Questions and Answers

from Dr. Richard Cooper

Q-1) The student I am working with can do single digit multiplication but has not been able to learn how to do double or multiple digit multiplication problems. What can I do to help this student?

A) Three things you can try to help your student to do two digit multiplication:

1. Have her tell you the steps for doing two digit multiplication problems without doing the calculations. This allows her to concentrate on the process without worrying about the calculations. It goes quicker so you can have her get more repetition learning the process. If she gets mixed up explaining it orally, give her hints until she can explain it correctly.

2. A second technique is to have your student add Xs and Os to the process. It would be easier to explain it than write it, but here goes:  take the numbers 24 x 31

The student multiplies the 1 times the four and then the1 times two as usual. Then the student puts an X through the 1 and an 0 under the four to hold the place value.

This extra step enables some students to remember the process better.

3. The third way is to have the student rewrite the problem: 24 x 31 becomes 24 x 1 and 24 x 30 and the two answers are added together.


Q-2) I have a student who does not know the letters of the alphabet. We have been working on the sounds of the letters but there is very little progress. How can I teach the student learn the alphabet?

A) I suggest that you place less emphasis on the alphabet and more on word recognition. For students with severe reading disabilities, learning the alphabet may be a discouraging task because the person may never be able to remember the names and sounds of the letters especially in a sequence from A to Z. Make a list of words you know the person sees in the environment and work on these. The environmental words are easier to learn because the location of the words provides contextual clues.


Q-3) How can we assist adult students become familiar with our programs?

A) In the training Designing Adult programs for Students with Learning Differences, Dr. Cooper suggests that programs prepare an in-house video to reduce no-shows for appointments. Policies procedures, rules, regulations, admission procedures, examples of what to expect.


Q-4) A student I am tutoring is having difficulty counting money. He is OK with dollar bills but gets confused when counting change. What can I do to help him?

A) The first thing you should check is whether the student can count by 25’s. Frequently individuals who have problems with money are unable to count by intervals of 25. Common errors are 25, 35, 45 or 25, 50, 60, 70. Because these students are not able to count by 25’s, they begin counting change with dimes or nickels, and they cannot add the quarters. For example if the person has three dimes, one nickel and three quarter, the person will count 10, 20, 30, 35 and then get stuck. If the person has learned to count by 25, it is an easy task to add up the change, 25, 50, 75, 80, 90, 100, and 110. Counting by 25’s can take some practice for those who are not accustomed to doing so.


Q-5) The adult I am tutoring can barely read. He looks at a word and does not know it but if he spells it out he is often able to get it. What is this and how can I help him to learn to read?

A) Spelling out words is a primitive decoding technique which some poor readers use to figure out words. It is primitive because it is not based on the structure of language and limits the person because it takes a long time to figure out a word and the person cannot remember that many words. The first thing you do is to explain that this is one technique for word recognition, but there are others that the person needs to learn. Second, you should encourage the student not to spell out the words. If the person finds it difficult to break the habit of spelling out the words, then provide the person with clues about how to recognize the word without spelling it. Also provide the student with a list of large words which he/she does not know and have the person practice reading these words to develop the good habit of using other word attack skills or sight recognition.


Q-6) A parent asked: My teenage son shows no interest in reading. He spends all of his free time drawing. How can I get him interested in reading?

A) Individuals who find reading difficult usually do not like to read. They prefer to engage in activities which are easy for them. It seems that your son does fit that profile. He may never like to read and may never read for pleasure. He may only use reading as a tool for learning what he needs to know. Supplying him with reading material about his interest, such as drawing may result in him reading more.


Q-7) I have found that adults with weak math skills can get the right answer with touch math, counting spots on the numbers. Will this help the person to improve his math skills?

A) I have found that adults who count rather than add, combine numbers, continue to have weak math skills. They may get the right answer, but it takes too long to complete each calculation. Mnemonic clues help many individuals to learn the basic number facts.


Q-8)  I am tutoring an 34 year old man who does not know how to read or write.  I have been trying to get him to complete writing assignments but he makes every excuse not to do these assignments.  What can I do to get him to write?

A)  Many individuals who have low level reading and writing skills have learning disabilities that interfere with their ability to learn written language.  I find that adults who have poor reading skills avoid writing because of their limited understanding of the structure of language.  I do not have beginning readers write.  I explain to them that after they have increased their reading skills, we will use these reading skills to help them with spelling and writing.  Depending on the progress that the student makes, I usually do not begin working on writing for four months.  


Q-9)  One of my colleagues told me that in one of your training sessions on reading you stated that students should not guess.   What do you mean, guessing can be an effective reading technique for understanding words which are beyond the person’s reading level?  

A)  No Guessing  applies to individuals who have weak written language skills, especially those who have a right/left discrimination problem.  When the person guesses, he or she adds both the correct and incorrect item to the memory.  I see adults guessing the same words that I see children guessing.  They know the words but are unable to distinguish between the two.  By teaching them memory techniques these individuals can learn to distinguish between the confusables. The no guessing rule also applies to students who have math disabilities.