# Help me with a 4th grade math issue

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Today I am pondering how to help my 9yo 4th grader with long division. He absolutely understands division conceptually, he has the procedure down very well, but he is really struggling with coming up with the correct answer the first, second, third time. He has issues with intending to write a numeral, only to accidentally substitute another. He has always had this issue, but with long division, it is a big deal to have a numeral written incorrectly deep within the problem. So far I have cut the numbers of problems he is doing per day to one, and putting the one problem on a blank sheet of paper so he can write bigger, and has less distraction. I realized today that large point graph paper may help, at least with keeping everything straighter and easy to see. I hate to hold him up in this lesson as he understands division at this point very well, and the issue is with silly mistakes within the problem, swapping numbers, etc. I have wondered if this is developmental? We use Math-U-See. This child is my star student otherwise, always willing to work hard, very good reader and becoming a strong writer. Any ideas are welcome. Thanks in advance.

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It's normal for fourth graders to struggle with long division. It's a complicated algorithm.

However, my feeling is that it's somewhat less normal for them to frequently have a problem with knowing the correct numeral but putting down the wrong one. I don't quite know what to make of that. You say he also frequently transposes digits? Do you see any similar problems in other areas of his life? Does he misspell words or write them sloppily, maybe? Does he forget tasks he's given and need to be reminded? Or is he more distractable and/or impulsive than you'd expect for a kid this age? Or... well, anything, really. I'm just throwing things out there. I don't know what I'm thinking of, exactly.

Note: Doing this once in a while is not what I mean. Everybody sometimes makes a careless error in arithmetic, or forgets to do something, or goes to the store intending to get milk and bread and comes back instead with cheese, or gets distracted by something silly. The issue comes if this sort of thing happens frequently. And for all I know, I'm completely wrong and this is VERY normal for this age, I just haven't encountered it before.

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There could be several underlying causes.  I would be careful how I frame this to him or even in my own head.  I wouldn't call these "silly" mistakes.  It sounds like there is a definite glitch hanging him up if he has always struggled with accidental substitutions.  That could be neurologically based or vision based or something else may be going on.  I don't mean panic because there is something serious going on.  I just mean that it sounds like a glitch beyond his immediate control.  Is it only numerical symbols or does he do something similar with spelling words?

How does he do if you and he do the problems together on a dry erase board?  If he writes in large print on a dry erase board is he more likely to get the numbers correct?  If you were to scribe for him, would he call out the correct number or would he "glitch" and substitute the wrong number verbally as well even if he knows the correct one?

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It's probably taxing his working memory, and honestly, practice is the cure (so one big, hairy division problem per day is good).

Some things that can help:

Scribe for him

Have him narrate what he is doing when he writes himself

Have him use a whiteboard--for the bigger problems, I found that my kids needed a big, wall-mounted one

Show him how to do short division (works best for one digit divisors)

Edited by EKS
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It's normal for fourth graders to struggle with long division. It's a complicated algorithm.

However, my feeling is that it's somewhat less normal for them to frequently have a problem with knowing the correct numeral but putting down the wrong one. I don't quite know what to make of that. You say he also frequently transposes digits? Do you see any similar problems in other areas of his life? Does he misspell words or write them sloppily, maybe? Does he forget tasks he's given and need to be reminded? Or is he more distractable and/or impulsive than you'd expect for a kid this age? Or... well, anything, really. I'm just throwing things out there. I don't know what I'm thinking of, exactly.

Note: Doing this once in a while is not what I mean. Everybody sometimes makes a careless error in arithmetic, or forgets to do something, or goes to the store intending to get milk and bread and comes back instead with cheese, or gets distracted by something silly. The issue comes if this sort of thing happens frequently. And for all I know, I'm completely wrong and this is VERY normal for this age, I just haven't encountered it before.

Swapping numerals or intending to write one but writing another is an ongoing issue since he was doing very simple math, and it is definitely not a once in a while thing. He has always been strong in math concepts, and poor in actually getting math problems correct due to this issue.

He does this with writing letters, where he writes a different one than he intended, but he rarely misses it, and just erases then corrects. I would say aside from writing the wrong thing, his spelling is decent.

His reading and comprehension is at a high school level. He is very articulate. His mind goes very fast. He keeps me on my toes with all this question asking. He is kind of an absent minded professor type--daydreaming about things he is pondering. ADHD runs in my family, dyslexia runs in my husbands, so it's not off my radar that we could be dealing with some kind of learning issue, however, it is so hard for me to get a read on this kid, because he is so articulate, so engaged, so well behaved. He instantly recognizes his mistakes when brought to his attention. He just makes these little mistakes, and doesn't seem to be growing out of it like I thought maybe he would.

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There could be several underlying causes.  I would be careful how I frame this to him or even in my own head.  I wouldn't call these "silly" mistakes.  It sounds like there is a definite glitch hanging him up if he has always struggled with accidental substitutions.  That could be neurologically based or vision based or something else may be going on.  I don't mean panic because there is something serious going on.  I just mean that it sounds like a glitch beyond his immediate control.  Is it only numerical symbols or does he do something similar with spelling words?

How does he do if you and he do the problems together on a dry erase board?  If he writes in large print on a dry erase board is he more likely to get the numbers correct?  If you were to scribe for him, would he call out the correct number or would he "glitch" and substitute the wrong number verbally as well even if he knows the correct one?

