to take it to the diagnostician because that’s the end audience. The person who can actually give a formal diagnosis of specific learning disability, math, dyscalculia. So the screening takes about less than 10 minutes. A parent or a teacher can do it.

00:23:22:02 – 00:23:42:01
Sandra Elliot
It also incorporates a survey because the school psychologist or diagnostician is always going to ask, Does a child speak a different language? That could be the cause of the math. Do they have they had a vision or hearing screening that could be causing the math issues? And then it’s the observational data that really feeds the process that you can see in a three year old.

00:23:42:03 – 00:23:59:24
Sandra Elliot
You ask them to go and get three biscuits. They have no idea what that is. You ask, can’t try and count something out. They do not know it. Older children, problems with appointments and everything. So getting your hands on a screener. So one of the things that we’re doing which map to raise awareness is the screeners fully subsidized.

00:24:00:02 – 00:24:23:04
Sandra Elliot
We’re not collecting any data. It is out there and free for everybody to use. So if there’s a suspicion on the part of a parent or a teacher, do the screening, find out if the child falls, they definitely risk factors, some or none. But if there’s a concern there, start to do something. And then added to the screener the fact that there are a lot of interventions that we can do.

00:24:23:04 – 00:24:47:09
Sandra Elliot
Taking a page out of the book for dyslexia, read to your child, talk to your child, talk about vocabulary words and what something means. Math is even more fun to do counting songs, which is faster, which is slower, all sorts of things that we can do. Can you figure out the tip at the restaurant, things that a parent or a teacher can do just normally while we wait to see if there is going to be a process?

00:24:47:11 – 00:24:51:07
Sandra Elliot
So and those interventions all are just flat out good practice.

00:24:51:07 – 00:24:59:23
Kyle Pearce
I was just going to say it sounds like good math. Oftentimes that’s the best way to address access inequity, right? Is good instruction and good practices.

00:25:00:00 – 00:25:27:04
Jon Orr
Yeah. And I’m wondering two things, actually. I’m wondering about a bunch of things, but two things. First, so when you’re talking about a screener, your screener in particular, you mentioned if you had a suspicion that a child might learn disability around this area, let’s say I’m in the kindergarten classroom or let’s say I’m in a grade one classroom, and is there something that we should be like, that’s a trigger that’s something that I should be.

00:25:27:04 – 00:25:49:03
Jon Orr
Oh, I should or is a good practice. This is probably a good practice is that everyone does the screener and I can get some results from there to go. Where should I focus some of my extra effort to address this issue? Or maybe we should recommend this person gets tested. But if I’m not doing a screener to everybody, is there some some telltale signs that I should be keeping an eye out to go like, oh, that’s one of those things that I should watch for.

00:25:49:05 – 00:26:18:07
Sandra Elliot
Two paths here. One is if you’re already in a system where you do universal screening, so an already a maps, there’s only four of those where every child gets a blanket screening to sort of see where they are in their grade level. And a lot of them are now starting at K, There’s usually a demarcation line for we’re going to predict if the child is at the 40th percentile and below, probably when that high stakes test comes up in third grade, they’re not going to show proficiency.

00:26:18:09 – 00:26:51:03
Sandra Elliot
That’s a good group to start with. The nice thing about what we’ve learned in the research about this California, since it’s primarily based on an ability of poor ability to do numbers, since that calculation of mathematical reasoning, those are the four foundations. Those are the first steps in learning mathematics. So it doesn’t matter if you have the dyscalculia, that’s going to be about 7% of the population, but there’s a huge chunk of kids there that you can find indicators on that it’s like, okay, I can intervene in kindergarten.

00:26:51:03 – 00:27:16:17
Sandra Elliot
This child’s perfectly typical. No signs of dyscalculia, but they’re still using their fingers when they shouldn’t be. Cannot give me what two plus two is. Cannot remember that three comes after two things like that. I can intervene with them so that when they have they can be on grade level and moving with their peers instead of getting more and more behind and it’s not really found improvement until third grade.

00:27:16:21 – 00:27:47:23
Kyle Pearce
That’s massively helpful. And again, it kind of brings me back to this idea of good practice allows you to not only help this group of up to 7% of the population, but also there’s a vast, you know, much larger percentage, I would argue, that are struggling with many of the same things. And wait a second, their brain is probably even more primed to receive the intervention that’s going to help the student that actually has this challenge.

00:27:48:00 – 00:28:10:22
Kyle Pearce
And to me, it just seems like good practice in general. And you had highlighted there’s, I think maybe a little bit of a confusion out there in the math education community where we push so much around this idea of investigations and problem solving and critical thinking and all of these things which are really, really, really, really, really, really important, especially as we go out into the real world.

