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Merging Numeracy with Literacy Practices for Equity in Multilingual Early Year Settings

Robyn Jorgensen , Mellony Graven
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Cristina Runnalls
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Merging Numeracy with Literacy Practices for Equity in Multilingual Early Year Settings, written by Robyn Jorgensen and Mellony Graven, is a text that provides a wealth of grounded and concrete examples on how educators may support the development of numeracy and literacy skills in early childhood settings, including resources that address these ideas both at a micro-level (i.e., handmade storybooks sent home with children) to a more macro-level (i.e., vocabulary-rich learning environments in schools). The book focuses broadly on early childhood education (defined as ages 4 through 8) in multilingual and multicultural settings, where students’ home language and customs differ from those privileged in the school setting. Examples are grounded in the work and experience of the authors Jorgensen and Grave in Australia and South Africa, respectively. 
The book contains four parts. Part I describes the relevant scholarly and community-based work of the two authors, as well as the theoretical perspectives guiding the text. Parts II and III share a plethora of resources aimed at supporting numeracy and literacy, grounded in multilingual and multicultural contexts. Part IV briefly shares more about the authors’ experiences in establishing community relationships. Each part is described in greater detail below.  
Part I provides crucial context for the experience of the authors, including historical perspectives on educational inequity and policies in South Africa and Australia. This background provides knowledge helpful in understanding and interpreting this book, especially as all later examples provided stem from these two contexts. Chapter 2 elaborates on the three theoretical lenses adopted in the work, including the importance of integrated, multimodal, play-based learning. Finally, Chapter 3 highlights common early literacy practices, and how these may be extended to support numeracy as well. 
Part II shares specific examples of how teachers and parents can help support young learners’ transitions to formal schooling in culturally and linguistically different settings, drawing on Grave’s work in South African townships. The chapters in this section provide a multitude of concrete examples, including how to support learners using numeracy-rich stories and rhymes (Chapter 4), how to create mathematically rich storybooks and games (Chapter 5), and how to encourage young children to develop ownership and confidence when using resources in their communities (Chapter 6). 
Part III continues the trend of providing rich and substantive examples, shifting to a focus on lessons learned in Jorgensen’s Australian context, with focus on supporting learners in remote indigenous communities. This section focuses on the development of academic language in mathematics, including a focus on topics such as the use of “big books” in aiding language development (Chapter 7), creating culturally relevant and meaningful resources and how to support this in schools (Chapter 8), and supporting immersion in mathematical language in classrooms through the use of posters, labels, word walls, and other visual resources (Chapter 9). 
Finally, Part IV concludes with sharing more about the experiences of the authors in developing community relationships through their work. There is a focus on the notion of ubuntu (“I am because we are”) and the ethical responsibilities of researchers to foster mutual trust and mutual learning within the communities they work in. 
Several aspects of this text merit further discussion. The first is that the authors are very careful throughout to always adopt an asset-based approach; the focus remains on supporting young learners through the provision of resources, establishing school-home-community bonds, and supporting members of the family and school community to continue development of numeracy and literacy for their youth. There is never a deficit-oriented view of struggling learners in the two contexts, but rather an acknowledgement that the home habitus and school habitus for these learners are simply different and they must be supported in transitioning from one to the other. Many of the resources provided offer numeracy and literacy support in the school language, but also in a variety of home languages embedded in culturally relevant contexts (such as photographs of students used to create storybooks, or posters that highlight local objects meaningful to students). This mindfulness to placing value on both home and school settings (including language, culture) highlights the overarching goals of empowering learners, their families, and their communities. 
Another important consideration in reading this text is that many of the examples are grounded in one of two contexts: South Africa and Australia. These two contexts are unique in many ways (described more in Chapter 1, but also throughout), but they share sufficient similarities with other multilingual and multicultural contexts that the resources provided are sure to remain beneficial to a wide audience. While the authors do attempt to help the reader see these connections, knowledge about one’s own communities will be necessary to understand how to interpret and adopt the work.
This book may be recommended most for educators, including teachers and administrators, but also researchers interested in numeracy and literacy for young learners. The former reader may be most interested in briefly browsing Parts I and IV before spending most of their time in Parts II and III. It is here that chapters are rich with specific examples, resources, pictures, and other invaluable resources that may help educators better support their multicultural and multilingual students in a variety of settings. Researchers will find similar value in these concrete examples but may also wish to spend more time in Parts I and IV to better understand the theoretical underpinnings of the work and how to explore similar work in their own context.


Dr. Cristina Runnalls is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics & Statistics at Cal Poly Pomona, with a focus on Mathematics Education. Her research focuses primarily on mathematics for culturally and linguistically diverse learners, intertwined with teacher education for both pre-service and in-service teachers.