Building teachers boosts numeracy

The article was originally published on About Catholic Schools on 29 June 2018.

St Martha’s Catholic Primary School Strathfield is part of the first cohort of schools to begin the 2020 Vision for Mathematical Expertise and Excellence program – and they’re hoping it will help continue a strong run of success in numeracy.

The school’s excellent 2017 NAPLAN results strongly reflect its prioritisation of professional learning and commitment to individualised teaching and assessment.

Seventy-five per cent of Year 3 students at the school achieved the top two NAPLAN bands in 2017, compared to 43.3% of Year 3 children across the state – and individual students grew their results by as much as 129 points from Year 3 to Year 6.

“For the last three years that’s been our target,” said Maths Co-ordinator Josephine Antoniadis, “to shift the lower bands to the middle and the middle bands into the top bands, and those top bands beyond.”

She and other school leaders emphasised that the results don’t reflect a pre-occupation with the NAPLAN test, but a 2015 commitment to building teacher capacity.

It makes such a difference to have someone who can work with teachers

– Judith Gastin

Ms Antoniadis and Literacy and Numeracy Coach Caroline Boulis have worked closely with individual teachers to observe lessons, model specific practices and provide specific feedback to teachers.

Their aim is to ensure staff understand modern mechanisms like launch tasks, where an open-ended problem is presented as a way for students to explore mathematical concepts and for teachers to gauge their current understanding on a topic.

“It makes such a difference to have someone like that who can work with teachers,” said Principal Judith Gastin.

Staff have also focused on individualising learning for every student, assessing each child’s knowledge using clinical interviews. These involve working one-on-one to gauge student’s knowledge of seven aspects of numeracy spanning all the way from counting to measurement and fractions.

“It’s not assisted – you provide the material, and you watch and record,” said Ms Antoniadis.

“It can be time consuming, but it is very beneficial – you learn so much.”

The interviews place each student in one of three categories – emergent, perceptual and facile – for seven different skills.

“If you’ve got a big group at emergent, you know that content hasn’t been explicitly taught yet – and that’s ok, that’s your starting point for those children,” Ms Antoniadis continued.

“If you’ve got children sitting at a facile level, you’ve then got to say ‘how can I extend these children so there’s growth there?’”

St Martha’s students on how to get better at Maths

“If you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask – that’s what teachers are for, to help you!”

– Tanisha Narayan, Year 4

“Just keep on trying, eventually you’ll get there”

– Daniel Byimira, Year 6

“Learn all your times tables up to 12 – you’ll be a master of multiplication!”

– Stefan Kotulski, Year 4

“Maths takes a lot of effort – but if you always work hard, you’ll always get where you want to be”

– Alicia Hutapea, Year 6

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