Tuesday , October 24 2017

Stopping the literacy and numeracy free-fall

The preliminary results of the 2016 NAPLAN tests show that 36.4 percent of all Australian children in year five are at-risk (band four) or below the national minimum standard in reading. By year nine (band seven), this has increased to a staggering 50.8 percent.

In numeracy, 41.7 percent of children in year five are at-risk level or below, and in year nine the number at-risk or below is 48.9 percent. Although the year nine results have shown a slight improvement since 2015, the year five results have experienced a significant drop.

The Australian curriculum lists literacy and numeracy as two of the seven general capabilities. Literacy isn’t just about reading and writing; it is about understanding what is read, questioning the content and willingness to access information from various sources. When a student struggles with decoding words and sounding out letters, it is impossible for them to find the deeper meaning of a text. This impacts their learning in every subject and in some cases it can also have a negative effect on engagement, confidence and behaviour. Limited literacy skills affect students’ abilities to evaluate and analyse information, and can also restrict their ability to form their own opinions.

Academic intervention programs are specifically targeted towards a student’s area of weakness. The QuickSmart Numeracy and Literacy programs, which were developed by professors John Pegg and Lorraine Graham at the University of New England, are fourth phase intervention programs targeted at middle-school students with difficulties in numeracy and/or literacy.

“A child who reads will be an adult who thinks”.

QuickSmart Literacy aims to develop students’ automaticity in word recognition and fluency in reading connected texts. Improved literacy skills often transfer across the curriculum, resulting in more engaged and confident learners. Ability to comprehend written text and analyse the content produces critical thinkers and innovators in the future.

“Mathematics is not just about numbers, equations, computations or algorithms; it is about understanding”.

It is nearly impossible for a student who does not have basic numeracy skills to move on to more complex mathematical problems. Fractions and percentages seem a step too far without mastering the automatic recall of times tables.

Developing automaticity in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, finding number patterns and understanding problem-solving questions are the key components of QuickSmart Numeracy.

QuickSmart Numeracy focuses on developing the students’ conceptual understanding and basic number skills. The sessions aim to develop automaticity in the four basic functions in order to free up working memory so that higher order mathematical problems can be tackled. Understanding number patterns (like 5+7 being the same as 7+5) is an important part of the process.

One of the more challenging problems for intervention programs to tackle is moving students from the lower stanines (one and two) to the higher stanines. QuickSmart achieves this consistently in its numeracy and literacy programs.

QuickSmart students actually registered an average effect size* of 0.595 in vocabulary, 0.642 in comprehension and 0.731 in numeracy in 2014 (using standardized ACER PAT testing). Indigenous students’ effects sizes are often even higher. Comparison students’ data show less significant effect sizes, meaning that QuickSmart students are catching up with the average-performing students in their class.

SNAU1-TCHG RES-LiteracyNumeracy-1

So how does QuickSmart work?

Students work in pairs outside the classroom environment with one instructor for 30 minutes three times a week. The lessons are short, focused and structured, and deliberate practice and explicit teaching play a key role in the lessons. Every lesson consists of six five-minute components. This ensures that the children don’t become overwhelmed with one particular type of activity, and they are less likely to be bored or disengaged.

Providing the instructors with comprehensive training and ready-to-use resources ensures program success. For the more seasoned tutor, there are opportunities for creativity within the boundaries of the program framework. During the first year of instructing, the tutors are taught how to deliver each part of the lesson effectively, and with confidence and enthusiasm. Instructors work to develop students’ automaticity in number facts or words, which gives them the chance to move onto higher order tasks.

Not only does QuickSmart give students the literacy and numeracy skills to take with them to adulthood, it also gives them the confidence to have a go.

Remarkable! From a little girl who verbalised she was ‘dumb’ and completed homework for maths amidst tears; to a confident, have-a-go child who now knows she is a good, able and successful learner!”

*effect sizes within range of 0.6 and 0.8 are considered very strong.

To find out more, visit: quicksmart.une.edu.au

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