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Number sense : the underpinning understanding for early quantitative literacy

MacLellan, Effie (2012) Number sense : the underpinning understanding for early quantitative literacy. Numeracy, 5 (2).

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Abstract

The fundamental meaning of Quantitative Literacy (QL) as the application of quantitative knowledge or reasoning in new/unfamiliar contexts is problematic because how we acquire knowledge, and transfer it to new situations, is not straightforward. This article argues that in the early development of QL, there is a specific corpus of numerical knowledge which learners need to integrate into their thinking, and to which teachers should attend. The paper is a rebuttal to historically prevalent (and simplistic) views that the terrain of early numerical understanding is little more than simple counting devoid of cognitive complexity. Rather, the knowledge upon which early QL develops comprises interdependent dimensions: Number Knowledge, Counting Skills and Principles, Nonverbal Calculation, Number Combinations and Story Problems - summarised as Number Sense. In order to derive the findings for this manuscript, a realist synthesis of recent Education and Psychology literature was conducted. The findings are of use not only when teaching very young children, but also when teaching learners who are experiencing learning difficulties through the absence of prerequisite numerical knowledge. As well distilling fundamental quantitative knowledge for teachers to integrate into practice, the review emphasises that improved pedagogy is less a function of literal applications of reported interventions, on the grounds of perceived efficacy elsewhere, but based in refinements of teachers' understandings. Because teachers need to adapt instructional sequences to the actual thinking and learning of learners in their charge, they need knowledge that allows them to develop their own theoretical understanding rather than didactic exhortations.