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ABSTRACT. Three studies were carried out into the development of number concepts in
pupils aged 7 to 9 years who were considered to be 'low attainers' in mathematics. This paper
reports the search for a descriptive framework, the development of a diagnostic assessment
instrument and a longitudinal study. A subsequent paper (Denvir and Brown, 1986) reports
two teaching studies. Support was found for the two main hypotheses namely that:
(i) A framework can be identified which describes the orders in which children acquire
number concepts
(ii) This framework can be used to develop a diagnostic assessment instrument which will
provide a description of pupils' understanding of number.
The aspects of number which were considered were counting, addition, subtraction and
place value. The number skills which children had grasped were inferred from solutions and
strategies offered by them to questions posed in a series of interviews.


The rationale for the present study developed as a result of both authors'
involvement in the Schools Council project ' L o w Attainers in Mathematics
5-16' (Denvir et al., 1982). Visits to a large number of schools manifested
a need for diagnostic assessment linked to prescriptive teaching. This need
was subsequently strongly supported by Bennett's findings (Bennett et al.,
1984) that teachers were frequently unsuccessful in matching number tasks
to the conceptual stages revealed by 6 and 7 year olds. Chiefly in the last
decade considerable research has been carried out, notably in the U.S. (e.g.,
Gelman and Gallistel, 1978; Schaeffer et al., 1974; Steffe and Johnson, 1971;
Carpenter and Moser, 1979) but also in France (Comiti, 1981; Descoudres,
1921; Vergnaud, 1982) the U.K. (Hughes, 1981; Matthews, 1983) and I s r a e l
(Nesher, 1982) into the development of number understanding in 3-11 year
olds, especially in counting, addition and subtraction. Since 1981, when this
present study began, a considerable literature has been published and this
now incorporates significant work in place value (Brown, 1981; Bednarz
and Janvier, 1982; Steffe, 1983; Resnick, 1983) and a clear move towards
proposing theories which will explain how understanding develops
(Resnick, 1983; Riley et al., 1983).
The work described in this paper builds on m a n y of the earlier findings.
Carpenter and Moser (1982) describe three main types of strategy for
solving simple addition problems; 'Count All', 'Count On' and 'Recall' and
the first two of these are regarded by them (Carpenter and Moser, 1983) and
other authorities (e.g., Fuson et al., 1982; Steffe et aL, 1983) as characteristic

Educational Studies in Mathematics 17 (1986) 15-36.
9 1986 by D. Reidel Publishing Company.

of distinct stages of development of number understanding. Consequently
it should be possible to make inferences about a child's understanding of
number from observing that child's repertoire of strategies. In particular
Steffe et al. (1983) and Fuson et al. (1982) regard the ability to count
on as crucial to an understanding of number. Steffe regards the child
who is unable to make 'deliberate extensions', i.e., to count on in addition
with the intention of keeping a record of the increment, as 'numerically
pre-operational'. Riley et al. (1983), building on the work of Steffe et al.
(1971), Carpenter and Moser (1979, 1982) and Nesher (1982), explain the
development of pupils' ability to solve different semantic categories of
addition and subtraction word problems in terms of their 'part-part-whole
schema'. Resnick (1983) also uses this schema to explain children's develop-
ment of place value understanding. The child is thought to progress through
three stages in the ability to represent numbers with base ten blocks. At
stage one two digit numbers are seen as a whole comprised of two parts,
such that one part is all of the tens and the other part is the remaining units.
By stage two the child appreciates that there are other non-canonical
equivalent representations in which there are more than ten units. At
Resnick's stage three the child can map from transactions with blocks to the
written algorithm and vice versa, giving semantic meaning to carry and
borrow marks.


The general intention of this study was to shed light on the learning of
number concepts by children aged seven to nine years who were considered to
be low attainers in mathematics in a way that would help teachers to provide
effective learning experiences.
The aims were to:
(i) find a framework for describing low attainers' acquisition of number
(ii) develop a diagnostic instrument for assessing children's understanding
of number; and
(iii) design, carry out and evaluate a remedial teaching programme.
It was proposed that whilst the orders of acquisition of many skills would
be independent, the hypothesised framework would contain 'hierarchical
strands', within which the acquisition of some 'easy' skills would be a
prerequisite condition for the acquisition of more difficult skills. These
'strands' would be the means of ascribing developmental stages or levels of
number understanding to pupils.


