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Diversity issues in mathematics classrooms can provide great
challenge for teachers, who must identify these students and
understand their special mathematical needs. There is a complex
mix of educational and ethical demands on the teacher in
mathematically empowering students for success in the classroom
and the ‘real world’.

This essay will seek to outline three different groupings of students,
common on the Mid North Coast of NSW, that demand differentiation of
the mathematics curriculum in order to succeed in the classroom and real
world. The author will explore common assessment tools, some strategies
useful in fostering mathematical interest will be highlighted as will teacher
responsibility in successful curriculum delivery. At the core of this essay
will be the notion that all learning, particularly mathematics, must be
delivered equitably and that hidden amongst curriculum documents,
policies and ultimately a teachers own pedagogy is the political and
sociological aspects that shape and colour the final product identifying
that all learning is ultimately an invention of political and social
expectation within the context of the student, their family and community.
With this knowledge it is imperative that the educator create authentic
and meaningful tasks that make real world connections to all students’
mathematical learning.
The nature of the Australian classroom has shifted rapidly, especially in
regional NSW, where high populations of refugee families now exist who
have children needing to be educated in regular English speaking
classrooms (Coffs Harbour City Council, 2009; Hickey, Nicholls, Hayes,
Firkins, & Parry, 2011). This challenge is also compounded with high
proportions of Indigenous students and mounting enrolments of students
with varying diagnosis or additional needs. Then there are regular,
talented and gifted students ultimately making exceptional demands on a
teachers’ ability to deliver a quality curriculum that is inclusive, rigorous
and meets the learning needs of all students (Churchill et al., 2011;
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Conway, 2008; Groundwater-Smith, Brennan, McFadden, Mitchell, &
Munns, 2009).
The NSW Mathematics syllabus states that in order for a student to “make
connections and develop richer understanding of mathematical concepts”
they need to be ‘working mathematically’ (Board of Studies NSW, 2002).
They need to question, apply decoding strategies, communicate, reason
and reflect upon their learning (Board of Studies NSW, 2002). The
Australian curriculum asks for students to problem solve, demonstrate
understanding and fluency in their mathematical learning (ACARA, 2010).
Both these curriculums are driven by national and state policies that
reflect the core beliefs and values of the current political party in office
and therefore the curriculum will always be birthed from government
drivers towards what is deemed valuable to the nation. Whatever system
you could work in or whatever government is in power at the time, will be
incidental as it will be the educators informed choices and decisions about
the relevance of the curriculum for their students that will determine the
actual curriculum reality (Groundwater-Smith et al., 2009). The educator
wields great power in the classroom and mathematics is inherently the
most challenging of key learning areas (KLA’s) for the child; how that
educator chooses to deliver maths will be significant in either empowering
or disempowering the student.
When designing and creating a maths program for the classroom the
educator must ensure that it is an equitable living document that allows
all students in her class the same opportunities to succeed in their
mathematical outcomes. Being aware of the “interests and experiences”
(Gojak, 2012) of students in the classroom will allow teachers to shape
mathematical learning practices authentically in order for students to
make sense of their learning and be able to apply it to real world contexts
meaningfully (Gojak, 2012; Nasir & Cobb, 2002). A relationship must be
fostered between the learner and educator that allows for shared
ownership of learning experiences. This enables the learner to become
empowered through the teacher valuing their voice and input. The
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classroom becomes a safe place to take mathematical risks, question and
apply new learning through mathematical enquiry and reasoning (Ayers,
2004; Crawford & Rossiter, 2006; Foreman, 2008).