00:28:10:24 – 00:28:35:22
Kyle Pearce
But the reality is, is that we need the fundamentals as well. And there are things that just require some repetition and practice and it doesn’t have to be repetition with a timer necessarily where the student knows there’s a timer. But sometimes timers are helpful for us as the educator to determine, is there a challenge here? Right, Because if it takes this student five times longer than it took that student, that’s a red flag.

00:28:35:22 – 00:29:06:15
Kyle Pearce
And I need to actually be aware of that. And I really love how you’re highlighting here. And to me, it sounds like, hey, if a student is struggling with their number sense and their fact fluency, those are key pieces that we need to build. And we talk about the trees, roots, the content knowledge and the actual understanding of the mathematics that is going to be hindered if students don’t get that fluency and flexibility at a developmentally appropriate age.

00:29:06:15 – 00:29:46:11
Kyle Pearce
Right. That’s going to constantly be holding them back. And that working memory, regardless of if you have a challenge or not, eventually your working memory needs to be freed up to do some more deliberate, more intentional, more abstract thinking. So I’m loving that. Tell us a little bit more about so I’m a teacher, I’m listening and I’m going, Wow, sounds like Sandra here has a great tool for me to leverage that will not only identify the up to 7% of my students that may actually be struggling with this challenge, but I could also be helping a larger percentage of my students at the same time.

00:29:46:13 – 00:30:03:22
Kyle Pearce
What does it look like in sound like if they were to go and actually try to take you up on that offer? They’re like, I want to check this thing out and I want to try it on my own children first, or I want to try it with a group of students. What does that look like and sound like and sort of what do they get from I think you had said it’s a free screener.

00:30:03:24 – 00:30:27:23
Sandra Elliot
Yeah. So you go to WW touch math dot com the disc test is there you just click on it and use it since we’re not saving it you need to make sure you download it and save the report. And then you look at the interventions and I really want to call them out because you were talking about best practice and it really is some of the key ones multi-sensory the brain doesn’t use one section to do math.

00:30:27:23 – 00:30:51:04
Sandra Elliot
It pulls in motor and pulls in vision, it pulls in hearing. So you got to do multi-sensory. When we’re teaching mathematics, you have to use manipulatives, the concrete, representational, abstract continuum, the framework. That’s how the human mind builds those memories. To do it, you have to do explicit, systematic instruction. Yes, the exploration is going to happen and that’s great.

00:30:51:06 – 00:31:23:07
Sandra Elliot
But sometimes, like you said, it’s just direct instruction. I have to start and model it for you side by side, and then I’m going to let you practice all those repeated opportunities that are, I think, a phenomenal way to describe practice. So all of that’s out there, that’s part of what we’ve built into our program. That’s why we’re a special ed math curriculum and I’ve got 28 years worth of efficacy studies because we have focused on what the research says is best practice built in the multisensory and the manipulatives, but it works for more than just the SPED students.

00:31:23:07 – 00:31:46:01
Sandra Elliot
It works for the student who’s struggling temporarily so they can they’ll jettison it. So it’s kind of like, yes, we would love to have this is the first step in raising awareness. We’re 12 years behind dyslexia. But what they did to make it so obviously well-recognized, we can do the same thing and speed up the process. So a lot of it is just getting out there.

00:31:46:01 – 00:31:56:14
Sandra Elliot
And my colleagues, your colleagues, we talk about it, that’s the first step in any kind of campaign to bring notice to something that can be solved.

00:31:56:16 – 00:32:14:16
Jon Orr
I think you’ve given us a lot of information to think about. I think you’ve given us some practical next steps by heading over to touch Match.com and grabbing the screener and thinking about how we can effectively use that in our classrooms, in our schools. Principals in district leaders are listening as well. Think about implementing that in your schools.

00:32:14:16 – 00:32:34:02
Jon Orr
So that’s been, as I said, very practical and great because I think this is such an important topic that we need to be addressing in our classrooms. And it has to start with teachers and school leaders to make this a priority in our buildings. So there was one big idea, one last insight you could leave with the audience right now.

00:32:34:02 – 00:32:36:24
Jon Orr
Our teacher. Audience, Our leader audience. What would that be?

00:32:37:01 – 00:32:55:16
Sandra Elliot
Hey, it’s got three pieces to screen. Really intervene immediately. And we all know the interventions we were taught them at university. We just need to be more deliberate about bringing forward those practices that we have and using them with deliberate thought and looking at the data.

00:32:55:18 – 00:33:25:09
Kyle Pearce
I love it. I love it. Those are three awesome takeaways. That idea of this deliberate, intentional, we use that word a lot here on the podcast being intentional about what you do, and I just want to share a quick takeaway from what we’ve learned, and I want to thank you for bringing us up to speed because again, we know we’ve heard of dyscalculia and we knew in general what it’s all about, but we didn’t understand how it actually worked, right?