All the data in the assessment part of the study were gathered from individual
interviews with 7-9 year olds in which items were presented orally and in
which frequent use was made of practical materials. The work was carried
out in three stages:
(i) Responses made in the pilot study helped to identify which skills it
was appropriate to assess.
(ii) The assessed skills were extended and defined more precisely during
the main assessment study and the items to assess the skills were developed
and refined. Pupils taking part in the main assessment study also partici-
pated in a longitudinal study.
(iii) Finally the Diagnostic Assessment interview was trialled on a wider
sample of pupils. Organisation of the samples is shown in Table I.
Throughout the Pilot and Main Assessment Studies predictions were
made about what hierarchical dependencies there might be between acqui-
sitions of different number concepts. These were based on observation of
pupils' behaviour, reflection o n their responses, logical analyses of the
mathematics and evidence from research literature. From the Diagnostic
Assessment Interview results with a wider sample of pupils, relationships
between performances on every pair of skills was investigated numerically
using item-item Loevinger coefficients (Loevinger, 1947). The Diagnostic
Assessment Instrument was also used to examine changes in performance
of a group of seven pupils over a'period of two years.


The interviews aimed to elicit each child's repertoire of strategies for dealing
with number. The aspects which were considered included:
(i) Strategies for adding and subtracting small numbers in 'sums' and
word problems.
(ii) Commutativity of addition.
(iii) Enumerating grouped collections.
(iv) Strategies for adding larger numbers: place value.
(v) Piagetian tasks: conservation of number and class inclusion.
These aspects will be discussed separately below.

Strategies for Adding and Subtracting Small Numbers
Similar responses were observed in this study to those found by Carpenter
and Moser (1979, 1982, 1983) and they are classified according to Carpenter

Organisation and samples

Ages M e t h o d o f selection Sample N u m b e r of School
size interviews/
teaching sessions

Assessment studies Pilot study 8-3 to Teacher asked to select 10 pupils 5 6 A;
9~) with lowest attainment in Over 3 m o n t h s working
mathematics. 5 of these selected, class -- ~7
on basis of lowest attainment, in multiethnic
preliminary interview.
Main 7 5to Teachers of four classes asked to 6 B;
study and 9-3 select 3 or 4 pupils with lowest Over 3 m o n t h s middle/
longitudinal attainment in mathematics. 7 o f working
study these selected on basis o f lowest class -
attainment. multiethnic
Diagnostic Assessment 7 5to Performance o f pupils in four 41 C: ~0
Interview 9-6 classes assessed using N F E R * D:
(DAI) trials Basic M a t h s Test ' A ' for 1st working
year classes (grade 2) and 'B' for class --
2nd year classes (grade 3). multiethnic
Initially all pupils with Quotient
< 90 were assessed. Later pupils
with higher performances
selected to add information
a b o u t harder skills.

* N.F.E.R. (1969-80).

and Moser's terminology. On a few occasions, children simply 'knew' the
answer to a 'sum' (Recalled Fact). In this example, however, Pal uses
'Derived Fact':

BD: Sarah has some sweets. She has 5 toffees and 6 fruit gums. How
many sweets has she got altogether?
Pal: Eleven.
BD: Eleven. How did you do that?
Pal: Easy. Add on - you add on - I added on five. I t o o k . . , like
I took off one. Off six, added both fives then put back a one and
added it up. It's eleven.

San uses 'Counting on':

BD: Eight add seven?
San: Fifteen.
BD: How did you do that?
San: Counted forwards.
BD: Counted forwards. What numbers did you say?
San: I said nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen.

'Counting up' is grouped together with 'Counting On' and 'Counting Back'.
In this example Bri 'Counts Up'; the answer is the increment needed to
count from the smaller to the larger.

BD: Alice has seven felt tipped pens, Graham has eleven. How many
more has Graham got?
Bri: (Using fingers) Eight, nine, ten, eleven (looks at fingers) . . .

and Clo counts back:

BD: At a birthday party there are eleven people altogether. Some are
children and some are grown ups. There are four grown ups,
how many of them are children?
Clo: E r . . . E l e v e n . . . Four grown ups (pause). There's only seven
BD: Seven children. How did you do that?
Clo: O h . . . E r . . . I had eleven. And I had four. I went eleven, ten,
nine, eight for the grown ups and I believed seven, six, five, four,
three, two, one to be the children.

