Does growth rate in spatial ability matter in predicting early mathematics competence? A longitudinal study of Chinese preschoolers

Xiao ZHANG, Dan LIN

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers

Abstract

Theoretical Background: It has recently been advocated that spatial learning be integrated into the mathematics curriculum (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2010; Newcombe, 2013). The assumption underlying this recommendation is that spatial ability will aid the learning of mathematics, such that improvements in the former will strengthen competence in the latter. Accordingly, not only overall achievement, but rate of growth, in spatial ability should affect subsequent mathematical competence. However, despite a growing body of research into the importance of overall level (Geary, 2011; Gunderson, Ramirez, Beilock, & Levine, 2012; Zhang, Koponen, Räsänen, Aunola, Lerkkanen, & Nurmi, in press), little work has been done to explore whether differences in the rate of growth in spatial ability are predictive of subsequent mathematical competence. Research Questions: Does the rate of growth in spatial ability during the preschool years matter in predicting mathematics competence at the end of preschool? Methods: One hundred and six Chinese children were tested longitudinally a total of five times across their first to third years of preschool. Spatial and language abilities were measured at each of the first four time points, whereas mathematical competence was measured at the final time point. Latent growth curve modeling was used to estimate the initial level and rate of growth in spatial ability and examine whether these parameters predicted mathematics competence at the end of preschool after controlling for the initial level and rate of growth in language ability. Results: The results showed that the rate of growth in spatial ability during the preschool years had a substantial impact on mathematics competence at the end of preschool. This effect was over and above the overall level of spatial ability and independent of the level and rate of growth in language ability. Interpretation of Findings: The results are consistent with Vygotsky’s (1934/1962) proposal 80 years ago that learning potential, or the gap between current and potential capability after learning (i.e., growth), is a better predictor of academic success than static current capability. It is thus essential to incorporate the concept of the rate of growth in spatial ability into the definition of intelligence or cognitive functioning (Sternberg & Grigorenko, 2002). The findings also underscore the importance of developing children’s spatial ability for mathematics learning, and highlight the need to provide spatial learning opportunities for children whose rate of growth in this skill is slower than that of their peers. Copyright © 2014 University of Jyväskylä.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2014

Citation

Zhang, X., & Lin, D. (2014, August). Does growth rate in spatial ability matter in predicting early mathematics competence? A longitudinal study of Chinese preschoolers. Paper presented at the EARLI Conference on SIG 5 Learning and Development in Early Childhood, Jyvaskyla, Finland.

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