Tools to develop young minds;Research Notes

27th March 1998 at 00:00
Surveys, studies and reports examined by Reva Klein.

Literacy and numeracy should not be seen narrowly as "things" to be acquired by children. Rather, teachers should regard them as tools that can enhance pupils' thinking and develop their minds, says Professor Terezinha Nunes of London University's Institute of Education.

Her timely work on literacy and numeracy looks beyond the basics rather than seeking to go "back to basics". In her inaugural professorial lecture, she argues for a different approach to reading, writing and arithmetic.

She draws on studies of bilingual children to show how alphabets can be taught so that they help children's understanding of how the language works and give a framework for learning a second language. Children learning English and Hebrew, languages with different alphabets, used the same thought processes across the two languages to work out sounds and spelling. In other studies, bilingual children are shown to be better readers and spellers than children who speak only one language.

But it is as "the source of new possibilities" that literacy as a tool is most powerful, allowing the reader to access resources, networks and connections that they would otherwise not have the key to.

Similarly, to regard numeracy as only a matter of learning numbers and sums is to reduce it to its most basic function. Teaching children "simple rules and recipes" doesn't allow them to relate their knowledge of numbers to different tasks. For example, when asked a question such as: "what do you get if you add orange concentrate to water, where 80 per cent of the mixture is concentrate, and then add a mixture with 20 per cent concentrate?", many children expect the answer to be 80 per cent plus 20 per cent. Their view of how numbers work is too simple.

A copy of Nunes' lecture, Developing Children's Minds Through Literacy and Numeracy, is available from the Institute of Education, University of London, priced pound;3. Telephone 0171-580 1122.

Surveys, studies and reports examined by Reva Klein

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today