Five secrets to improve the Maths performance of Foundation Phase learners

First, The journey of Maths teachers of three schools on the Cape Flats
Aarnout Brombacher and the teachers reflecting on the term

Three of our primary schools - Harmony Primary, Steenberg Primary and Prince George Primary - are in a sponsored Maths coaching programme with Brombacher and Associates. The focus is on Foundation Maths teaching. Learners are being taught number sense by learning to count, manipulate, problem-solve and practise. These schools meet once a term with Brombacher to reflect on the successes and challenges they are experiencing.

Today was one of those reflection meetings. The teachers are excited because they are having more fun teaching and their learners are learning better and faster. The teachers were lyrical about the coaches linked to them. Muriel from Harmony Primary School raved about the phenomenal strides many of her learners have made in the past six months and expressed the ambivalence she experienced.

" Many of my children have improved their performance, some far more than others. There are even children who were hopeless at Maths in the first term, whose results have improved so dramatically, that I was suspicious. In my mind, these children had to fail. I was worried what they (district officials) were going to say as well. How was I going to explain the high marks of these children who jumped from a code 1 to say, a code 4?"

All of us laughed at the way Muriel was describing the transformation in her class. Many of the teachers nodded their heads and confirmed they had a similar phenomenon in their classes. While Aarnout Brombacher was trying to explain how humbled they were to hear these good stories, Colleen, my colleague and the curriculum adviser for Foundation phase, received a longish note from one of the teachers. In essence, the note explained that the reason for the sudden high codes for Maths was exactly as Muriel described. I suspect Colleen must have questioned the high Maths during her recent visit to the respective school. I was tickled by this sideshow and watched how Colleen scribbled her reply.

It is clear that this model of professional development used by Brombacher is achieving its key objectives: raising teachers' capacity to teach Maths in an interactive, non-threatening, classroom-based context whilst simultaneously enabling the children to learn Maths meaningfully and effectively. As Aarnout Brombacher said: It is difficult to reach children. If we reach teachers and get teachers excited, enthusiastic and as passionate as you are today, the teachers will each reach large groups of children who will benefit."

Teachers reflecting during the session.

Now, the FIVE Secrets to transform your Maths class.

Here are five useful lessons that you can apply in your Maths class to enjoy the same experience as the three schools:

1.      Poor arithmetic foundation, lifelong struggle with Maths.

Children struggle with Maths because they have not mastered arithmetic. Practise Mental Maths meaningfully. Ask yourself: what is the objective of the mental Maths activity? What are you reinforcing?

2.       Small group teaching is the most effective classroom organisation model.

Small group teaching is imperative because all classes are multi grade classes. In this way you will reach all children. Learners should be divided according to their developmental states for optimal learning. They then need a short input at their level and then they have to be given multiple opportunities to practise. Practise is fundamental because "Maths is not a spectator sport."

3.        The mechanics of classroom routines are important.

Establish Maths teaching and learning routines in the classroom until they become automatic. When teachers themselves become comfortable with the routines that are established, teachers will spend more time teaching the Maths content. The learners must know the order of the events , example mat work, independent practise and so forth.

4. Know the bonds of numbers by using them a lot.

The basic 20 bonds of numbers must be second nature because the children must use them all the time.. You cannot do Maths without these, says Brombacher.

5. Learning is the work: The secret to maximum learning

Learners must practise, practise, practise. Learning only takes place when children practise. Children must spend most of their time practising independently. This step is often skipped because of the marking load. Yet, this is where the actual learning happens.

My scribbled bond numbers recorded during the session by Brombacher

What would you like to add to make the Maths classroom a space where learners learn deeply?


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