Understanding children’s mathematical competence through assessing their learning potential


5 Minute read

This is one of two research projects examining children's ability to learn maths. KU Leuven is the home institution for this project. View the Melbourne-based partner project.

This project is no longer accepting new applications until further notice.

Although it is recognised that proficiency with core mathematical competencies is predictive of later mathematics achievement, less is known about the more general cognitive strengths and contextual factors which may influence children's learning in this important academic area. The use of dynamic assessment procedures presents an opportunity to identify factors which may influence the mathematical learning potential of preschool children. Dynamic assessment combines assessment and active teaching explicitly to measure learning potential and seeks to explore cognitive processing through mediated learning experiences.

The purpose of the proposed longitudinal study is to understand the variability in the learning potential of 60 preschool learners (aged 4-5) as they transition from preschool into the first year of formal schooling. Specifically, dynamic assessments will be used to explore the extent to which young children’s learning potential on tasks related to early mathematical core competencies and general cognitive processing predict later mathematical outcomes. An important aim of the research will be to identify potential protective factors (such as mathematical language knowledge) that positively affect future outcomes. Early mathematical competencies (for example, counting, identifying order, comparing quantities, understanding symbols) will be measured using dynamic assessments at four timepoints approximately 6 months apart. This research is significant because dynamic assessments provide an individualised mechanism for assessing mathematics learning potential and can facilitate the design of interventions relevant to children in the preschool years before they are at risk of ongoing failure in mathematics.

Project goals

The project will utilize a Dynamic Assessment approach to realise three important aims:

  1. Explore patterns of strength and challenges across early core mathematical competencies and determine how performance on dynamic assessment tasks contributes to understanding the learning profiles of young children at risk for difficulties in mathematics learning in preschool.
  2. Describe quantitative and qualitative differences in young children’s progress towards securing early core mathematical competencies during their transition from preschool into the first year of formal schooling. Data across the various timepoints will be compared to determine growth across mathematical areas and differences in the kinds of cognitive strategies children use.
  3. Determine which, if any, cognitive and/or protective factors may impact participants’ learning gains. The final aim is to explore the extent to which learning potential predicts mathematical learning outcomes on transition to school.

Supervision team

The University of Melbourne: Professor Lorraine Graham

KU Leuven: Professor Bert De Smedt

Click on the researcher's name above to learn more about their publication and grant successes.

Who we are looking for

We are seeking a PhD candidate with the following skills:

  • Demonstrated experience in the field of psychological sciences.
  • Demonstrated experience in child development.
  • Demonstrated ability to work independently and as part of a team.
  • Demonstrated time and project management skills.
  • Demonstrated ability to write research reports or other publications to a publishable standard (even if not published to date).
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills.
  • Demonstrated organisational skills, time management and ability to work to priorities.
  • Demonstrated problem-solving abilities.

Further details

The PhD candidate will benefit from the combined expertise of the project supervisors, and the embedding into two research environments.

Professor Lorraine Graham’s contribution relates to the effective teaching of students with learning disabilities/difficulties, intervention research, sustainable learning, basic academic skills in literacy and numeracy, inclusive education practices, strategy instruction, and comprehension processes. Professor Bert De Smedt’s contribution will be in the areas of typical and atypical numerical and mathematical development; dyscalculia - mathematical learning disabilities; educational neuroscience and neurocognitive factors in academic development.

This PhD project will be based at the University of Melbourne with a minimum 12-month stay at the KU Leuven.

The candidate will be enrolled in the PhD program at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne and in the PhD program at the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences at KU Leuven.

This project is no longer accepting new applications until further notice.

First published on 8 February 2022.

Share this article