Assessing and teaching children who have difficulty learning arithmetic

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Arithmetic difficulties have long captured the attention of teachers and researchers, but intervention programs for assisting children are seldom successful for all. Recent Australian research suggests that this is because we have failed to recognise the complexity of arithmetic difficulties. Analysis of some 30,000 one-on-one clinical interviews conducted over three years during the Early Numeracy Research Project provided rich data for charting the pathway of young children’s number learning in four domains (Counting, Place Value, Addition and Subtraction Strategies, and Multiplication and Division Strategies), and for identifying children who were having difficulty. We describe such children as being vulnerable or at risk of not being able to take advantage of everyday classroom experiences. The data show that the combinations of domains in which children were vulnerable were diverse, and suggest that there is no single ‘formula’ for describing children who are vulnerable in number learning, or for describing the instructional needs of students. Indeed, children have learning needs that call for teachers to make individual decisions about the instructional approach for each child. Further, the diversity of children’s mathematical knowledge in the four domains suggests that knowledge in any one domain is not necessarily prerequisite for knowledge construction in another domain. This finding has implications for both intervention programs and for the way in which school mathematics is introduced to children. It seems likely that children may benefit from concurrent learning opportunities in all number domains, and that experiences in one domain should not be delayed until a level of mathematical knowledge is constructed in another domain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-53
Number of pages14
JournalEducational & Child Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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