All young children are capable learners

Students that are most at risk are from disadvantaged backgrounds. In addition an understanding of mathematics at an early age impacts on later mathematical achievement (Aubrey, Dahl & Godfrey, 2006). Thus it is crucial to build strong foundations for mathematical understanding in early childhood settings catering for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Young children enter early childhood settings with substantive intuitive knowledge about mathematics and this can serve as a base for developing formal mathematical thinking (Carpenter, Franke & Levi, 2003). In addition all young children are capable of engaging with challenging mathematical concepts (e.g., Balfanz, Ginsburg & Greenes, 2003). These strong foundations are thus an imperative for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Research consistently indicates that disadvantaged students’, especially Indigenous students’ learning outcomes, are assisted by general strategies such as:

▪    providing gradual learning progression, with practice to ensure students develop confidence and ability
▪    exposing students to a range of experiences and representations
▪    using various kinds of group work
▪    integrating experiences involving listening, reading, writing, recording, and speaking about concepts to enhance      transference of skills
▪    teaching directly or explicitly, using modelling and providing clear explanations of experiences
▪    using engaging hands-on materials and providing clear expectations
▪    using a variety of representations simultaneously (Cooper, Baturo, Warren, & Grant, 2006; Frigo & Simpson, 2001;      Warren & deVries, 2009).

The RoleM pilot study results evidenced that young Indigenous students (average age 4 years and 11 months) were capable of engaging with ‘big’ mathematical concepts (Warren & DeVries, 2009).

Teachers make a difference

While we recognise that many outside school factors contribute to these disadvantaged students being unsuccessful, quality learning is strongly associated with quality teaching (Hattie, 2009; Smart, Sanson, Baxter, Edwards, & Hayes, 2008). Teachers in disadvantaged contexts, who are often inexperienced in both teaching and working in these contexts, encounter many extraneous difficulties that impact on their teaching. Studies have shown that very few feel prepared academically, culturally or professionally by their pre-service education to effectively teach disadvantaged students (Lyons et. al., 2006; MCEECDYA, 2011; Mills & Gale, 2003; White & Reid, 2008). Due to high staff turnover, there is often a paucity of experienced teachers to act as mentors. With fewer experienced teachers to mentor beginning teachers, the professional journeys of those starting out can be fraught with obstacles.

Providing support for the development of high quality teachers (expert teachers) is the most important agenda schools can adopt to raise student achievement (Hattie, 2009; Smith & Gillespie, 2007; Timperely, 2008; Villegas-Reimers, 2003; Webster-Wright, 2009). Characteristics of expert teachers are not necessarily related to experience or to their own subject matter knowledge. Expert teachers are more focused on solving the learning problems exhibited by individual students in their classroom, and can anticipate, plan and improvise as required by the situation (Askew, 2008). Their primary attention is on student learning in terms of the affective domain and the quality of their achievement (Hattie, 2003). They know what to teach, and how to structure and organise this in the context of their particular students and circumstances.

Publications by Professor Elizabeth Warren

View a list of  publications by RoleM Project Director Professor Elizabeth Warren.

* PDF files will be linked to the document shortly. For now, the articles can be found by Google search.

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