Before a maths program can be created assessment must occur. One
cannot exist without the other. It is imperative that the teacher know
where their students are exactly in order to map future learning. Selfassessment by the student also creates ownership and responsibility for
their learning (Koshy & Jackson-Stevens, 2011; Van De Walle, Karp, & BayWilliams, 2010) and can be accessed through rubrics or using maths
journal activities (Runde, 2012), for instance, where the student applies
the traffic light comprehension dot i.e. green = good to go on, yellow =
proceed with caution – check for understanding before moving on and red
= stop – must have extra practice with the concept before moving on.
Self-assessment allows the educator a window into how their student sees
and constructs their own learning (Van De Walle et al., 2010) and this then
affords deeper understanding into a student’s understanding of a topic.
There is an element of risk with self-assessment as new learning will
challenge the students thought processes within their social constructs
and the teacher must be sensitive in order to expand students’ knowledge
base and construct new realities (Shipway, 2011).
Self-assessment also nurtures agency for the child as they develop
understanding through mathematical endeavour. This is highly
empowering for a student of all abilities as they are able to critically
evaluate, make assumptions and share their finding with their teacher and
peers (Stinson, Bidwell, & Powell, 2012).
Assessment must be fair, reliable and transparent in order to be equitable
and must be used as a tool to enrich learning and not be tacked to the
end of a learning topic (Killen, 2005) simply to tick a box. It should also
align with the quality teaching model (Hinde-McLeod & Reynolds, 2006;
NSW Department of Education and Training, 2003) which in turn
encourages the development of richer tasks that foster deep knowledge,
problematic and higher order thinking whilst demanding high expectations
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that are significant and incorporate inclusivity and connectedness for all
learners (Hinde-Mcleod & Reynolds, 2007; Killen, 2005).
Much research defines what quality or rich assessment tasks are and they
can take many forms, for example, the most common assessment formats
that are used in the NSW maths classroom are: Diagnostic: NAPLAN, Best
Start, SENA, Newman’s Analysis, TENS; Summative: Tests, quizzes,
presentations, group projects, portfolios; Formative: Observation,
anecdotal note taking, self-assessment, peer-assessment, discussion,
strategic questioning. It is up to the teacher to ensure that her students
are equally prepared and have the skills necessary to complete a
particular assessment fairly as many of the above examples require
specific skills, particularly lingual and literacy, in order to be successful.
Consequently by adopting the above tools and strategies the educator
should be able to gain an understanding into how their students have
“understood mathematical facts and language, acquired mathematical
skills with understanding, appreciated the interconnectedness of
mathematical ideas, developed robust conceptual understanding of ideas,
employed effective strategies for problem solving and developed a
positive attitude towards the subject” (Koshy & Jackson-Stevens, 2011, p.
152).
Notably, this is no more important than when dealing with Indigenous
students. Howard and Perry stipulate that prior knowledge of Indigenous
students’ abilities and interests is critical alongside developing
relationships with their families and community (2011). Many of these
students arrive in the classroom with great mathematical knowledge but
the importance is to recognise that it has been acquired differently from
the traditional structured manner (Howard & Perry, 2011; Wyatt, Carbines,
& Robb, 2007) that is often found in the Western classroom. What these
students learn must be relevant to them and their real world. The
Indigenous student needs to work mathematically and develop
understanding that is purposeful to them. The educator must create
experiences that are connected to the Indigenous child’s world, for
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example an excursion to the Arrawarra fish traps might also involve
students mapping the area, identifying fish species, and looking at the
tides and their connection to the lunar cycle. Additionally Howard and
Perry identify three components that they believe will ‘close the gap’ for
Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and these are:

