Project Overview

Overview: QuickSmart Numeracy* and Literacy* are responsive, small-group intervention programs that aim to develop fluent (Quick) and efficient (Smart) strategy use. The programs are aimed at middle-school students whose numeracy or literacy outcomes are below minimum standards. QuickSmart is designed to enhance a student’s fluency in either numeracy or literacy (reading and comprehension) by improving their information retrieval times.

QuickSmart uses research-based instructional strategies to support the learning of persistently low-achieving middle school students so that they are more actively and successfully engaged in inclusive classroom settings. Independent analysis of independent, norm-referenced test results for over 63,000 QuickSmart students show that they consistently achieve up to three years’ academic growth over a recommended 90-lesson period. Teachers report student improvements in behaviour, higher levels of confidence and self-esteem, and increased classroom involvement.

*QuickSmart was awarded highest ratings in the field of Education on research Engagement and Impact by the Australian Research Council (ARC) in its national assessment of research contribution to the broader community and the economy.

*In October 2020, QuickSmart was awarded the HTB Harris Award for an innovative program that has proven to successfully fulfil an educational need or problem over time. Professor John Pegg said: “The idea of QuickSmart is that if at-risk learners are given a genuine second-chance to succeed, the results can be life-changing. Many tens of thousands of learners in Australia can now testify that this statement is true for them.”


Aims of the Project

The QuickSmart programs have both pedagogical and research aims, with the research intended to inform the development of sound pedagogical practices. The pedagogical aim of the QuickSmart program is to narrow the gap between the learning achievements of the targeted students and their average-achieving peers.

QuickSmart aims to improve the numeracy and literacy development of students who are experiencing learning problems or delays and, hence, not achieving their academic potential. Participating students may have varying levels of learning difficulties because of knowledge gaps, lack of practice, mild intellectual disability, anxiety, low confidence, or associated behaviour problems.

The program was developed to increase a student’s accuracy and automaticity of basic academic skills. Lessons emphasise the development of conceptual understanding by explicitly teaching strategies that emphasise the key concepts underpinning the academic skills being taught.

Specifically, QuickSmart aims to provide an intense intervention focused on basic knowledge and understandings that can equip students with the skills necessary to engage more successfully with classroom instruction. QuickSmart is designed as a relatively long-term, yet cost-effective, program for students in middle-school who need to improve their basic mathematics, and/or reading, vocabulary, and comprehension skills.

The research aims of the QuickSmart program are to fill some of the identified gaps in research and practice for middle-school students with learning difficulties. Accordingly, the two main research aims of the QuickSmart program are to:

  • investigate the effectiveness of the QuickSmart instructional program in improving students’ fluency with basic academic skills; and
  • observe the effect of improved fluency with the basics on students’ performance on more demanding academic tasks, such as their performance on state-wide basic skills tests or standardized achievement tests.

Students who experience ongoing failure in upper-primary and lower-secondary school face a myriad of difficulties in pursuing post-school options and contributing to society through employment and aware citizenship. Those who exhibit consistent weaknesses in basic skills, such as the recall of number facts, or who experience difficulty with reading and comprehension are particularly vulnerable. There is well documented evidence in Australia of a substantial systemic decline in achievement for these vulnerable students in terms of reaching National Benchmarks from Year 3 to Year 5 and on to Year 7.

Data from national assessments (NAPLAN summary report, 2008) underpin a compelling case for the need to develop instructional programs that improve the numeracy outcomes for Australian students performing in the lowest 30% of the achievement spectrum. This includes students performing around or below the national numeracy benchmarks. Many indigenous and geographically isolated students, as well as those in low-socio economic areas, are particularly in need of such a program.

Purpose of the Project

The prime purpose of the QuickSmart program is to reverse the trend of ongoing poor academic performance for students who have been struggling at school for several years and who are caught in a cycle of continued failure. These targeted students experience significant and sustained learning difficulties in basic mathematics and/or literacy, and have shown themselves to be resistant to improvement despite attempts to overcome their learning problems. For a variety of reasons these students have been unable to draw lasting benefits from other in-class and withdrawal instructional activities.

