Essential numeracy programme
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A rationale for Maths ID (Individuated Delivery)
A traditional style numeracy qualification simply sets learning targets and assesses whether they have been met. It does nothing in itself to facilitate good learning, which is actively obstructed by poor qualification design. If you have taught students who have high needs for numeracy, you know how this plays out in the classroom. The content being delivered, and its level, are determined by the assessment the students need to pass. At any such level some students will be out of their depth and drained of confidence, while others will be held back. To cover the syllabus, even the best maths teacher has to move on to each new topic before the old one is adequately understood by everyone. And because maths is a ‘building block’ subject (higher level skills are built on fundamental concepts) the whole learning structure collapses for many individuals, for whom maths lessons become a painful and humiliating experience. For learners with Special Education Needs (SEN), the effect is amplified, and they commonly leave education still lacking even the most basic number skills, and unable to tell the time or handle money.
This doesn’t usually happen because of bad teaching. The primary avoidable cause of numeracy failure is inadequate qualification design, which acutely restricts teachers’ options for delivery. We know the learning needs of our students, and we know how to meet them. But if they are to pass their exams, we must direct the majority of our teaching time towards assessment-specific (not needs-specific) skills. Unless an assessment is expertly designed these two things will not coincide.
The Maths ID programme has been created to show how good qualification design can empower teachers to do their best work, and begin to solve the problem of numeracy failure. We suggest that the following features of Maths ID need to be implemented as standard for all numeracy programmes set at the Entry Levels of the national qualifications framework:
Finely graded stages: Traditional Entry Level qualifications have a single assessment point at each level (EL1, EL2 and EL3). Maths ID uses 10 assessment points per Entry Level per topic. As a result the learning curve is always manageable, and the gradual progress that is to be expected from learners at these levels is reflected in their results. Not only do the traditional qualifications fail to demonstrate progress; they also actively impede learning because teachers are incentivised to force learners to the next level too soon. This can only be done by ‘teaching to the test’ and any results obtained this way produce a false impression of progress that masks true learning needs.
Intrinsic structure: The stages of Maths ID are designed meticulously to build upon one another and produce a coherent body of knowledge; not merely isolated items of learning. The programme was first created in response to the needs of autistic maths students who are often capable of mastering specific skills, but may not instinctively integrate those skills into an overall working numeracy. This structure must be provided by the learning programme itself. Furthermore, the Maths ID programme is intended to be run cyclically, so that learners regularly revisit basic concepts and target specific weaknesses.
Essential topics only: Traditional numeracy qualifications force classroom time to be spread thinly across the whole of the numeracy curriculum. This may be fine for some learners, but for those who experience particular difficulty with numeracy learning, we need to prioritise the essentials. These are basic number, money and time. Until these topics are mastered to an acceptable standard, it is a waste of valuable time to do very much work on less important numeracy topics. With limited time available for teaching, learning needs to be narrow and deep, not wide and shallow, for those learners at risk of numeracy failure.
Needs-centred design: To avoid discriminating against learners with specific learning difficulties, we are required to make reasonable adjustments to the way we teach them and assess their learning. Traditionally, this has meant extra time in assessments, modified exam papers, access to readers and scribes, etc. But none of these measures address the core factors that put SEN learners at a disadvantage. Accessibility for learners with autism and dyslexia is built into the design of the whole Maths ID programme, because these conditions are so prevalent among its intended learning cohort. But really, any good qualification (at any level) should be published with a rationale detailing how it is made accessible via its intrinsic design (not merely by auxiliary modifications). Ideally, as in the case of Maths ID, this involves the publication of interactive learning materials that allow learners to work independently towards assessment, and teachers to differentiate their delivery to the point of individuation.
Please use mathsid.com in the way that works best for your students, and join our mailing list to be part of our campaign for better and more inclusive numeracy qualifications.
Ian Lockett, lead developer of Maths ID