The Obstacle Course We Call Place Value

Many teachers seem to have been working straight through the holiday if my inbox is anything to go by.

Jayne from Tatachilla Lutheran College is one such teacher and like many others, Jayne is worried about how best to tackle place value with her Year 1 students. The Australian Curriculum Mathematics has set up a place value race that most students will not keep pace with.

My first piece of advice to Jayne was to consider the fact that place value to 100 is the goal by the end of the year – not the beginning of the year. Some teachers feeling the pressure of the curriculum think that they are expected to get place value done and dusted in first term. Not going to happen; it is a slow process with many potential obstacles to be overcome. So my second piece of advice was to consider all the things that need to be in place (and identify the obstacles to learning place value) in order for place value to develop with deep understanding.

Obstacle Number 1: Fluent Counting

Today I am just considering one obstacle, and that is the ability to count fluently up and down to 100 and beyond. This may seem like a given, but I meet many students in Grade 2 and beyond who are still not fluent counters, so clearly, we do not give counting enough time.

We need to offer daily opportunities for counting on and back from any starting number in the range that we are working with (and this might only be to 20 initially).

Yes, this means rote counting, but rote counting does not have to be boring. We can jazz it up and have lots of fun counting. For instance, counting in funny voices, squeaky, robotic, ghostly, operatic, etc can make counting a begged-for activity.

We are still talking about rote counting but have an eye on ensuring students are becoming familiar with the decade names and bridge confidently through the tens.

“Let’s start on a number in the thirties and count until we get to the end of the  forties.”

As you watch students and listen you will notice:

  • who leads the count, often ahead of the actual pace of the count
  • who stops counting having come to the end of their known sequence
  • who listens and joins in the count just behind the others
  • who number stretches to bridge the tens

Students stretch numbers to give themselves thinking time and cross the tens, you may hear:

“Seventeen, eighteen nineteeeeeeen, twentyyyyyy, twentyyyy-one, twenty-two, twenty -three.”

This counting will eventually lead to similar activities, for example, counting in 2s, 5s and 10s, in readiness for understanding that 2, 5 and 10 are countable units.

Counting, as described in our online course Trusting the Count and the fun activities and observation strategies that go with counting, is fundamental but often neglected and underrated.

As students count, they will begin to learn that there is a set sequence, a particular number always before or after another, eg 22 comes before 23 but after 21. This in turn leads to fluency with number before, number after, number between, one more than and one less than, each important aspects of early numeracy.

Associated with this early rote counting is the ability to touch count accurately. Just because a student touch counts to 10, having matched the physical action of touching with the count it does not mean that they can extend that to larger numbers. It takes longer to say twenty-two than it does to say two, so in the early stages, it is likely that a student will touch two objects as they say the word not just one object.

Looking ahead

Next time, we’ll look at the obstacle of strategies for counting collections. No…. not bundling, YET!!!

If you want to find out ASAP how far and how well your students are counting, watch them as they count, but also check out the following resources for further ideas:

Preventing the Numeracy Gap: Foundation

Preventing the Numeracy Gap: Year 1

Trusting the Count

Place Value to 100

Early Place Value (the complete Early Place Value bundle includes each of the smaller modules to create a cohesive developmental approach to place value and to create cohesive numeracy blocks in your classroom. Each individual module also stands alone and can be used to compliment or extend your existing program)

Best wishes for your 2021 school year!