I’m a Numeracy consultant… So you probably think I’m a ‘Numeracy Person’? But, you may find it hard to believe that for many years of my teaching career, I wasn’t overly interested in Numeracy!
I thought I was a ‘Literacy’ person! I didn’t hate Maths… I just didn’t think it was as important as Literacy in helping students succeed in life! I hate to admit it, but when I was a Learning Support Coordinator, I used to prioritise helping students develop Literacy skills! Teaching students to read and write was my priority. If there was a bit of time leftover or personnel available… Then I would organise for support to be provided in mathematics
So, something must have happened to make me change my focus from Literacy to Numeracy…?
Yes, it did. About 12 years ago, when I was deciding on a focus for my research masters at the University of Sydney, I was introduced to an article by Gersten and Chard, (1999) on how Number Sense was to
Mathematics as Phonemic Awareness was to Reading. When I read that article I was hooked… The Gersten & Chard article finally introduced me to a solution for the students who struggled in Mathematics. I, like so many others, thought that some students just had a ‘brain’ for Maths and others didn’t and really there wasn’t much that could be done for those that didn’t ‘get it’! I was wrong! From my very first year of teaching Years 3-6 in a small rural school in Victoria, I always cared about the students who struggled. I wanted to help ALL my students succeed in their education and enjoy learning. But I didn’t know how to meet their needs! I didn’t have all the strategies and tools I needed.
While I went on to do further study in special education I never felt confident to meet the needs of all my students in mathematics. But, I thought it wasn’t a priority anyway… I was challenged to reconsider how important it was to help students ‘get’ Maths…?
I learned that a student’s Numeracy levels are a greater predictor of their future success in life than their Literacy levels!
Numeracy levels impact their health, wealth and job opportunities.
I know that Numeracy is defined as having the willingness and confidence to use maths to solve everyday life problems but what about the student who hates maths and has no confidence in their ability to learn the content –let alone apply it…?
While I might have enjoyed learning about all the patterns and solutions in Mathematics, I discovered many people did not have the same positive experience… In fact, people actually ‘hated’ Maths. And some people were even ‘phobic’ about the subject! Unfortunately, the ineffective ways they were taught Maths at school had contributed to their strong negative reactions. When I learned there were research-based strategies that worked even for the ‘struggler’ in Mathematics and that Numeracy was an essential ‘life skill’…
Then I became a Numeracy advocate!
their schooling life. As it is not just disillusioned secondary students that need support… Unfortunately, students in the early years of primary school can give up and believe they are ‘no good at Maths’. I always say to the primary school teachers I work with that it’s up to us to do everything we can to keep students engaged and positive about Maths.
If students go to high school hating Maths it is going to be nearly impossible to turn them around… Once students are in a cycle of failure the gap generally only widens.
That’s the bad news but there is good news…
My research focused on what could be done to help students who turn up to school with poorly developed number sense. Literacy researchers have discovered early intervention in phonemic awareness can change the trajectory of a child’s reading and spelling skills.
Numeracy research has discovered early intervention in number sense can set a child up for success in Mathematics.
And students need to be successful in Maths if they are going to develop numeracy and receive all the life benefits that brings…
So am I a Numeracy person or a Literacy person? Does it even matter? I’m both. And yes it does matter. It matters that we give them an equal priority. We can’t afford to wait to improve Numeracy until we’ve done all we can to improve Literacy. It will be too late!
Students at risk of mathematics failure need to be identified early and provided with appropriate levels of intervention.
ALL students should be taught mathematics using effective research-based strategies that contribute to improved numeracy.
If you would like to join me in helping ALL students ‘like’ maths and develop Numeracy…? If you still believe there’s more to learn…?
Then, explore some options below:
If you’re a leader of change at your primary school check out my offer to help you develop a numeracy improvement game plan for free.
If you’re a primary teacher or learning support teacher and want to know where to start – start with Number Sense.
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