A good learning and assessment programme for basic numeracy does more than just identify learning aims and measure their attainment. It has to be structured to actively facilitate learning. This requires each level to be carefully calibrated with previous levels so that by following the programme with appropriate guidance a cohesive body of knowledge is assembled almost automatically by the learner.
Effort on the part of the learner is still required, and the skilled delivery of a good teacher remains indispensable. These are obvious truths, but the third equally necessary ingredient of an effective learning programme may be invisible to those not directly involved in education. It is good assessment design, which provides the opportunity for teachers to do their best work. Conversely, any programme of assessment that is inexpertly designed, or ill-suited to its intended cohort, will necessarily impede good teaching and learning. This point is acutely pertinent to learners with special education needs (SEN), because they very often have difficulty in fitting the items of their learning together into a functioning ‘big picture’ (this difficulty is especially likely to disadvantage the many SEN learners who have autism spectrum conditions*). SEN learners comprise a major group within the Entry Level adult numeracy cohort for whom Maths ID has been designed.
At the time of writing, the UK’s educational authorities do not require specially designed qualifications to be made available for this sector, and few (if any) such programmes have been published by the awarding bodies. Based on many years’ experience of having to deliver non-specialised courses to SEN learners, I am convinced that the stark numeracy deficit among that group would be very much reduced if only expertly designed funded learning programmes were made available for them. We as teachers have the skill to make it happen, but we must also be given the right platform from which to work.
The Maths ID essential adult numeracy programme has been created as an exemplar of the kind of qualification we need, and addresses the Entry Levels of the adult numeracy curriculum. It improves upon existing qualifications for that curriculum by the following means:
Many finely graded stages provide a manageable learning curve. This reflects the way that Entry Level adult learners take small but very significant steps, which are automatically evidenced by following the programme. Each curriculum level is broken down into ten stages per topic area.
Maths ID Essential Numeracy features three topic areas only: number, money and time. These are the areas of numeracy needed in everyone’s life, and which no one should leave education without. In my opinion to teach extra numeracy topics to any post-16 learner who cannot yet tell the time or handle money is an inexcusable waste of learning time. Of course other numeracy topics are useful for employment and independent living, but the essentials must be learnt thoroughly first.
By the online use of interactive practice questions, every member of the class can be working on the precise topic they need at exactly the right level of difficulty. This automatically creates time for the teacher to give intensive support to those who most need it at any given time, as others work more independently. This is the 'Individuated Delivery' model.
The stages of the programme have been designed meticulously to build upon one another, so that the end result is a cohesive body of knowledge, and not merely a series of isolated ideas.
All common learning gaps will be identified by working through the stages, and the programme is designed to be delivered cyclically, meaning that basic ideas are continually revisited and strengthened, while the boundaries of understanding are expended with each cycle.
The need for extra support, and the area in which it is needed, is highlighted by the results of short tests administered for each stage. These tests prepare the learner for a summative assessment at the end of the programme.
The summative assessment is graded A - E at each Entry Level. This grading allows learning providers to demonstrate progress year on year, without learners necessarily having to make the huge leap from any Entry Level to the next. The progress made by Entry Level learners is likely to be gradual, and so finely graded assessments are needed to record it. Most currently available formal assessments at these levels are not graded, but are simply structured pass/fail. This inevitably results in teachers 'teaching to the test' as they are pressured to maintain pass rates, and students' true learning needs become obscured.
This website has been made available for free to help numeracy teachers like myself to deliver effective and properly differentiated learning, despite the restrictions currently placed upon us by inadequate formal assessments, and as a starting point from which we can begin to demand better designed qualifications for Entry Level learners in the future. If these issues affect you personally or professionally, please get in touch and be part of the campaign.
- Ian Lockett, lead developer of Maths ID
*The ‘weak central coherence’ hypothesis (See Frith, 1989) is the model of autism that has most informed my approach to teaching basic numeracy to autistic learners. It describes a preference for details over wholes and a tendency not to be able to ‘see the wood for the trees’. Autistic students may not instinctively build cohesion into their learning, and so it is vital that inherent structural cohesion is imposed by the design of a learning programme.
Individuated Delivery (ID)