Improving mathematics teaching and learning

This guide describes how children can be supported to become confident and capable mathematical learners in the early years.

ERO has found two factors that are critical - pedagogical leadership and teacher knowledge. Effective pedagogical leaders understand how to integrate mathematics into the curriculum to best support children's learning. They support teachers to develop an in-depth and broad understanding of early mathematics, and associated practice, and promote a culture where teachers can reflect on their practice to continually make improvements. Where there is strong pedagogical leadership teachers are more likely to be up to date with current research and good practice about early mathematics. They are able to use this knowledge to be innovative and intentional in their planning and teaching. Such teachers confidently recognise and extend children's understanding of mathematical concepts in a range of contexts.
The curriculum in most early learning settings provides children with a wide range of opportunities to explore mathematical concepts. A balance of child-initiated learning experiences and deliberately planned activities provide a platform for teachers to extend children's developing mathematical understanding.
Children can develop as confident and capable mathematical learners through learning opportunities that reflect the six strands of Te Kakano1 - patterning, measuring, sorting, locating, counting and grouping, and shape. Skilled teachers intentionally plan experiences to extend children's developing mathematical understandings.
This guide includes examples where there are both deliberate and responsive mathematical learning opportunities for children, and where the children have opportunities for learning from across the six mathematics strands. The focus is on:

  • how teachers in the early years continually reflect on and improve what they do
  • the importance of leaders and teachers' understanding of how mathematics is implemented as part of their curriculum
  • their professional knowledge, ongoing learning and deliberate teaching that supports mathematical learning
  • their use of assessment information so that they can confidently notice, recognise, respond to, and extend children's understanding of mathematical concepts.

This guide also outlines aspects of practice for leaders to watch out for or be concerned about when thinking about mathematics within their service's curriculum. In particular, a 'hands off' philosophy, where teachers rely solely on children to take the lead in their own learning, can result in missed teaching and learning opportunities.
This misinterpretation of the notion of a 'child-centred' curriculum fails to appreciate the critical role of the teacher in deliberately extending and scaffolding children's learning. Leaders wanting to provide an in-depth mathematical curriculum should focus on developing teachers' subject and pedagogical knowledge, so that they can confidently engage with mathematics in ways that support and extend children's learning.