Sarah Williams is a teacher and mathematics and numeracy co-ordinator at a 200-pupil primary school in Cardiff. Her project involved an intervention and analysis of the impact of literacy difficulties on reasoning progress. The intervention was designed for a specific group of pupils in her Year 3 classroom where numerical ability is as expected but literacy ability is lower than expected. This work is based on three years of teaching during which she experienced a similar situation to that of this research.
An intervention with a visual prompt was provided where the pupils were encouraged to follow a series of manageable steps as they worked systematically through reasoning problems (Williams, 2016pp; Star & Rittle-Johnson, 2008). The development of mathematical language and discussion is emphasised, which led to a period of celebrating the use of various problem-solving methods thereby improving the pupils’ confidence when tackling reasoning problems (Harlen and Holroyd, 1997).
In order to measure the impact of this research, qualitative data such as focus group transcripts, examples of work which raised interesting issues, and field notes taken during the process were used. (Gibbs, 2008; Bryman & Burgess, 2002). Reference was made to quantitative data suggesting potential future trends should the research be extended throughout the school (Neuman, 2002).
It is demonstrated that time is needed to introduce the language patterns and for oral in reasoning lessons before expecting to record successfully on paper (Alexander, 2004; Askew et al., 1997). Mathematical language is seen to be a different language to both English and Welsh, causing problems for some pupils who experience literacy difficulties (Baber, 2011). A transformation towards more independent learners was seen as a result of the intervention, raising confidence and providing the pupils with structured steps.
Pupils were seen to have a starting point for reasoning tasks and were motivated by the tasks (Williams, 2016). All pupils of all abilities were keen to work through each step of the process before celebrating after reaching the last step.
With the major focus on reasoning in Wales today, it is essential that we provide strategies for pupils with lower literacy ability in order to ensure that this does not impact on progress in number nor enjoyment and confidence (Lyle, 2008; Jones & Martin-Jones, 2004).
To summarise Williams’ research findings, pupils need tools which ensure that they have access to reasoning lessons and give them the best opportunity to succeed despite their literacy difficulties.