EARLY INTERVENTION FOR FIRST-GRADE STUDENTS AT RISK FOR DEVELOPING MATHEMATICAL LEARNING DIFFICULTIES: EXPLORING THE ROLE AND INTER-RELATEDNESS OF COGNITIVE FACTORS, VISUAL PERCEPTUAL AND EARLY NUMERACY SKILLS

L. Eksteen, A. van Staden, A. Tolmie

University of the Free State (SOUTH AFRICA)
Many factors contribute to and predict success in mathematics. In the South African education system, a disturbing number of learners enter formal schooling without the necessary competence in the prerequisite skills, which influence their learning experiences negatively. This disadvantage makes them vulnerable and places them at risk to develop mathematical learning difficulties (MLD). This study examined the effects of a six-month preventive intervention period for at-risk Grade 1 learners. The intervention purposefully targeted the skills identified in the literature as important for mathematics development. It involved both developmental and numerical skills. The results demonstrated that Grade-1 learners in the experimental group (N = 36) significantly outperformed those in the control group (N = 35) with regard to perceptual and development skills, including numeracy abilities. Pearson correlation analyses yielded the most significant relationships between numeracy skills (+ and –) and the following sub-tests of the Aptitude test for School Beginners (ASB), namely Visual Perception (r = 0.61); Spatial Abilities (r = 0.66); Numerical Abilities (r = 0.65); Gestalt (r = 0.61) and Visual Memory (r = 0.62). As we move forward in understanding the nuances of implementing a response to intervention approach to support MLD, assessing the effectiveness of strategies to improve learners’ mathematical skills is essential. Furthermore, results from this study demonstrated high-effect sizes, confirming the value and contribution this research may have in directing South African and international research with regard to supporting learners with mathematical learning disabilities.