Counting skills intervention for low-performing first graders

Authors: Riikka Mononen and Pirjo Aunio

Research has shown that learners with a low score in early mathematical skills, such as counting skills, will continue to perform poorly in mathematics at the higher grades – unless they receive the correct support. In addition, a low-performing level in mathematics also affects performance in other learning areas, including language acquisition, inductive reasoning and comprehension skills.

Mathematical support in the lower grades is, therefore, of the utmost importance as it forms the foundation for future academic performance. Consequently, there is a need to provide educators with effective intervention programmes for the improvement of mathematical skills in young learners.

However, this study found that there is a lack of effective research-based mathematical interventions for teachers to use. Consequently, the theoretical model of Aunio and Räsänen (2015) was used to guide the intervention programme used in this study. This model was chosen because it focuses on how to develop core numeracy skills such as:

  • Knowledge of number words and symbols
  • Number word sequence skills
  • Enumeration with concrete objects
  • Knowledge of number systems

The main aim of this study was to determine whether the mathematical skills of low-performing children in Finland could be improved using the counting skills intervention programme, ThinkMath (Mononen & Aunio 2012).

The researchers also measured the children’s inductive reasoning (IR) and language skills (reading fluency and listening comprehension skills) to see if there was a relationship between IR, language and mathematical skills.

The results showed that an early intervention significantly improved the counting skills of low-performing learners. However, the low-performing learners were unable to achieve the same level as their typically performing peers; and on-going additional support would be needed, accompanied by application, monitoring and assessment.

The results also showed a relationship (a correlation) between low-performing counting skills and lower performance in inductive reasoning and comprehension skills. The results also indicated that such research-based early interventions could be used in South Africa with the following advantages:

  • The intervention did not require long professional training for the teachers.
  • The intervention can be adapted to serve a whole class where many children struggle in the first grade.

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