Numeracy in the Early Childhood Classroom

She's way to clever for her age

contributors: Kemmone Hall, Camille Graham & Janielle Erskine

The discussion surrounding numeracy has heightened over the years as students, both at the primary and secondary levels, struggle to grasp the concepts of Mathematics, as evidenced by results in national examinations.  In 2016, “57 per cent of the grade six candidates gained mastery of Mathematics in the Grade Six Achievement Test and only 44 per cent of those candidates passed the CSEC Mathematics, falling from 62 per cent in the previous year” (Buddo, 2017).

The task at the early childhood level, among many other things, is to prepare the early childhood age cohort with the guiding principles of numeracy. “Improvements will only be reflected at the higher levels of education when children receive quality education at the basic level” (Rev. Ronal Thwaites qtd. in Angus, 2016).  Concerning numeracy in particular, several researchers have found evidence to support the notion that the quality of mathematical experiences in the early years is a chief contributor to subsequent individual achievement – academic and otherwise (Doig, McCrae & Rowe, 2003; Perry, 2000).

To further investigate the issue of numeracy at the early childhood level in Jamaica, Karian Cameron-Hamilton (2012), Early Childhood Development Supervisor at the Early Childhood Commission, conducted a study within select early childhood institutions (ECIs) to gain insight into: 1) usage of the Jamaica Early Childhood Curriculum Guide (2010) by early childhood teachers and practitioners (ECTPs) of five year olds; 2) instructional methods and theories being applied by ECTPs in teaching numeracy; and 3) whether ECTPs’ views of numeracy influence their teaching methods.  Observations and interviews were conducted with 3 participants at 3 ECIs. Participants included a trained teacher, a pre-trained teacher and a teacher-in-training.

Curriculum GuideFirstly, while ECTPs were indeed utilising the Jamaica Early Childhood Curriculum as a guide to teach numeracy, they articulated a desire to see more content and learning activity items that relate to numeracy.  They expressed concern about other ECTPs who had either a negative perception of numeracy, a limited understanding of the five strands of mathematical proficiency, or deficient instructional skill who tend to shy away from teaching numeracy. The additional content and learning activities would reduce the level of responsibility on such ECTPs to identify opportunities to teach numeracy.

Secondly, while Piaget’s theory of development was recognised as the influencing theory in the development of the curriculum, ECTPs conveyed that they had a limited understanding of the theory itself.  Consequently, instructional methods used depended on the ECTPs’ understanding of numeracy within the curriculum guide, the method the teacher considered effective (or preferred using), and the concept being taught, more so than theoretical underpinnings. Understandably then, teaching methods varied among the 3 ECTPs observed, even when teaching the same theme (e.g. ‘The Weather’). Of course, it is not expected that ECTPs’ instructional methods be identical. However, the observed influence of individual characteristics on teaching method does raise concerns regarding the quality of children’s early numeracy experiences in ECIs.

counting 5Finally, all 3 ECTPs indicated that they enjoyed teaching numeracy. This, the researcher identified as contributing to the effort expended by ECTPs in finding opportunities to teach numeracy and in building on the curriculum guide’s limited learning activity content. Cameron-Hamilton pointed out that this raises the question of what happens within classrooms with ECTPs who do not enjoy teaching numeracy and who choose to not “search for it” in the curriculum. This affinity for numeracy coupled with the influence of individual propensities point to the need for a more structured approach to improving the quality of instruction, which must go beyond simply ensuring ECTPs have access to the curriculum guide.

The findings of this study highlight the importance of on-going in-service training as a means of supporting ECTPs in their understanding of the concepts of numeracy and the application of effective instructional methods.  As the monitoring and regulatory body for ECIs in Jamaica, in-service training is provided by the Early Childhood Commission to ECTPs through collaborative efforts that involve key training institutions. With Staffing (Standard 1) as the operational standard with the highest percentage of ECIs needing improvement (ECC, 2017), there must be greater commitment to investing in the training of our ECTPs.

“[I]f all students are numerate as well as literate, then they are better able to do well and progress through the education system” (Hon. Ruel Reid qtd. in Jamaica Observer, 2016).  The future starts today, and it is at the early childhood level that this foundation is built.

 

– To learn more about this study, email the researcher, Karian Cameron-Hamilton, at klchamilton@gmail.com

 

References

Angus, G.L. (2016). Education minister highlights increase in numeracy rate. Jamaica Information Service. Retrieved from http://jis.gov.jm/education-minister-highlights-increase-in-numeracy-rate/

Buddo, C. (2017, February 20). Mathematics education: A case for problem-solving. Jamaica Observer. Retrieved from http://m.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Mathematics-education–A-case-for-problem-solving_90150

Cameron-Hamilton, K. (2012). An exploration of selected practitioners’ views and instructional methods used to teach numeracy using the five year old early childhood curriculum. (Unpublished master’s dissertation). University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.

Doig, B., McCrae, B. & Rowe, K. (2003). A good start to numeracy: Effective numeracy strategies from research and practice in early childhood. Canberra: Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training.

Early Childhood Commission (2017). The performance of ECIs on the 12 standards [PowerPoint slides].

Jamaica Observer (2016, August 28). Primary schools must focus on literacy, numeracy. Retrieved from http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Primary-schools-must-focus-on-literacy–numeracy_72109

Maye-Hemmings, C. & Wint, M. (Eds.). (2010). The Jamaica early childhood curriculum guide: Four and five getting ready for life. Kingston: The Dudley Grant Memorial Trust.

Perry, B. (2000). Early childhood numeracy. Canberra: Commonwealth Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Retrieved from www.aamt.edu.au/content/download/1252/25269/file/perry.pdf