In 'Counting All' (with models) the child uses physical objects such as
fingers or counters to model the problem, e.g.:

BD: J o h n h a d 25 conkers, he gives eleven to his b r o t h e r , h o w m a n y
has he g o t left?
Don: ( C o u n t s 25 stones, c o u n t s eleven a n d r e m o v e s them, recounts
r e m a i n i n g g r o u p ) F o u r t e e n . H e ' s got f o u r t e e n left.

Frequency of strategies for carrying out additions and subtractions used by each child
during Pilot Study
Clo Don Bri Pal Loy

Derived Fact 0 0 14 1 0
Recalled Fact 4 2 2 5 I
Counting On/Back 16 0 5 11 4
Counting All 9 16 4 5 9
(with models)

A further distinction a p p e a r e d in the main s t u d y between ' c o u n t i n g all'
a n d c o u n t i n g f r o m one'. In response to '5 + 3'? Ch. typically c o u n t e d all,
a s k i n g for cubes a n d c o u n t i n g o u t first five, then three, then c o m b i n i n g the
two collections a n d c o u n t i n g f r o m one. O n the o t h e r hand:

Ph: F i v e a d d three? (Stares with fixed gaze straight ahead). 1, 2, 3,
4, 5 . . . 6, 7, 8. Eight.

Frequency of strategies for carrying out additions and subtractions used by each child
during Main Study
Ch Je Pe Ph Dn Jy Th

Recalled Fact 2 2 1 8 4 4 11
Counting On/Back/Up 0 0 7 13 7 23 20
Counting from One 0 0 1 2 3 0 0
Count All (direct 12 30 24 7 19 6 1
physical modelling)

In the main study, no use was made of 'Derived Fact'.

The three children ( D o n , Ch, Je) w h o d i d n o t use a c o u n t i n g o n strategy
used c o u n t all with m o d e l s a l m o s t exclusively: their responses to discussions
o f the c o u n t all s t r a t e g y c o n f i r m e d the evidence t h a t c o u n t i n g on was n o t
in their repertoire.
I n Je's response to a c o m b i n e p r o b l e m :

BD: Gary has some red marbles and some green marbles. He has 9
red marbles and 6 green marbles. How many marbles has he got?
Je: What was it again?
Je: (Counting fingers) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 red a n d . . . How many
BD: (Repeats question)
Je: M m m . . . can I use your fingers?
Be: (Spreading fingers for counting) Use which you want.
Je: ('Puts away' her nine and counts BD's) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. (Now
'spreads' her nine again - counting each one) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,
8, 9, (lets her nine 'go' and points to BD's) 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15.
BD: Fifteen. And you used my fingers as well as yours.
BD: Could you have done it with just your fingers?
Je: No.
BD: Why not?
Je: I ain't got enough.
BD: Suppose it was 9 red and 7 green. Could you work that out with
your fingers?
Je: (Puts up 9 fingers, again counting each one). Nine. And what
was it?
BD: 9 red and 7 green
Je: (Puts away 9 fingers and counts 7 of her own, then looks at
them) Can I use yours?

These responses confirm work by other authors (Steffe et al., 1983;
Fuson, 1982; Carpenter and Moser, 1982) in which a transition is observed
between 'count all' and 'count on' and this is explained theoretically (Steffe
et al., 1983). No such clear-cut transition occurs from either of these strategies
to the use of recalled facts. Responses given by these low attaining 7-9 year
olds were similar to responses given by younger children in the Carpenter
and Moser (1982) and Riley et al. (1983).

