Colorful hand drawn math symbols and lines.

How I show work for math with low vision and dysgraphia

Organizing math scratch paper and showing work can be challenging for students with low vision and dysgraphia - try these strategies!

I love math and am very good at it, but often struggle with organizing scratch paper and “show your work” prompts when handwriting math assignments- I would tell people that my brain loves math, but my eyes do not. I have a combination of low vision (which affects my ability to read handwriting) as well as dysgraphia (which affects my ability to write legibly), so a lot of my scratch work for my early math classes consisted of hard-to-read numbers, uneven spacing, and writing the wrong number when working through a problem. This didn’t improve until I started taking trigonometry and calculus in college, and I found a way to show work for math that also worked well for me. Here is how I show work for math and organize scratch paper with low vision and dysgraphia when typing isn’t an option.

Why I don’t use pencils or lined paper

As part of having low vision, I have decreased contrast vision and find it difficult/impossible to read gray pencil lead on white paper, or to see the light blue lines/squares on white lined paper. I also have trouble writing in a straight line or spacing text evenly due to dysgraphia. Instead of using pencils, I used colored pens, markers, or similar tools on unlined paper, and divide the paper into sections as needed on my own.

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Use a dry-erase board and take pictures

I had a professor who was very particular about having students show their work on virtual assignments and attach photos of their scratch paper. I discovered that it was easier for me to write neatly on a dry-erase board/whiteboard because I could easily fix my mistakes and use an angled writing surface, and I would take photos of the resulting problems with the Microsoft Office Lens app for high resolution scanning. I also find it easier to hold the substantial texture of the dry-erase board closer to my face than to angle my neck to read a piece of paper.

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Have different colored pens for working out problems

When I was taking Algebra 1 the first time, my teacher would write out problems in a way that made it difficult for me to identify symbols. One of the strategies my math tutor used to make it easier for me to read problems and copy them down on my own paper was to assign different colored pens for symbols, such as a green plus sign and a purple multiplication sign. When copying problems with exponents, I would write the exponent value in another color next to the symbol in the same font size, instead of writing it smaller as it is shown on the page.

Subtract 1 from each value to avoid regrouping

Subtraction and regrouping can be difficult for students with low vision to follow, especially since it involves fitting several numbers into a small space. One strategy that has helped me a lot is to subtract 1 from each value to avoid regrouping- for example, the problem “100-97” becomes “99-96” and still provides the same answer. I wish I had learned this sooner, as it was a game changer for organizing subtraction!

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Have one page for each problem

Instead of confining myself to writing in a small area or having overflowing numbers, my discrete math professor in college allowed me to use at least one page of scratch paper for each problem, instead of requiring me to fit five problems onto one page. This made it easier for me to spread out numbers and write larger, as well as go back and check my work- I’m not trying to figure out which problem is which.

See how others would show their work

One of my friends told me that they struggled with remembering to write out all of the steps they use for math classes because they felt that they didn’t know what “finished” or completed work looked like. I suggested that they check out a tool like Mathway, Symbolab, or similar programs that allow students to import in a sample problem and view all of the steps to solve it. Of course, this isn’t a good substitute for doing homework, but it can be helpful when studying or learning a new concept to see how the problem is solved, instead of just seeing the solution.

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Write with a stylus

In another virtual calculus class, my professor didn’t want students to type out how they solve math problems but allowed the use of a stylus like the Apple Pencil. This was another helpful option similar to the whiteboard, but had the additional benefits of allowing me to use pinch-to-zoom to read text even more easily, virtually unlimited pen colors, and easy ways to erase text. I typically complete assignments in Notability with Apple Pencil or use digital whiteboarding apps like Microsoft Whiteboard.

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Receiving testing accommodations like extended time

If I feel that I am under a tight deadline or only have a short amount of time to hand write something, I tend to write very quickly and my handwriting is incredibly messy, to the point that I misread my own handwriting and often get questions wrong, especially towards the end of a quiz/exam. Having extended time has helped a lot with helping me to slow down and write legibly, as well as giving me time to use additional assistive technology like magnification, which cause me to read more slowly.

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More tips on how I show work for math with low vision and dysgraphia

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,

Updated August 2023

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