The world is entering the second year of the pandemic. Grade 1 teachers are tired after having the novel corona virus disrupting their work in numerous ways. Many lacked support even before lockdowns started.
Also, six-year-olds can’t really explain the problems they may experience with mathematics. It is hard for Grade 1 teachers to know who is keeping up and who isn’t.
UJ researchers have shown that a diagnostic test in the classroom can help teachers see who is struggling and how to help them. A 15-week “maths boost” intervention programme linked to the test, provides teachers material to support the children in an efficient way.The world is entering the second year of the pandemic. Grade 1 teachers are tired after having the novel corona virus disrupting their work in numerous ways. Many lacked support even before lockdowns started.
Also, six-year-olds can’t really explain the problems they may experience with mathematics. It’s hard for Grade 1 teachers to know who is keeping up and who isn’t, says Prof Elizabeth Henning from the University of Johannesburg (UJ).
Some children may appear not to cope after a few weeks’ school holiday or closures due to Covid-19. But what children remember and what they may have forgotten, is what early childhood teachers need to find out.
Henning is a South Africa Research Chair of the National Research Foundation.
“When children come to school, even for Grade 1, it is difficult to know what they already know. At home they see their family members bake and cook and learn early numeracy informally with lots of ‘number talk’. They learn some maths at home – but every home is different,” she says.
Many children learn basic maths in their home languages. Others don’t because their parents decided to send them to schools where English is the classroom language.
“Then the children come to primary school and ‘parallel track’ if their school teaches through medium of English. They start learning the same concepts in a new language. They get to know maths terms in English .When Grade 1 teachers don’t speak the home languages of the young children, it’s not possible for them to translate or code-switch when they see the kids struggling,” says Henning.
If there is a better way for Grade 1 teachers to find out what individual support each child needs to progress in maths, it can make a big difference in how they cope with everyday challenges, including the challenges of terminology, she says.
Prof Henning is one of the researchers in the study that adapted a Finnish evidence-based test for children in Grade 1, where the medium of instruction is English.
The research team enrolled 207 Grade 1 children at four public schools and another 60 children at three middle income private schools.The schools are in the greater Johannesburg. Of the 267 children, 79 mentioned that they speak English at home, while the others spoke Setswana, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans, and other languages. Some of the children were from immigrant families.
The test itself is not unique, but measuring numeracy along with other relevant control measures in a school-based intervention is, says Prof Pirjo Aunio. Aunio is from the Department of Education at the University of Helsinki.
She is corresponding author of the study, and one of the lead designers of the original Finnish test and the 15-week 1-hour-a week maths boost programme for Grade 1 learners. The study has been published in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly.
“If we test a Grade 1 child, we may not get a reliable outcome if we only test their numeracy without any other measure at the same time. We also need to assess their listening comprehension (to see if they understand the language in its spoken form) and their executive function skills and record whether they had been to school in Grade R. Testing children for different competencies helps researchers to get an idea of what learning support they may have already had, and what they may need” says Aunio.
“The most important result in our study was that the children who had extra practice in early numeracy skills with the 15-week intervention programme, had a bigger and sustained increase in their numerical relational skills. This was much better than for children who followed the usual instruction,” continues Aunio.
“The effect was not a result of better language or executive functions skills, nor Grade R attendance, but because of the intervention programme,” she says.
“The 15-week program’s materials are cheap and easy to use. So, it is potentially very useful on a large scale as well,” says Aunio.
“Many children lose out on mathematics and science by Grade 6 or 7 because their Grade 1 maths foundation was not strong enough. But it doesn’t have to be that way,” says Henning.
“Far more young learners can arrive at Grade 7 with the foundation needed to graduate from high school with good math scores”, she says.