What does language have to do with math?

language of math

With the new core being implemented across the country, I am hearing more often that students are struggling with math.  Why does this bother a speech language therapist?  Because math concepts are language based and that is really difficult for many of our students, particularly kids with ASD.  I had the opportunity to present at an autism workshop in my school district and heard a great behavior professional mention that many students on the spectrum think in pictures not words (Temple Grandin ring a bell?).   This, of course, got my brain humming.  How can I help with math?

I used Boardmaker to create visuals to correspond with the math concepts.  I also created a visual dictionary to give kids the visual framework that math concepts, such as subtraction, have more than one word to describe it.  Flexible thinking with language is tricky!  What does this look like?  Let’s take subtraction as an example. It can also be phrased as: take away, less, how many more, how much more, decomposing, difference, fewer.   Can you see how easy it is to get confused?  Here is the link to my free visual dictionary page:


I included a column for a visual example, a place for the student’s example and an area for notes or questions, but you can create your own and customize to your student’s needs!

I have also uploaded language of math visuals to my TPT page here for first grade core.  I will be creating and posting more grade levels throughout the next month:   http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Visuals-for-Language-of-Math-1st-grade-core-1077448

In the coming weeks, I will share more on the language of math, particularly how to help kids identify key words, sequence and be able to explain (yikes!) how they got their answers.  Graphic organizers and highlighters are going to become your new best friends.   I would love if YOU would share any tips and tricks with the new math core that help your students or children as well!


linky social

No big deal or is it?

problem solution

*graphic courtesy of  www.mycutegraphics.com

My task this week has been to develop a problem solution page for students with social language impairments. As I tried to boil down what was necessary and what was just clutter, an image began to form in my mind. What is it that we want to help our kids learn when they are going from crisis to melt down throughout the day? This cycle exhausts parents, teachers and the little (and not so little) people involved, leaving everyone tired, frustrated and a bit cranky. If we are constantly in fight or flight mode, we aren’t really available for learning anything new.

I thought back to the days of when one of my children was caught in this cycle. I couldn’t reason with him in the moment (tried, failed, learned), but as I started to see patterns in his behaviors, I knew I could start a conversation prior to or well after an event. While it didn’t cure the emotional outbursts, being able to identify what a problem is or isn’t was a place to start. Then we figured out who can help me with a problem. The ultimate answer to this question is the child, but this takes a lot of practice to have that awareness when the going gets tough. Next, we figured out what I can do (or what I can control). This is hard work! And the last part, which isn’t really the last part, is figuring out a solution.

To this practical experience, I added a visual thermometer to help kids decide if the problem is BIG, medium or small. It was also important to add some emotional language to talk about how the child feels, both before and after a problem. Giving language to feelings is a powerful tool for all of us! Is it going to be like magic pixie dust and work the first time? Nope. But to quote the wonderful Dory, “Just keep swimming.” Repetition is our friend!

Click here for the  link to my problem/solution forms on TPT

Now you don’t have to use my format, get creative and make something that works for you!!  Beyond using these for individual students, here are some other suggestions:

  • making a problem/solution cookbook for a classroom to collaborate on problem solving/solutions with their peers. It helps to know that everyone has problems they struggle with and sharing this information might spark some great solutions for everyone!
  • You can also connect the idea of problem solving to the world around us. An example would be to use it for Martin Luther King Jr. Day next week to talk about what problems he experienced and what his solutions were.
  • You can also extend this form to talk about characters in literature and how they handled problems/solutions (think CORE!!).

Does the core have anything to do with social language?

apple coreI am glad you (sort of) asked!!  The simple answer is yes.  The not so simple part is how they are related.  When I refer to social language, I mean the ability to take someone else’s perspective and the foundational skills of comparing, contrasting (settings, characters, motivations, problems), making inferences, identifying cause/effect, predicting figurative language and understanding point of view.  Whew!  In addition, kids need to be able visualize and verbalize, understand vocabulary in context, ask and answer factual questions, sequence, identify feelings (their own and the characters), use illustrations for clues to meaning, AND understand details as well as the big picture/main idea of a story.  When you pull apart all the pieces a child needs to have to succeed in reading for all academic subjects (and life skills too), it’s amazing anyone can do this.

Now add to the above list the learning profile of a child with ASD (autism spectrum disorder).  Michelle Garcia Winner uses a beautiful illustration of the Social Thinking Tree to describe how we grow as social thinkers (and we are ALL social thinkers in one way or another).  If you haven’t explored Michelle Garcia Winner’s blog and website    you are missing out on a TON of great information for SLPS, parents, teachers and community support therapists.   Her take on the “roots” we need include joint attention, theory of mind and emotional regulation, then we move up the trunk to understanding perspective (her ILAUGH model) and climb to the branches of reading comprehension, written expression and cooperative group work. At the top of the tree (the most difficult skills to acquire) are summarizing, understanding character’s motivations and emotions,  and understanding hidden/changing rules across environments.   Do any of these ring a bell in the classroom?  Yup, they sure do.   You smarties were already working on social language without even knowing it!!

So where are we going on this little Smartmouth adventure?  In the next few months, I will be posting some books with activities, video clips and graphic organizers that you can use to reinforce all the concepts we talked about above.  In addition, I would love to share some great websites and social language ideas that you can use with all of your students (not just kids with ASD, but also children with learning disabilities, traumatic brain injury, ADD, ESL students and kids with emotional/behavioral disorders).  Social skills are life skills really and to quote MGW,  “All academic learning is done in the context of a social setting”.

In the spirit of full disclosure, from time to time I will post links to my teachers pay teachers store.   Feel free to look through my social thinking and speech boards on Pinterest and pin awayl!  I would love to hear from YOU as well about what you see as a need, anything working well or idea sharing-we are all in this together!

One big caveat I share with the professionals that I work with is that social language acquisition is not linear.  So much of developmental acquisition with language, motor skills, and academics follow a nice, neat sequence of scaffolding skills and moving forward one step at a time.  Social language is like a ladder that can move sideways, diagonal, backwards or stop mid-air.  That’s part of what makes this so tricky.  Social language is deep and multi-layered and much of what we expect our students to do incidentally or following one or two rubrics is incredibly non-intuitive for students with ASD.  Please pack your patience, creativity, sense of humor and compassion for this journey.  You are going to need them and your students will too.