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Summary of Reference

Thomas, Gill, Tagg, Andrew, & Ward, Jenny

Making a difference: The Early Numeracy Project

Bibliographic data:
In B. Barton, K. Irwin, M. Pfannkuch, & M. Thomas (Eds.)(2002). Mathematics Education in the South Pacific: Proceedings of the 25th annual conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia, (pp.49-57). Sydney: MERGA.

The Early Numeracy Project which focuses on the first three years of schooling had an impact on students and their teachers. This paper begins by providing an overview of the numeracy development project within the context of the government’s Literacy and Numeracy strategy. It draws on Parsons’ paper to point out that the characteristics of quality professional development programmes are reflected in the Numeracy Development Project. The work of Mike Askew and others at King’s College, London identifies the practices of effective teachers of numeracy. This group of teachers is characterised by the beliefs that underpin their practice and in particular the connected nature of their knowledge.

The paper goes on to discuss number frameworks. These frameworks have arisen out of work by researchers such as Fuson et al., Wright, and Young-Loveridge amongst others that identified progressions in children’s development of understanding about number. The authors view these models of number understanding as “providing useful pedagogical frameworks for teachers” because more focused teaching is likely to be more effective in developing students’ understanding.

The origins of the New Zealand Number Framework lie in the NSW’s Count Me In Too pilot project. Key points about the NZ framework are its division into interdependent strategy and knowledge sections. The stages of the framework represent “big” ideas of number but these are not “equally spaced”. The strategy section is divided into two broad bands of counting and part-whole. Teachers use a diagnostic tool to find out where their students are on the framework and base their teaching decisions on this information.

The impact on teachers as derived from questionnaires to participants revealed greater understanding of how children learn mathematics as well as changes to their teaching. These changes included more focused teaching through better assessment and subsequent instructional grouping of students. A particular shift is in providing more opportunities for students to explain their strategies to their peers and teachers.

The impact on student achievement was “impressive” and “exceeded the gains that would have been expected in the students’ previous classroom programmes by between 0.7 and 1.2 stages”. This growth was irrespective of students’ gender, ethnicity, age, school’s decile or region. Key aspects of the growth noted are “the size of the gains made was strongly linked to the students’ starting points on the Number Framework” with older students making “greater gains than the younger students regardless of starting stage”. The percentage of students who used part-whole number strategies increased from 7% to 23% across the duration of the project.>  The final section of the paper examines the composition of the group of students who make the critical shift from counting-based to part-whole strategies. It notes that “just 36% of the Pacific Island students make this transition compared to 49% of the Māori students, 57% of the NZ European students, and 58% of the Asian students. The authors conclude by urging that “further refinements of the project continue to focus on improving the outcomes for underachieving students”.