Commutativity of Addition

There were three methods of determining whether children perceived that
the addition of numbers was commutative. Note was taken of whether, in
a series of written sums, they remarked on pairs of sums such as 3 + 6 and
6 + 3; their strategy for solving sums in which the smaller addend came
first (e.g., 3 -t- 18) was noted; and the time children took to respond to sums
of the form 1 + n and n + 1 was noted. These times are shown in Table III.
22 B. D E N V I R A N D M. B R O W N

Commutativity of addition for sums of the form n + 1, 1 + n. Time (in
seconds) taken to give answers to sums of the type n + 1, 1 + n (0 < n < 10)
in the Main Study
Je Pe Ph Dn Jy Th

2+I 2 1 1 2 2 1
3+1 3 1 1 1 I I
4+1 8 1 1 2 1 1
5+1 8 1 1 1 1 1
6+1 9 1 1 1 1 l
7+1 10 1 1 1 1 I
8+1 8 1 I 1 1 1
9+1 9 1 1 1 1 1
1+2 2 6 1 3 3 1
1+3 3 10 1 ! 1 1
1+4 8 9 1 1 1 1
1+5 6 8 1 5 5 1
1+6 11 9 1 1 1 1
1 + 7 10 12 1 1 1 1
1+8 10 5 1 1 1 1
1 +9 7 14 1 2 2 1

Je solved nearly all the sums by counting all, but Pe, had two distinct strategies
forn + l a n d l + n.
N.B. These sums were all given in one interview, but not in the tabulated order.

BD: ( s h o w s 4 + 1)
Pe: ( L a u g h s ) F i v e ( O n e s e c o n d t a k e n to a n s w e r ) .
BD: And how did you do that?
Pe: I t ' s easy. I t was v e r y easy. I j u s t d o n e it.
BD: Okay. (Shows 8 + 1).
Pe: N i n e . ( O n e s e c o n d to a n s w e r ) .
BD: And what about that one?
Pe: J u s t d o n e it.
BD: H o w d i d y o u d o it?
Pe: E i g h t a d d o n e is nine.
BD: O k a y . ( s h o w s 1 + 7).
Pe: Seven . .. seven . .. one add seven ... one add seven ... I
d u n n o . ( T e n s e c o n d s to " I d u n n o " ) .
BD: H o w c o u l d y o u w o r k it o u t ?
Pe: I dunno really... I c o u l d d o it o n m y fingers.

T h i s s u g g e s t s a s t r a t e g y f o r d e t e r m i n i n g w h e t h e r c h i l d r e n w h o use a
c o u n t i n g o n s t r a t e g y f o r a d d i t i o n a p p r e c i a t e a n d c a n use t h e f a c t t h a t
a d d i t i o n is c o m m u t a t i v e .

Counting Grouped Collections
Children were asked to say 'how many' were in grouped collections under
various conditions; groups might contain 2, 5 or 10 individual items; there
may or may not be ungrouped single items included in the collection; and
individual items in the grouped collection may or may not be visible at the
time of the enumeration.
In one item four opaque bags, each containing ten sweets were opened in
turn and the child encouraged to examine the contents. Having established
that each bag, in its turn contained ten sweets, the four bags and three loose
sweets were displayed and the child asked 'How many sweets?'.
From the seven children in the main study sample, there were six substan-
tially different responses:

1. Count all as one (CA1)
Ch and Je both gave the same response:

Je: (Counts, pointing to each bag and each sweet in turn) 1, 2, 3, 4,
5, 6, 7. Seven.

2. Guesses (G)

Pe~ Twenty.
BD: Twenty. How did you decide that?
Pe: I just guessed.
BD: Do you think your guess is right?
Pe: No . . . dunno really.
BD: How could you find out if it was right?
Pc: Tip out the sweets and count them.
BD: Yes, you could tip them out. Could you do it any other way?
Pe: N o . . . I don't think so. (Proceeds to tip out sweets from each
bag, put them together in one collection, then count in ones).

3. Count in ones - Guesses number in each bag C1/G)

Dn: (Gazes at first bag) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 (transfers gaze to
next) 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 (next) 20, 21, 22, 23, 24,
25, 26, 27, 28 (next) 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37 (looks at
loose sweets) 38, 39, 40 . . . . forty.

During this time Dn did not appear to use her fingers and did not seem
to think, when questioned, that she had used them. It does seem likely,

however, that she was matching her count to some mental image of ten
objects. In Fuson's terms Dn was 'counting entities' and in Steffe's she was
a 'counter of figural items'.

4. Counts in ones (C1)

Jy: How many? (She looks at a bag, puts up ten fingers and counts,
touching each finger in turn on her lower lip) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,
8, 9, 10 (and repeats, transferring her gaze to each bag in turn)
1 1 . . . 20, 2 1 . . . 30, 3 1 . . . 40 (then points to each loose sweet)
41, 42, 43.

