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Published: 01 Apr, 2020 Updated: 24 Jun, 2020, 08:17

To count on all students

NEWS With her dissertation, Helena Vennberg contributes to increased knowledge about the preschool teacher's ability to follow pupils' development and learning in mathematics. The results show that a way of working that focuses on promoting learning can make development and learning more visible. She defends her results at Umeå University on Friday, April 3.

Text: Ingrid Söderbergh

”My dissertation shows that it is important that preschool teachers are aware of their own role and their knowledge in order to best help pupils in preschool class to understand what mathematics is and how it can be used”, says Helena Vennberg.

The preschool class has a special position between two different cultures where development and learning have different meanings. Using the teaching material Tänka, resonera och räkna i förskoleklass, TRR, as well as related continuing professional development, Helena Vennberg has studied the effect on six-year-old children’s mathematics development in the short and long term.

Tänka, resonera och räkna i förskoleklass, TRR, (Sterner et al., 2014) is one of the few research-based teaching materials in mathematics that also has a clear focus on the teacher's work with mathematics in preschool class. TRR is based on structured mathematical activities where students, individually and in groups, meet, use, develop and reason about different representations of numbers.

The results of the dissertation show that TRR creates an inclusive learning environment where preschool class teachers have the opportunity to follow pupils’ learning. Preschool teachers' ability to follow the at-risk students' knowledge development in TRR increased with preschool teachers' awareness of their own subject knowledge.

This indicates that inclusive mathematics education with a focus on reasoning about representations of numbers provides opportunities to develop good computational ability for all pupils and is particularly supportive of at-risk pupils' learning.

“The thesis results thus show a positive effect for at-risk students and, perhaps equally important, no indications that TRR would be worse for students who are not at-risk students”, says Helena Vennberg.

The results further show that with TRR, opportunities for assessment became a naturally integrated process in teaching, in which preschool teachers in their assessments identified the content of the teaching and difficulties in learning a mathematical content rather than pupils. But assessment is not a guarantee of learning. Monitoring students' development and learning does not, with certainty, promote development and learning.

”Learning in preschool class is strengthened by not restricting mathematics to move from A to B but instead to invest in getting from A and beyond”, says Helena Vennberg.

An increased focus on assessment in preschool class entails a certain risk of discriminating pupils rather than focusing what in the teaching needs to be changed or strengthened in order for development and learning to occur in all pupils. Helena Vennberg believes that it is important to make the need for students more visible in order to increase the opportunity to create the conditions to promote their learning. But by making visible, the focus can shift – from planning a teaching that promotes the learning of all students, to not seeing some students as part of the teaching to be planned.

“An advice for teachers in preschool class is to use working methods in teaching where students, at-risk students and students with special educational needs in mathematics are clearly included in the group of all pupils”, says Helena Vennberg.

Helena Vennberg grew up in Örnsköldsvik but now lives in Flurkmark outside Umeå. She has worked within the school since 1994 and is a special education teacher and elementary school teacher, year 1-7.

Read the whole thesis

Press photo. Credit:  Mattias Pettersson


About the dissertation:

On Friday 3 April, Helena Vennberg, Department of Science and Mathematics Education at Umeå university, defends her thesis entitled: Att räkna med alla elever: följa och främja matematiklärande i förskoleklass.

The dissertation takes place at 10.00, N360 in Naturvetarhuset, Umeå University.
Faculty opponent is docent Jorryt van Bommel from Karlstad University.
Principal supervisor is Maria Berge.
It is possible to follow the dissertation live on Zoom


For more information, please contact:

Helena Vennberg
Other position, research student