Norma Evans of Evans and Associates, Mary Sugrue of EDC and Yasmin Sitabkhan of RTI are co-authors of the new report and contributed to this blog.
Over the last decade, the international community has funded over 43 programs around the world to improve learning outcomes. The bulk of those programs have focused on early grade reading. Only a fraction has included an emphasis on early grade mathematics.
As the global community begins to broaden its support to focus on improving learning outcomes in both reading and mathematics, program developers are questioning how to best distribute available funding across these two important subject areas to optimize learning results.
This blog shares insights from a paper recently produced for USAID - Towards the Design and Implementation of Comprehensive Primary Grade Literacy and Numeracy Programs. The paper describes the foundational skills young children need to develop in each subject area to be successful at higher grades – those that are subject-specific as well as those common to both subject areas.
Helping teachers understand both the specificities of effective mathematics and reading teaching, as well as the commonalities of effective instruction in both subject areas, is an important aspect of comprehensive reading and mathematics programs, particularly if the same teachers are responsible for teaching both subjects.
Some of the recommendations with respect to the design and delivery of programs that have a dual focus on mathematics and reading, extrapolated from the lessons learned from a decade of research into effective early grade reading interventions in low and middle-income countries, include the following:
- Train teachers on both effective mathematics and reading instruction in the early grades, as well as the connections between the two. Interventions should be explicit about the ways the two content areas are the same and different, and efforts should be made to connect the two areas.
- Provide teachers with a scope and sequence for each subject that acknowledges and respects the progression in developmental learning. This means identifying the key skills children need to develop at each grade level and sequencing them appropriately.
- Provide teachers with instructional materials aligned with the scope and sequence, and that model the specificities and commonalities of effective instruction in the two disciplines.
- Allocate sufficient time for instruction in each subject area. Reading and mathematics should not be taught in the same time block. Rather, there should be a dedicated time of the day for reading instruction, and a separate time of the day for mathematics instruction. The amount of time allocated to each subject area should be sufficient to ensure improved learning outcomes, provided that effective instructional practices and materials are used.
An example from Kenya: “Extending conversations”
The Tayari Program used an integrated approach to improve instructional practices of teachers responsible for teaching both mathematics and reading. This involved focusing on a core set of instructional strategies that apply equally to both subjects.
One such example was “Extending conversations”. Teachers were trained to extend conversations in reading and mathematics by asking simple follow-up questions designed to promote higher-level thinking in each subject area (e.g for mathematics: “How did you get that answer?”).
Focusing on effective instructional strategies common to both subjects helped teachers understand the similarities between effective teaching in both subjects, while at the same time honoring the instructional specificities of each subject.
Need for more research
Although there is a considerable evidence-base for effective early grade reading programs in low and middle-income countries, the same evidence-based does not exist for mathematics, or for joint reading and mathematics-focused programs.
The paper Towards the Design and Implementation of Comprehensive Primary Grade Literacy and Numeracy Programs includes an initial research agenda to inform the way forward.
Until a solid evidence-base exists, programs focused on mathematics or that have a joint mathematics/reading should pilot interventions before moving to scale.