Recognising, communicating and building on: Exploring strengths in mathematics in Kindergarten.

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Recognising, communicating and building on what children know and can do when they start school might sound like an obvious place to start planning for mathematics learning, but is that what really happens? This study implemented an intervention within an exploratory ethnographic embedded case study design to investigate practices in recognising, communicating, and building on strengths in mathematics within an Australian Kindergarten context. Two different Kindergarten classes from the same school were studied. The intervention was a targeted professional development program focused on the Strengths Approach (McCashen, 2017) and its application in mathematics education practices. Strengths-based practices are being more widely adopted in human service fields, including education and health care (McCashen, 2017; Pulla, 2017). In Australia, key national education documents including the national curriculum framework for early childhood, Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (Department of Education and Training, 2019), and the recent Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration (Education Council, 2019), advocate the recognition of children’s strengths as a starting point for learning and teaching. But, research has shown that the move away from a deficit frame can be difficult in mathematics (Jilk, 2016; Jilk & Erickson, 2017; Louie, 2018). Although there has been a recent push in theoretical and practical applications of strengths-based approaches in mathematics education (Adiredja & Louie, 2020), there is a distinct gap in the research within the Australian context. Hence, the aim of this study was to explore the efficacy of a strengths-based education intervention in mathematics within the Australian context. To achieve this aim, the following research question guided this study: How and to what extent can applying a Strengths Approach intervention influence what and how mathematics strengths and capacities are recognised, communicated, and built upon in a Kindergarten class setting? The researcher adopted a strengths-based approach towards all aspects of the research methodology. Data gathering approaches employed included conversational interviews, document collection, observations, researcher reflections, and an electronic exit questionnaire. Data from each class were analysed separately before being combined. An inductive thematic approach was used initially, before vignettes were created to tell the story of significant moments within the study. Findings demonstrated that the intervention resulted in positive outcomes for multiple stakeholders. Children were recognised as mathematicians¬¬¬—capable learners and doers of mathematics. They also communicated strengths and capacities in mathematics beyond Kindergarten syllabus expectations. The teacher participants demonstrated changes in teaching and learning practices that focused on recognising, communicating and building on children’s strengths in mathematics, rather than focusing on deficits or gaps in knowledge and skills. The researcher developed her understanding of the positive potential of a strength-based intervention in an Australian mathematics education context. These findings are significant as they demonstrate the efficacy of the application of a Strengths Approach intervention in mathematics education within the Australian context. The Dynamic Model for the Adoption of the Strengths Approach in Mathematics Education is presented as an enhanced framework for practice for stakeholders wanting to apply a strengths-based approach in their own context.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Fenton, Angela, Principal Supervisor
  • MacDonald, Amy, Co-Supervisor
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2024


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