Mathematisation: Creating mathematical problems from real world

issues and using mathematical strategies to solve them.
Argumentation: This is the reasoning where the student explains
and justifies their learning whilst also applying understanding to

other students’ rationales.
Connection: Allowing the student to see the connections their
learning in a mathematical area has to other areas of mathematics
and their own life.

(Howard & Perry, 2011, pp. 135-136)
Vygotsky identified the inherent role of social interaction upon the child’s
cognitive development and the context which defines it (Berk, 2006) and
this knowledge preceded further research that also recognises that
mathematics is ‘embedded in certain cultural contexts’ (Wyatt et al.,
2007). The difference between western mathematics and the Indigenous
people’s relationships with mathematics is expansive. Acknowledging and
embracing this difference as potential for rich learning is vital. As Noel
Pearson writes “if you are black in this country, you start with a great and
crushing burden” (Pearson, 2009, p. 25) therefore it is crucial that
educators do not bow down and lower their expectations for Indigenous
students in their class. These students are mathematically empowered
and by recognising their skills, adapting lesson content and language, and
involving their community and them in the creation of meaningful maths
experiences, learning outcomes should be successful for all stakeholders.
Similarly for the gifted and talented (GAT) students the maths classroom
can be a daunting or uninspiring place. Identification of these students
early is critical in order to provide opportunities to develop talent further.
If the educator provides diverse learning strategies in her classroom these
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can help to identify these students, but if teaching is delivered in a one
size fits all box these students will often slip under the radar or off it
altogether (Casey, 2011; Norris & Dixon, 2011; Van De Walle et al., 2010;
Watters & Diezmann, 2003). Koshy, Ernest and Casey suggest that there is
no one definition of mathematical giftedness and rather it is the “quality
of being able to do mathematical tasks and utilise knowledge effectively”
(as cited in Casey, 2011, p. 126). They add that there is another
dimension to this talent and that is the ability to solve “novel and nonroutine problems” (Casey, 2011, p. 126). This opens the door to the
educator and challenges them to throw out the extension worksheets and
provide these students with richer challenging tasks such as personal
learning projects (PLP’s) or challenges selected by the students, created in
collaboration with the educator, and constructed within the Gardiner and
Blooms learning matrix (Bloom, 1956; Gardner, 2012). These PLP’s can
incorporate objectives across the curriculum and therefore are a powerful
and authentic activity that allows the student to ‘dig the learning hole
deeper not wider’- the student is motivated and can work at a higher pace
autonomously. An example could be to connect the HSIE unit Antarctica
to maths outcomes i.e. looking at temperatures, wind speeds, seasons
and solar rotations, animals heights and weights, construction of Antarctic
bases, the list is endless and the mathematical applications also
unlimited. The author is currently working on a project with a Stage 3
class on the Mid North Coast and the students are utilising virtual
technology to build Antarctic bases and environments. The virtual
program is highly mathematical utilising 3D space and mapping/size grids
which is highly engaging especially for the more able students in the
class.
Gifted students can also be very creative and mathematics lends itself
beautifully to the creative arts. Allowing students to integrate their
mathematical learning into artistic projects by looking at art from a
mathematicians eye and seeing maths in the wider world whether through
music, architecture, the seasons, flora and fauna etc, can tap into those

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intelligences that will result in further mathematical interest, success and
achievement (Banffy, 2012; Casey, 2011).
A final group of students that will often appear in the classroom with
diverse and varying English spoken and written skills are those who have
arrived with refugee, migrant or international student status, commonly
called English as secondary language students (ESL). This creates
difficulties in the maths classroom as mathematical language is defined as
“academic language” and therefore takes considerable time, often years,
to master (Van De Walle et al., 2010, p. 103). Of primary importance is
that these students are enrolled into an intensive English program in
consultation with the parents, ESL teachers and numeracy and literacy
consultants. Diagnostic testing is critical to identify the exact starting
point for learning (ACARA, 2012). Some maths dictionaries are available
that offer translations to the students own dialect, for example, Coffs
Harbour Public School uses a Farsi and Swahili maths dictionary for its
students from Afghanistan and Africa. Another strategy is to be explicit in
instruction, concentrate on using concrete materials the students can
touch and manipulate and link mathematical activities to the ESL
students’ real life experiences (Buchanan & Helman, 1997). All maths
assessment tasks should be checked for “wording that does not introduce
additional comprehension hurdles over and above required content”
(Shaftel, Belton-Kocher, Glasnapp, & Poggio, 2006, pp. 121-122). Working
maths groups of students’ whose first language is the same as the new
ESL student also works well as it draws out the students confidence as
they work alongside their peers and this also enables the teacher to glean
more information about the students in a non-threatening and safe
environment. Van De Walle et all writes this strategy also identifies to the
ESL student that their language and culture is valued as something to be
utilised in the classroom meaningfully rather than to be seen as an
obstacle to overcome (Van De Walle et al., 2010, p. 105).
In conclusion diversity is challenging for the maths teacher when it takes
so many different forms. Educators have to become adept at harnessing
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strategies that are equitable and foster inclusion for all the students in
their class. Mathematics being characteristically problematic due to
complex language and symbol barriers sets the challenge for educators to
design meaningful experiences for students through learning plans that
reach and extend each student’s specific mathematical needs. Throughout
this essay the common theme has been connecting through relationships
and valuing each student’s identity in order to achieve success in
learning. Research further underpins this concept by stating that “identity
plays a significant role” (Nasir & Cobb, 2002, p. 99) in the equitable
delivery of learning as the two are intertwined; and if the educator can
embrace this concept richer learning experiences will eventuate and
deeper understanding of mathematics and it place in the many different
worlds of the students will eventuate (Nasir & Cobb, 2002).

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