In addition, the QuickSmart professional learning program is designed for classroom teachers, special needs support teachers, and teacher support staff to learn how to work with, and significantly improve, the learning outcomes in basic mathematics and literacy skills of under-achieving students in the middle years of schooling. The program offers professional learning and support for teachers to work in a small class instructional setting with two students using a specially constructed teaching program supported by extensive material and computer-based resources.

Overall, the QuickSmart intervention and research program attempts to fill some of the identified gaps in research and practice regarding middle-school students with persistent learning difficulties.

Key Components of the Project

Some key components of the QuickSmart program are:

  • A practice routine of 30 minutes of on-task time, 3 times per week.
  • Structured and time-efficient lessons which have a set sequence of activities.
  • Motivating and timed practice activities aimed at speedy recall of known facts.
  • Individualised instruction, ensured by assessment and instruction forming a continuous purposeful cycle.
  • Strategy instruction is ongoing, explicit and individually tailored to students’ needs.
  • Opportunities for students to self-monitor, and to receive and generate immediate feedback about their performance.
  • Instruction that ensures the students experience success by providing regular and predictable learning sequences: students practise and improve on what they already know, and then learn and practise new knowledge during the lesson.
  • Content is explicitly linked to current classroom curriculum as well as to real-life settings where possible.
  • Reflective, metacognitive questioning and responding are incorporated into lessons – for example, QuickSmart instructors ask questions such as, “How did you work that out?”, “Why are you so sure of your answer?”. This focus of instruction can assist students to develop the language to describe their thinking.
  • The use of stop watches, hourglass timers, and wall clocks assist students to ‘externalise’ time. These devices encourage students to become more aware of their sense of time and improve their ability to estimate time.
  • Close collaboration with parents, teachers and principals of participating schools. Stakeholders are fully informed about the project and involved in its implementation and evaluation.
  • A long term and consistent intervention approach which provides practice opportunities that will bring students ‘up to speed’ so they can share ‘the fast track’ with their peers.
  • Parent participation through meetings, information, involvement and workshops.

The Role of Automaticity and Working Memory Capacity in Learning

Students with learning difficulties are slowed down by their lack of automaticity with lower-order academic skills such as recall of basic number facts and word recognition. Automaticity is inferred when such lower-order processes become fast, routine, and independent, and require only small amounts of cognitive resources.

The following theoretical and pragmatic reasons support the importance of developing automatic performance of low-level academic tasks and recall of basic facts in reading and numeracy:

  • cognitive capacity (or ‘working memory’) in humans is limited;
  • once students’ ability to perform basic academic tasks and recall basic facts becomes truly automatic, they cannot help but recall this information and have it available for use in other settings and on more complex tasks;
  • the ability to recall information quickly is not subject to conscious control and therefore uses minimal cognitive capacity; and
  • automatic performance of low-level academic tasks allows for small decreases in time to accrue in undertaking subtasks, freeing up working memory.
  • Once students have sound conceptual understandings, developing automaticity in basic academic skills can enable students with learning difficulties to use their working memory resources more efficiently, so that they are better able to engage with the more interesting aspects of learning – the novel concepts, complex content and rich tasks that usually require higher order thinking and learning skills.

The QuickSmart mathematics and literacy sessions include guided and independent practice activities (such as flash cards and speed sheets) that aim to develop the learner’s ability to recall basic number facts automatically. Automaticity is reinforced by the use of appropriate games and by the routine assessment of the speed and accuracy with which the basic facts are recalled.

Success factors of the QuickSmart Numeracy and Literacy intervention program

Here is a link to an advertorial for Education Review written in 2019 by SiMERR’s former QuickSmart Operations Officer, Sophie Westermarck.

Please click here for information on how to implement QuickSmart at your school.