Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Achieving outstanding numeracy outcomes

Searching for effective teaching practices to improve numeracy outcomes is a key factor in our current work in Victoria as Teaching and Learning Coaches. The report What’s ‘making the difference’?: achieving outstanding numeracy outcomes in NSW primary schools aimed to establish what educational practices make the difference in enabling primary school students to achieve outstanding numeracy learning outcomes and to explore to what extent and how such educational practices could be successfully transferred to other schools.

This project, undertaken between January 2001 and February 2004, set out to investigate which numeracy practices in NSW schools were achieving outstanding numeracy results. Effective numeracy practices were identified at 45 case study schools. Those practices were then trialled in other schools that wished to improve their numeracy outcomes. The trialling was supported by extensive professional development for teachers. Successful numeracy practices included:

The use of hand-on materials to support the understanding and development of numeracy concepts

Small group work to encourage discussion and exploration of ideas

Use of open-ended questions by both teachers and learners to establish, consolidate, extend, reinforce and reflect on concepts, skills and applications

Discussion during lessons to enable students to engage with and understand new and established mathematical concepts

Catering for individual needs of students through consistent and varied assessment, differentiated teaching and learning, and opportunities for interaction with the teacher or peers

Collaboration in planning between teachers which provided opportunities for innovative teaching and

Whole-school commitment to numeracy with all teachers implementing policies and programs consistently in all classrooms.

Schools trialling the successful numeracy practices found that a Key Group, usually supported by the school principal, was crucial in driving the project and in supporting continuing change at the school level. Continuity of teaching styles appeared to sustain and improve numeracy achievement. Schools which demonstrated greater than expected growth in numeracy achievement over the life of the project focused on either the language of mathematics or the use of practical resources to support concept development in numeracy. An important outcome of the project was the finding that quality professional development of teachers that improves their specific knowledge of numeracy teaching and their ability to direct and embrace change leads to measurable improvements in the numeracy outcomes of students.

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