A recent pretest-training-posttest study of three-year-old numerical development by Orrantia and colleagues provides insight on the role of finger patterns in the acquisition of cardinality. The study consisted of 51 children randomly assigned to one of two separate classrooms, each with a similarly qualified teacher.
The instructional technique practiced in the first classroom consisted of the teacher first labeling a set’s quantity on flashcard for the class, then having the class count the set aloud while the teacher pointed to each item, and finally having the children point to their own cards, count, and label. The authors identified this as the label-count-label (LCL) condition and effectively used this classroom as the control group. The technique in the second classroom followed the same pattern, but each step was supplemented with the teacher and students holding up the corresponding number of fingers for each quantity, which the authors identified as the LCL-plus-finger condition.
A variety of tests were conducted to serve as control variables, but the primary test of interest in the study was the Give-N Task. In this exercise, a child had a set of 15 balls and was asked to first give one ball to a plastic bear, then two balls, and so on until the child was unable to produce the correct number of balls. A pretest of this task was conducted and children who were able to correctly produce five or more balls (12 percent of children in the study) were not included in the analysis, as they were determined to already have an understanding of cardinality prior to instruction.
- Children in the classroom using the LCL-plus-finger technique outperformed children in the classroom using the LCL technique on the posttest.
- Analyses comparing the gains from pretest to posttest indicate that children in the classroom using the LCL-plus-finger technique demonstrated significant improvement in the number of balls accurately produced while gains for children in the classroom using the LCL technique were less apparent.
This study, while limited in size, suggests that the understanding of cardinality can be supported with relatively simple and practical classroom approaches.
Source (Open Access): Orrantia, J., Muñez, D., Sanchez, R., & Matilla, L. (2022). Supporting the understanding of cardinal number knowledge in preschoolers: Evidence from instructional practices based on finger patterns. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 61, 81–89. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2022.05.009