. 'Place Value' strategy, incorrectly co-ordinated (PVc)

Th: Dunno.
BD: Could you work it out?
Th: I could count in tens. (Point to each of the four bags in turn) 10,
20, 30, 40. (Points to each of the loose sweets in turn) 50, 51, 52.

6. 'Place Value' strategy (PV)

Ph: Forty three.
BD: Forty three. How did you decide it was 43?
Ph: (Points to each bag, then each sweet in turn) 10, 20, 30, 40, 41,
42, 43.

Th's error could easily have been passed off as a 'careless slip'. But
evidence from her behaviour as well as from other children interviewed at
other stages of the study suggests that children who make this type of error
do so frequently.
Table IV summarises children's strategies and changes in strategies for
enumerating collections grouped in tens and ones during the Main Study.
Results support Resnick's (1983) notion that children find it easier to
count when only one 'denomination', i.e., only ls or 10s or 100s has to be
counted than when 2 or 3 denominations are present. The results suggest
that several skills are needed for an 'economical' solution:
(i) knowledge of the number word sequence for tens;
(ii) appreciation of the structure of the grouped collection;
(iii) the ability to stop the 'tens number word sequence' and begin the
'ones number word sequence';
(iv) ability to co-ordinate the end of the groups of ten and the beginning
of the individual items with the change in the number word sequence.

Strategies for enumerating collections grouped in tens in the Main Study
Date Objects Individual Tens only or Strategiesused by:
used items visible? tens and ones?
Y/N 10s/10s & ls Ch Je Pe Ph Dn Jy Th

Jan (1) Straws Y 10s & ls C1 C1 C1PVc C1 PVc C1
Jan (1) Dienesbase Y 10s & ls CA1PV C1PVc PVc CA10 Cl
ten blocks
Feb (1) Sweets N 10s & ls CA1 CA1 G PV C1 C1 PVc
March (1) Sweets N 10s & ls C1/G C1/G G PV CI CA10 CA5
March (1) Straws Y 10s & ls C1 C1 C1PV C1 CA10 PV
March (2) Straws Y 10s C1 C1 C1 PV C1 PV PV
March (2) Sweets N 10s & ls C1 C1 Cl PV PV PV PV

C1 = counts in ones.
CA1/CA5/CA10 = counts each 'package' as 1(5, 10).
G = Guesses.
C1/G = Counts in ones, guessing how many count words to say for each 'package'.
PVc = 'Place Value' strategy incorrectly co-ordinated.
PV = 'Place Value' strategy.

Thus, children m a y pass t h r o u g h a sequence o f stages in using a place
value strategy to enumerate a collection o f grouped items, namely:

(1) C o u n t i n g each 'package' as one, regardless o f numerosity o f
packages (--. incorrect answer).
(2) C o u n t i n g each item as one ( ~ correct answer).
(3) A t t e m p t at place value strategy by counting grouping n u m b e r
for each package and one for each u n p a c k e d item, but lacking
co-ordination ( ~ incorrect answer).
(3b) Successful place value strategy.

Strategy for Adding Larger Numbers: Place Value
D u r i n g the pilot, for orally presented addition and subtraction sums with
larger numbers (e.g., 18 + 24), children usually resorted to ' c o u n t all',
although a few 'counted on' for addition. N o child showed an appreciation
o f the place value structure o f numbers, by for example, adding tens and
units separately. It is, o f course, likely that children would have responded
differently if the 'sums' had been presented in the conventional 'vertical
algorithmic' format. In the main study children were instead presented with
the m o s t simple oral questions in which a 'place value strategy' for addition
might be observed, e.g., '20 + 4'. It was usually very easy to tell, from the

time taken (cf. Resnik, 1983) whether there had been an 'automatic' response
'24' or the child had counted on: '21, 22, 23, 24'. Further evidence was
provided by the child's description o f the strategy. F o r example for 40 + 9,
K a r replied

'40 + 9? (Puts up 9 fingers) 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49'

and had clearly counted on, but C o r must have used a 'place value strategy'
when he t o o k under one second to reply '49' and said in describing his

'Well I had 40. A n d I had 9, and it's 49'

Table V shows the items asked at different stages o f the main study and
the strategies used by each child.

