Number development in particular has been outlined as an important skill for development across the curriculum. Literacy and numeracy are intrinsically linked and therefore mutually affect each other’s development. The Welsh Assembly Government produced a document in 2008 Mathematics in the National Curriculum for Wales which sets out clear requirements for programmes of study and attainment targets from Key Stage 2 through to Key Stage 4. For example, later in the development of mathematics, developed language skills becomes an essential component in being able to understand the concepts and requirements of tasks especially at Key Stages 3 and 4).
It is therefore particularly important for children in the early years of development (i.e. Foundation Phase) to grasp the most basic of maths concepts including:
- recognising and making patterns
- ordering and comparing
This is predominantly learnt through the medium of play and carrying out everyday activities (e.g. grocery shopping, dressing). For guidance and practical examples of how to encourage such competencies within the foundation phase, please refer to the Welsh Assembly Government’s 2008 document Mathematical Development.
Consider which subjects use mathematical skills on a daily basis.
For teachers at Key Stages 2 and 3 you may wish to refer to the Mathematics: Guidance for Key Stages 2 and 3 for some guidance and practical examples and activities to carry out with children in your class. This document also outlines the various skills that children should typically acquire at Key Stages 2 and 3.
For guidance on how to recognise and promote higher-order mathematical skills from Key Stages 3 to 4 please refer to the Welsh Government’s 2011 document on Developing higher-order mathematical skills for secondary school teachers.
Refer to the document which is most relevant for the class you are teaching, and write some tips or ideas that you could apply in your own class setting to encourage mathematical development.
There are a number of reasons why a pupil may have difficulty with the concepts of mathematics. They may have a lack of understanding overall, or of number, or maybe only one area of mathematics. See Geary (2007) for further discussion.
Possible underlying reasons for a learner experiencing difficulties with numeracy development are similar to those outlined for problems with literacy and include:
- working memory
- spatial representation
- motor functioning
- executive functioning – planning and checking
- specific condition, e.g. dyscalculia.
Dyscalculia affects a person’s ability to understand, recall or manipulate numerical information, or conceptualise numbers as abstract concepts. Some individuals may feel anxious when having to undertake any mathematics-related tasks and so may avoid situations where they have to do this.
Dyscalculia is one example of where brain imaging and educational interventions have both been used to understand the basis and importantly identify methods to remediate it (e.g. Kaufmann, Handl & Thöny, 2003). One challenge for educators dealing with dyscalculia concerns the fact that calculation abilities often appear to be related to non-numerical skills such as visual-spatial cognition, language, working memory, etc. Thus, only a very small proportion of children with calculation difficulties exhibit a ‘pure’ dyscalculia, with most having difficulties in non-numerical domains as well.
Butterworth (2005) also provides an interesting discussion around the definition and characteristics of dyscalculia.