SLI and Numeracy: The challenges faced by students

Difficulties faced by individuals within the area of literacy; reading, comprehension, writing and spelling, are well recognised by teachers and in most cases are prioritised for intervention. Numeracy is often perceived as a strength for students with SLI and as such it receives less attention. Specific skills such as small number labelling or using a procedure to solve written equations may be learnt at an age appropriate level, however, as language involvement increases and concepts shift from the concrete to the abstract often individuals with SLI will be less successful than their same age peers in all areas of numeracy (Cowan & Donlan, 2005).

It is not difficult to see why an individual with SLI will require additional support to reach their potential within numeracy. Put aside the curriculum content and look into the expectations for communicating and thinking mathematically that are as vital part as any when considering one becoming ‘competent’ within the learning area of mathematics, 2014).

Within the proficiency strands ACARA outlines statements for understanding, fluency, problem solving and reasoning. Of these areas much time is required to consolidate understanding and fluency of core mathematical strands, however, the skills included within problem solving; ‘ability to make choices, interpret, formulate, model and investigate problem situations, and communicate effectively’, and reasoning; ‘analysing, proving, evaluating, explaining, inferring, justifying, generalising and comparing and contrasting ’ are in my observations often not included within individual units of work (ACARA)

Curriculum coverage was considered as one of the potential key factors for differing results achieved by primary aged individuals within a study published in 2005. Although logically it seems there would be a link between the amount of learning content delivered and the ability to be more successful across a range of numeracy skills, in this study “there was no relation between curriculum coverage and maths skills in the SLI group.” (Cowan & Donlan, 2005). What was identified as contributing factors towards numeracy success was working memory and counting skills (Cowan & Donlan, 2005).

In a later study published in 2011 other factors were explored to explain the difficulties encountered by pre-school aged children. These included precursor skills for numeracy including naming speed (automaticity),phonologicalawarenessand grammar. Of these and other skills assessed the study did uncover that “children with SLI perform worse on verbal early numeracy tasks, but do not differ on nonverbal tasks”(Kleemans, 2011) It also highlighted that “there seems to be a crucial role of naming speed in predicting verbal early numeracy skills in children with SLI” (Kleemans, 2011)

There is no disputing that an individual with SLI will encounter challenges and will require additional support for mathematics throughout schooling. This support does not only need to be in the form of individualised intervention and strategies for identified needs. Due to the complex needs faced by individuals with SLI adjustments must also be made at the classroom and assessment level to ensure they are provided with an equal academic playing field.

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