Teaching students with numeracy learning difficulties

This page discusses teaching strategies to improve numeracy learning for students of all ages.

Students with learning difficulties require teaching that considers their needs as well as their existing knowledge and skills. Importantly, students with maths learning difficulties have no underlying abstract conception of number and need qualitatively different teaching approaches. They need interventions that support their learning processes without dependence on symbolic forms of numbers alone.

Teach at point of need

The Victorian Curriculum F–10: Mathematics contains the information to extend and accelerate the growth of all students, including those with learning difficulties. Locating students on this type of developmental pathway or continuum will ensure they are being taught at their point of need and will provide you with guidance about what they need to learn next. For some students, however, it may be necessary to develop or consolidate the numeracy skills that sit between the content descriptors.

Use the National Numeracy Learning Progressions for a more detailed continuum. These describe a sequence of indicators for the development of understanding and skills in numeracy.

For more information about locating students on a developmental continuum visit Creating a numeracy profile.

Teach intermediate steps in knowledge or skills

Students with learning difficulties will benefit from greater scaffolding and from having more opportunities to practise each skill to consolidate their understanding. You may need to explicitly teach students the knowledge and skills you want them to learn and help direct their thinking. For example:

  • Tease out and teach intermediate steps in knowledge or skills and give students time to form and consolidate this 'in between' understanding.
  • Students with numeracy learning difficulties may initially need to learn in smaller steps. Determine cognitive strengths to be used to scaffold number understanding.
  • Demonstrate numeracy outcomes in phases and by using different approaches and exposures.
  • Teach students the language of maths explicitly and emphasise the relationship between symbols/words and non-symbolic forms of number.
  • Show students how to reason and think about maths and numeracy ideas.
  • Give students strategies for how to direct their thinking about numeracy and maths concepts.
  • Embed positive attitudes about learning and using maths into your classes. Involving parents/carers in the process can help to improve outcomes.
  • Teach routines and provide opportunities for students to use recall and relevant maths and numeracy skills fluently.

Student profile examples

The following examples are for a student in the 5–8 age level (Mahli – Year 2), and the 9–12 age level (Fatma – Year 6).