Strategies used in Main Assessment Study for adding two digit numbers
Date Item Strategy for:

Je Pe Ph Dn Jy Th

Jan (1) 38 + 7 DM DM DM CO CO CO
Feb (1) 20 + 4 DM CO CO CO CO CO
Feb (1) 40 + 9 DM CO CO CO CO CO
Feb (1) 10 + 6 DM CO CO CO CO PV
Feb (1) 20 + 6, 30 + 6, 40 + 6, 50 + 6 DM CO PV CO CO PV
Feb (2) 5+ 20 DM DM PV CF1 CO PV
Feb (2) 6+ 30 DM DM PV DM CO PV
Feb (2) 27 + 10 DM DM DM DM CO CO

DM = direct modelling with physical objects - count all.
CF1 = counts from one (without physical objects).
CO = counting on.
PV = place value strategy.

The results suggest that adding ten to a 2-digit n u m b e r is more difficult
than adding units to a decade number. Table V, like Tables II, III, and
IV suggest that pupils' responses to these four categories o f questions
were highly consistent: on none o f them did any child use quite different
strategies each time. F u r t h e r m o r e the changes which did. occur between
interviews shown in Tables IV and V are towards a m o r e sophisticated
strategy, indicating learning.
These results are generally in agreement with Resnick's (1983) model o f
n u m b e r development in which she sees an elaboration o f the concept o f
cardinality and the part-part-whole schema accounting for children's solution

to word problems and also for the stages through which children progress
in their grasp of place value concepts. A new model of children's elaboration
of the part-part-whole schema for cardinal number is proposed here and
shown in Table VI. This is an extension and modification of Resnick's
model. It does not represent a 'natural' progression since it relates to
children within an educational system and within a culture that heavily
emphasises certain aspects of mathematics. At a general cultural level, the
standard number word sequence and canonical form are emphasised; within
the educational system th-ese are usually also heavily emphasised, but other
aspects may also be emphasised and this is likely to affect not only the rate,
but possibly the order of elaboration.
It was noted above that children rarely count back for 'take away' but an
appreciation of this strategy and an awareness of the inverse nature of
addition and subtraction appeared to be important aspects in mental
computation, e.g., for 43 - 28
Miw: 43 take 2 8 . . . forty take 2 0 . . . 8 . 2 0 . . . 2 0 . . . 3 from 8 . . .
is f i v e . . . 5, 19, 18, 17, 16, 1 5 . . . fifteen.
Similar observations were made by Fuson (Fuson et al., 1982).
Elaboration of cardinality of number
Stage of elaboration Example of number Additional concept
of part-part-whole behaviour from earlier stage

None Can state how many in a simple
1. (a) Can count on to add The whole is the sum of
(b) Can solve 'compare and the parts - neither more
'missing addend' nor less
2. (a) Can count grouped collection The parts may have
(b) Can add tens and units, different sizes (tens and
mentally, when there is no ones)
3. Can add, mentally with The different sizes are
regrouping related to each other
(I0 • I = 1 • 10): all
numbers must be in
canonical form
4. Can take away, mentally, with Numbers can be expressed
regrouping in non-canonical form
5. Mentally can solve sharing Numbers can be expressed
problems as products of other

Piagetian Tasks
This consistency of response was not apparent in every type of question.
Performance on the Piagetian tasks (number conservation, class inclusion)
was much more variable as it was on another item similar to the number
conservation task but specifically designed for this study. Children were
asked to compare two collections of similar but distinguishable objects
which were grouped differently (Figure 1).

collectionof bluestors ~-X ~'~ ~

Fig. 1. Illustration of an item in which pupil is asked to compare two collectionswhich are
grouped differently.

The child was asked: 'Are there more blue stars, more yellow stars or the
same number of blue and yellow?' Several strategies were observed: only the
first one is successful:

(i) Counting each collection one by one and comparing (C1)
(ii) Comparing the number of 'single' items in each collection and
ignoring the grouped items (CS), e.g., in second item (Table VII)
says 4 x 4 + 2 > 3 x 6 + 1 'because 2 there and only 1
(iii) Comparing the total number of 'packages' in each collection,
irrespective of size, i.e., comparing the number of groups plus
the number of singles but ignoring the number of items per
group (CNP), e.g., in the first item 3 x 4 + 2 > 2 x 7 + 1
because 5 there and only 3 there'.
(iv) Comparing the number of items per group but ignoring the
number of groups and the number of single items (CGN), e.g.,
in first item says 2 • 7 + 1 > 3 x 4 + 2 'because 7 is more
than 4'.

