17 April 2018

In research done by the National Centre for Educational Statistics in the USA in 2003, 23% of fourth-grade learners and 32% of eighth-grade learners scored below the mathematic basic of the USA’s National Assessment.

Mathematical achievement in the primary years is an important predictor of future academic achievement and access to employment opportunities, and an understanding of basic maths is important for day-to-day calculations.

Increasingly, many learners seem to struggle with maths. There are different reasons for this, but whatever the reason, it is important to come up with intervention strategies that can help learners succeed.

Maths is taught in a spiral process

Maths is taught in a spiral process where one concept is built on another. Once a concept is not fully understood, gaps occur and the next concept cannot be fully grasped, causing learners to end up with a shaky foundation. Learners must understand, for example, that multiplication is repeated addition. They must be able to make connections between numbers and view them as a fact family. If they cannot do this, they are not going to be able to pull out the knowledge and understanding they need in order to later divide numbers.

Developing foundational mathematics skills at the elementary level is essential to ensure that they are able to move towards more advanced concepts.

Maths is a unique language

Maths has a unique language that can be difficult to learn. To really understand mathematics all concepts have to be taught carefully and systematically. Learners need to fully understand each concept before moving onto a new concept. However, learners do not all progress in maths at the same rate, and yet, in the following year all learners are expected to continue with the next level in the learning spiral.

Although maths is taught with a spiral approach it should also be taught systematically with learners learning the basic facts. Homework is then given in order for learners to build up speed and have that extra exposure. Learners need repetitive practice when it comes to learning new maths concepts whether in the classroom or at home.

Gaps in maths learning

At school, teachers do diagnostic tests to determine the specific nature of the conceptual and skills gaps experienced by some learners. This is where the awareness of gaps in mathematical learning starts. Parents may also be brought into the process of addressing these gaps in learning at this stage. It is never too soon to start working on areas of difficulty. The problems will be compounded if these gaps are left for a later stage.

Early mathematical learning, which is concrete (using physical objects – also called manipulatives) rather than abstract in nature, is crucial to every part of the curriculum because all subjects are integrated.

Support for learners with gaps in mathematical understanding

The best way to support learners who struggle with maths is to have fun with numbers. They should know that maths is not abstract but has a role in daily life. Find a way to incorporate their interests into a maths activity. If they love soccer use soccer examples; if they like Minecraft use Minecraft examples.

Maths Gaps Foundation Phase Intervention Programme books published by Macmillan are very useful for the support of learners from grades 1 – 3. Each book deals with a different area in maths that needs extra attention. Each book has examples and activities that reinforce the learning that has already taken place in the classroom. The books present content and activities in a different way to the approach used when initially teaching the concepts and skills in the classroom. The books cover grades 1, 2 and 3 in the same book, which gives learners a unique opportunity to work through the previous year’s work to cover all knowledge gaps.

‘Maths Gaps’ are written in such a way that it is easy for parents to work through them with their children.  A word list of the English concepts is given in each book in six South African languages, helping parents to explain these concepts if there is a language barrier.  Parents are encouraged to make it playful and fun. Where possible use physical objects to explain concepts, let them write, draw and colour in. Provide as much positive feedback and encouragement as possible while the learner is working through each activity. Work systematically through each section.

Maths seems difficult because it takes time and energy. Therefore, especially in the Foundation Phase, let it be as much fun as possible!

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