I keep wondering that. My previous answer to Tanaqui answers some of this. He does write the wrong letter than he intends when spelling very often, but catches it, and corrects. Otherwise his spelling is average. I haven't tried doing problem on the white board, but am going to try next week. So far I have had him put one problem on a full page of white paper, and that seems to help in some ways... he is more focused... but doesn't help with writing int he wrong number, or other simple mistakes. It's definitely a glitch of some kind, and I keep thinking it is developmental, but I keep waiting for it to resolve and it's not.

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It's probably taxing his working memory, and honestly, practice is the cure (so one big, hairy division problem per day is good).

Some things that can help:

Scribe for him

Have him narrate what he is doing when he writes himself

Have him use a whiteboard--for the bigger problems, I found that my kids needed a big, wall-mounted one

Show him short division when he has one digit divisors

These are some good ideas. Thank you. I will try these next week.

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Sounds like he's very bright. Often, smart kids can cope *really well* - well enough to hide the severity of any learning disabilities. If dyslexia and ADHD run on both sides of his family, that opens up the floor to a whole host of possibilities, starting with those and autism and ending with I don't even know what. A visual processing issue is the safest guess here, based on what you said, but the thing about learning disabilities is that they tend to cluster. If your brain works differently in one way, it'll probably work differently in a whole host of ways, not all of which are immediately obvious.

I am always in favor of getting a full evaluation done. This can help you see exactly what your kid's weaknesses are, the things you can't spot because you're too close and also aren't an expert. And even if you intend to homeschool him straight up through high school, he will eventually go to college and get a job. If he needs accommodations then, it's better to have the paperwork done now.

I wouldn't panic over this - sounds like you guys are managing it all right just now - but I encourage you to make plans to have a formal assessment done within the next year. It could be nothing, or something easy to fix.

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Tanaqui, thanks. I hadn't thought of how well intelligent people cope with learning disabilities. I agree that it would be smart to look into it sooner than later. We did as another poster said and have had him narrating his math process to me, and when he says audibly what he is doing, he has caught a couple of mistakes as he was making him. It makes sense as talking non-stop has always been his super power. ;)

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We did as another poster said and have had him narrating his math process to me, and when he says audibly what he is doing, he has caught a couple of mistakes as he was making him. It makes sense as talking non-stop has always been his super power. ;)

My non-stop talker DS12 needed the auditory feedback when doing work. Doing work while silent slowed him down and also leads to more mistakes. It got a lot better after he turned 11. He has a very high working memory and average processing speed based on testing done at 9. My silent DS13 sometimes need the auditory feedback as well.

Sometimes when you talk it out, you end up slowing down your thought process and thinking about what you are saying. If I talk as fast as I think, people would hear a jumbled mess of thoughts.

ETA:

DS13 is a natural speller but writes slower than he thinks. When he tries to write as fast as he thinks, letters go missing :p His typing speed might actually be faster than his writing speed. He is also capable of writing with his left hand whenever he has a bad paper cut on his right hand pointer finger. I remind him to proofread his writing especially when he writes faster than usual.

I wrote wate for water for most of my middle school Chemistry because I was writing too fast. One of my teacher was very amused while another teacher was puzzled. I gave up and wrote H2O for the rest of Chemistry assignments, tests and exams.

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Tanaqui, thanks. I hadn't thought of how well intelligent people cope with learning disabilities. I agree that it would be smart to look into it sooner than later. We did as another poster said and have had him narrating his math process to me, and when he says audibly what he is doing, he has caught a couple of mistakes as he was making him. It makes sense as talking non-stop has always been his super power. ;)

Actually highly intelligent people with glitches tend to compensate a lot, unconsciously, so it can be hard to accurately determine why they are glitching.  Their strengths mask their weaknesses and their weaknesses mask their strengths.  Even neuropsychologists trained to assess learning challenges sometimes struggle if they have not had much experience assessing someone who is highly intelligent/gifted.  (The term for this is 2e or twice exceptional).  Sadly, without an accurate assessment not only can the weaknesses often never effectively be addressed, amazing strengths may never be tapped into or may continue to be hindered because of the undiagnosed struggle areas.

Since you know there are learning challenges in your family and those particular challenges tend to have a genetic component you might start the process of getting an assessment right now.  It can take time to find a good assessor and frequently there are long waiting lists (sometimes as long as a year).  Also, keep in mind that kids, once they reach middle school, are frequently not as willing to work on remediation.  Starting before they hit those hormonal years can be a real help.  If while you are putting the evaluations in place things start smoothing out you can always cancel.

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Actually highly intelligent people with glitches tend to compensate a lot, unconsciously, so it can be hard to accurately determine why they are glitching.  Their strengths mask their weaknesses and their weaknesses mask their strengths.  Even neuropsychologists trained to assess learning challenges sometimes struggle if they have not had much experience assessing someone who is highly intelligent/gifted.  (The term for this is 2e or twice exceptional).

Yes, I think he sounds 2e too.

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Everyone has been so helpful to me in this! Thank you very much for adding your thoughts and ideas.

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One more thing - you mention he "talks nonstop". That's another point in favor of certain learning disabilities, most probably ADHD.

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