00:33:25:11 – 00:33:45:21
Kyle Pearce
How we can actually identify it and what we can actually do to help students overcome those challenges. So I want to thank you on behalf of making Math Moments That Matter podcast. You’ve brought us all up to speed, You’ve raised awareness, and I just want to thank you on behalf of all students everywhere in trying to raise the awareness.

00:33:45:23 – 00:34:10:02
Kyle Pearce
And you’ve just given us one more tool in our arsenal when we are working with school districts, for example, in order to again shine the light on mathematics, because it is so key. And the research tells us, hey, when we focus on mathematics, literacy also benefits positively, whereas the opposite is not necessarily true. So thank you so much.

00:34:10:02 – 00:34:12:00
Sandra Elliot
Thank you very much.

00:34:12:02 – 00:34:29:22
Kyle Pearce
Sandra. This has been a pleasure. We will put the link to touch Match.com in our shownotes I’m assuming there’s probably some social media links that will add probably at touch math. I’m going to guess unless you’ve got some other ones to share here. And we’re hoping to check in with you at some point in the future.

00:34:30:03 – 00:34:54:24
Sandra Elliot
I would love to, because March 3rd is Dyscalculia Awareness Day. So anything we can do around October is specific Learning Disability Awareness Month. So anything you guys can do with your featured guests and staff to sort of highlight those couple of dates. And I’d love to come back if you’re willing and the creek don’t rise. So I’m going behind me at the water slowly rising.

00:34:55:01 – 00:34:59:11
Sandra Elliot
So but thank you so much. This was totally enjoyable.

00:34:59:13 – 00:35:02:07
Jon Orr
We had a great time. And thanks again for joining us.

00:35:02:09 – 00:35:03:12
Sandra Elliot
Thank you. Bye bye.

00:35:03:12 – 00:35:32:09
Kyle Pearce
Thanks. Take care. Well, as always, we learn a ton when we bring on our interview guests. And today was no exception. Sandra really brought to light something that had heard about. I had briefly been introduced to, but honestly, as she’s mentioning, there has never really been any attention drawn to the challenges with dyscalculia. I had no idea how many students were affected or how many people are affected.

00:35:32:11 – 00:36:04:21
Kyle Pearce
I had no idea whether this was something that we’re born with, whether there’s something we could do about it. But yet on the literacy side of things, we all have heard about dyslexia, and many of us, even math educators like myself, have some sort of understanding as to what can actually be done about it. So we’ve got to give a big thumbs up to Sandra and her mission in order to bring this awareness to the forefront, because as we mentioned earlier in the episode, without that awareness, we actually can’t start to address this problem.

00:36:04:21 – 00:36:32:17
Kyle Pearce
And the benefit here is that we’re not just helping that 7% of students who may be affected by this challenge in this disability, but also by doing so by helping those students. We in turn can help so many other students who actually are behind in some of the same key areas and actually, I’m going to guess that that remediation is going to actually be more effective and faster for some of those students that have fallen behind.

00:36:32:19 – 00:36:55:19
Jon Orr
For sure. For sure. And you think about our classroom tree, our math classroom tree. We’re talking about the sun, the soil and the water, which is important for us to have a diverse but an equitable classroom. And if we’re not thinking about how to support students who are affected by this disability, we aren’t doing that. We are going to let say the sun pass over the tree or the water is missing the tree.

00:36:55:19 – 00:37:15:07
Jon Orr
If we are not actively looking for the signs of dyscalculia and addressing them and helping our students get diagnosed or get them the support they need. So let’s all take a page out of Sandra’s notes and her suggestions here so that we can keep an eye out and help our students the best way possible so that we can grow our tree strong and wide.

00:37:15:10 – 00:37:39:19
Kyle Pearce
All right, my friends. Hey, do us a huge, huge favor and rate and review the podcast. Let’s grow those trees. We so appreciate it. We had two reviews come in this past week, and guess what? There’s a lot more than two people listening. So do your part. Help our show reach more math Moment makers just like you friends Shownotes Links to resources and complete transcripts to read from the web or download and take with.

00:37:39:19 – 00:37:55:20
Kyle Pearce
You can be found over on make past moments dot com forward slash episode 260. That’s McMath moments dot com forward slash to six zero or episode 260. I should say well until next time I’m Kyle Pierce and.

00:37:55:20 – 00:37:56:14
Jon Orr
I’m John are.

00:37:56:14 – 00:37:59:10
Kyle Pearce
High fives for us.

00:37:59:12 – 00:38:13:20
Jon Orr
Added a high five for you Oh maybe.

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The Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast with Kyle Pearce & Jon Orr
Weekly interviews, strategy, and advice for building a math classroom that you wish you were in.


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