With barriers to mathematical development present in many Specific Learning Difficulties, or Specific Learning Differences as I believe more appropriate, assessing and diagnosing Dyscalculia can be a very complex process.

Dyslexia and Dyspraxia very often come hand in hand with mathematical difficulties, so we have to be clear as to whether a learner has Dyscalculia, or if their mathematical difficulties are just part of their existing Dyslexia or Dyspraxia.

Despite obvious differences between the nature of Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia, methods to overcome barriers to learning in mathematics are not so diverse. As with many intervention techniques directed at learners with Specific Learning Difficulties, teaching that is cumulative in nature is favoured for all learners with emphasis placed on metacognition of tasks, presented in a multisensory and concrete way.

As a teacher myself I am guilty of being so caught up in the structure of ‘units’ that come from initiatives such as the National Numeracy Strategy, that cumulative planning is sometimes easily missed. Such strategies have us moving from A to B to C to D at such a pace, with the best intentions of achieving rapid pupil progress, that a cumulative structure e.g. A, AB, ABC, ABCD, in which we continuously revise and revisit concepts is harder to achieve. However, with good quality concrete resources, I believe this can be achieved with success.

As adults, we are mostly capable of symbolic and abstract thinking and applying this to mathematical concepts, however since the research of developmental psychologists such as Piaget, evidence has been gathered to suggest that children’s ability to think in the abstract form is developed slowly, throughout their childhood, hence the need for a cumulative structure. Children are often described at Primary age as being ‘concrete thinkers’ meaning they may have difficulty understanding abstractions, such as the concept of ‘number’.

So we take our first step to making the abstract, concrete...Numcion.

Numicon gives the abstract concept of ‘numbers’ a concrete visual image. It is as simple and as complex as that. The pieces themselves have many SpLD friendly features; firstly and most simply they provide an ‘image’ for each number. Beyond this basic concept pieces can be ‘slotted’ together to form number bonds and to perform basic addition. The pieces are also weighted, so when putting bonded numbers on balance scales they really balance; my little ones were incredibly excited during their ‘weight’ lesson that a 3 and a 7 made the scales balance! This further secured their understanding of number bonds.

Once these basic concepts are secured you can move on to more advanced work such as place value, multiplication and division, as pictured above. Some researchers argue that resources such as this can make children too reliant on models and images, taking away their ability to think and visualise for themselves. I agree that work must be put into place to develop the transition from a concrete resource into more abstract ways of working. However, I do believe that for learners who find visualising such concepts a barrier to learning, the meaning that is seen in the materials and the layouts presented provides a vision of support, in an area of learning that may otherwise be made inaccessible by other teaching methods.

My favourite use of this resource has to be teaching Multiplication, something that I used become anxious about teaching to my youngest learners. A calculation such as 3 x 7 = is verbalised as “Can you get me 3 times a 7?” To which the learner ‘dips in’ to the Numcion box 3 times, pulling out a 7. So simple! This mirrors the common practice of making ‘arrays’ or ‘groups of’, with the added bonus that the familiarity of the Numicon shape, in my experience, makes the whole process more automatic. My colleagues in EYFS have taken Numicon to a whole new level, using the resource in a variety of ways to make their learning environment concrete and stimulating. Numcion is hung by every number visual, is imprinted in the playdough, used for printing in the painting area and even used to make house point charts, in which the children tally up their house points on Numicon pieces!

If you have used Numicon or any other mathematical resources to teach abstract concepts I would love to hear your experiences! Numcion may not be your preferred resource, but which ever resource you choose, making the abstract, concrete, is the key to mathematical success, not just for learners with particular mathematical difficulties, but for all.

Dyslexia and Dyspraxia very often come hand in hand with mathematical difficulties, so we have to be clear as to whether a learner has Dyscalculia, or if their mathematical difficulties are just part of their existing Dyslexia or Dyspraxia.

Despite obvious differences between the nature of Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia, methods to overcome barriers to learning in mathematics are not so diverse. As with many intervention techniques directed at learners with Specific Learning Difficulties, teaching that is cumulative in nature is favoured for all learners with emphasis placed on metacognition of tasks, presented in a multisensory and concrete way.

As a teacher myself I am guilty of being so caught up in the structure of ‘units’ that come from initiatives such as the National Numeracy Strategy, that cumulative planning is sometimes easily missed. Such strategies have us moving from A to B to C to D at such a pace, with the best intentions of achieving rapid pupil progress, that a cumulative structure e.g. A, AB, ABC, ABCD, in which we continuously revise and revisit concepts is harder to achieve. However, with good quality concrete resources, I believe this can be achieved with success.

As adults, we are mostly capable of symbolic and abstract thinking and applying this to mathematical concepts, however since the research of developmental psychologists such as Piaget, evidence has been gathered to suggest that children’s ability to think in the abstract form is developed slowly, throughout their childhood, hence the need for a cumulative structure. Children are often described at Primary age as being ‘concrete thinkers’ meaning they may have difficulty understanding abstractions, such as the concept of ‘number’.

So we take our first step to making the abstract, concrete...Numcion.

Numicon gives the abstract concept of ‘numbers’ a concrete visual image. It is as simple and as complex as that. The pieces themselves have many SpLD friendly features; firstly and most simply they provide an ‘image’ for each number. Beyond this basic concept pieces can be ‘slotted’ together to form number bonds and to perform basic addition. The pieces are also weighted, so when putting bonded numbers on balance scales they really balance; my little ones were incredibly excited during their ‘weight’ lesson that a 3 and a 7 made the scales balance! This further secured their understanding of number bonds.

Once these basic concepts are secured you can move on to more advanced work such as place value, multiplication and division, as pictured above. Some researchers argue that resources such as this can make children too reliant on models and images, taking away their ability to think and visualise for themselves. I agree that work must be put into place to develop the transition from a concrete resource into more abstract ways of working. However, I do believe that for learners who find visualising such concepts a barrier to learning, the meaning that is seen in the materials and the layouts presented provides a vision of support, in an area of learning that may otherwise be made inaccessible by other teaching methods.

My favourite use of this resource has to be teaching Multiplication, something that I used become anxious about teaching to my youngest learners. A calculation such as 3 x 7 = is verbalised as “Can you get me 3 times a 7?” To which the learner ‘dips in’ to the Numcion box 3 times, pulling out a 7. So simple! This mirrors the common practice of making ‘arrays’ or ‘groups of’, with the added bonus that the familiarity of the Numicon shape, in my experience, makes the whole process more automatic. My colleagues in EYFS have taken Numicon to a whole new level, using the resource in a variety of ways to make their learning environment concrete and stimulating. Numcion is hung by every number visual, is imprinted in the playdough, used for printing in the painting area and even used to make house point charts, in which the children tally up their house points on Numicon pieces!

If you have used Numicon or any other mathematical resources to teach abstract concepts I would love to hear your experiences! Numcion may not be your preferred resource, but which ever resource you choose, making the abstract, concrete, is the key to mathematical success, not just for learners with particular mathematical difficulties, but for all.