Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

Closing the Gap: Myths and Truths Behind Subitisation

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

Closing the Gap: Myths and Truths Behind Subitisation

Article excerpt

WHILE MUCH HAS BEEN written about Indigenous students' literacy learning (e.g. Gray, 2007; Luke, 2003; Nakata, 2003), there is a paucity of literature on numeracy, especially that couched within a positive framework, indicating how we can assist young Australian Indigenous students' numeracy engagement. In addition, there have been few published studies on the impact of early childhood education on Indigenous students (Prochner, 2004). Our longitudinal research project draws from and adapts relevant mainstream research about young students' numeracy learning and endeavours to situate these findings in local settings where Indigenous cultural practices are recognised and respected.

Throughout the past five years there has been a surge in attention concerning early childhood settings and mathematics learning. The literature provides several reasons for this. In brief, these are:

(a) a recognition that students enter school with a great deal of intuitive knowledge about mathematics and that this knowledge can serve as a base for developing formal mathematics in a school setting (Carpenter, 1996)

(b) there is a relationship between early mathematical knowledge and later achievement (Aubrey, Dahl & Godfrey, 2006)

(c) the main determinant of later achievement is quality early mathematical experiences (Young-Loveridge, Peters & Carr, 1997)

(d) students do not need to be made 'ready to learn' (Balfanz, Ginsburg & Greenes, 2003)

(e) young students are capable of engaging in mathematically-challenging concepts (Greenes, Ginsburg & Balfanz, 2004).

In addition, the type of mathematical knowledge they enter school with reflects the types of experiences that have occurred in their home environments.

Western mathematics is the dominant form of mathematics most people learn in contemporary schools. Until 15 years ago it was assumed that this mathematics was culture-free knowledge (Bishop, 1990). As Bishop says, many argued that two plus two equals four is a universal truth and an idea that is culture-free. Seminal literature has challenged this notion, suggesting such mathematics is imbued with values such as rationalism, objectivism, and power and control (Bishop, 1990; Weiglass, 2002). Western mathematics is not the only mathematics that exists in society. For example, with regard to number, engagement begins by counting (commonly finger counting) and recording numbers using a universal symbol system. Some cultures relate counting to other body parts (e.g. Papua New Guinea) and record numbers in different ways, such as knots on ropes (e.g. Mozambique). While Western mathematics is not the only mathematical system, it is important for Indigenous students to participate in this system for two reasons. First, it is an empowering process acting as a tool to identify power differences among socioeconomic classes (Gustein, 2003), and second, being innumerate can be profoundly disabling in every sphere of life, including home, work and professional pursuits (Orrill, 2001). It is also important to recognise that Indigenous students enter the classrooms with intuitive knowledge about mathematics, and that this knowledge may be different from the knowledge with which non-Indigenous students begin their schooling.

Theoretical framework

A predominant focus of mathematics in early years' contexts is the development of an understanding of number. The literature identifies two theories of number development (e.g. Gelman & Gallistel, 1978). The first of these stresses the role of counting. This theory is grounded on the idea of preconsciousness of counting principles. In this theory, young students' focus on an item in the pre-verbal stage is upon gauging its magnitude; that is, how many objects there are. Thus the acquisition of the first few number words is achieved by mapping the word onto the magnitudes they have already registered before they can talk. …

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