As Table VII shows only three of the seven children showed a consistent
response. Furthermore whilst two assessments are insufficient for drawing
many conclusions, there appears to be no consistent trend in the changes of

Strategies for comparing two collections which are grouped differently
Date Item Ch Je Pe Ph Dn Jy Th

Feb. Compares2 • 7 + l(blue CGN CGN CI C! CNP C1 CS
stars) with 3 x 4 + 2
(yellow stars) individual
stars visible
March (1) Compares 4 x 4 + 2 (blue CNP CNP CGN C1 C1 C1 CS
stars) with 3 x 6 + 1
(yellow stars) individual
stars visible

In the final version o f this t a s k the c o m p a r i s o n was between different
c o l o u r e d sweets g r o u p e d t o g e t h e r in c a r d b o a r d boxes so that, a l t h o u g h
each i n d i v i d u a l sweet h a d previously been e x a m i n e d by the child, at the time
t h a t the c o m p a r i s o n was m a d e each i n d i v i d u a l sweet was n o t directly visible
( F i g u r e 2).
orange sweets:
5 in each box,
3 'loose' ones

2 in each box

Fig. 2. Final version of item for comparison of two collections grouped differently.


In all, 47 skills were assessed for each o f the 41 pupils interviewed in the
D . A . I . These skills were s h o w n in T a b l e VIII(a).
There were two m a j o r outcomes o f the analysis o f children's performances
in the D . A . I . b a c k e d u p b y the q u a n t i t a t i v e d a t a collected in the assessment

(a) Levels o f P e r f o r m a n c e

(b) T h e Descriptive F r a m e w o r k

Levels of Performances
W h e n each o f the skills was o r d e r e d a c c o r d i n g to facility a n d each o f the
pupils o r d e r e d b y overall r a w score it was possible to g r o u p the skills into
30 B. D E N V I R A N D M. B R O W N

Skills assessed in D.A.I. in order of difficulty (hardest first). The categories of word problems
is that given by Riley et al. (1983)

3. Mentally carries out two digit 'take away' with regrouping
6. Uses multiplication facts to solve a 'sharing' word problem
47. Perceives 'compare (more) difference unknown' word problem as subtraction
4. Models two digit 'take away' with regrouping using 'base ten' apparatus
45. Appreciates concept of class inclusion, without any hint or help
7. Mentally carries out two digit take away without regrouping
5. Uses multiplication facts to solve a 'lots of' word problem
2. Mentally carries out two digit addition with regrouping
20. Uses counting back/up/down strategy for 'take away'
33. Bundles objects to make a new group of ten in order to facilitate enumeration of a
collection which is partly grouped in 10s and ls
15. Uses repeated addition or repeated subtraction for a 'sharing' word problem
46. Partly appreciates concept of class inclusion
12. Uses derived facts for addition
8. Mentally carries out two digit addition without regrouping
24. Can repeat the number sequence for counting in 10s from a non-decade two digit
25. Can repeat the number sequence for counting backwards in 10s from a non-decade
two digit number
34. Makes quantitative comparison between two collections which are grouped
9. 'Knows answer' when taking ten away from a 2-digit number
10. 'Knows answer' when adding ten to a 2-digit number
1. Models two digit addition with regrouping using 'base ten' apparatus
17. Knows number bonds (not just the 'doubles')
26. Interpolates between decade numbers on a number line
13. Models two digit 'take away' without regrouping using 'base ten' apparatus
16. Uses repeated addition for a 'lots o f word problem
19. Solves 'compare (more) difference unknown' word problem
21. Counts in 2s and ls to enumerate a collection grouped in 2s and ls
II. 'Knows answer' when adding units to a decade number
14. Models two digit addition without regrouping using 'base ten' apparatus
22. Counts in 5s and ls to enumerate a collection grouped in 5s and ls
18. Solves 'compare (more) compared set unknown' word problem
23. Counts in 10s and ls to enumerate a collection grouped in 10s and ls
40. Knows numbers backwards from 20
27. Orders a selection of non-sequential two-digit numerals
35. Appreciates structure of grouped collections
38. Solves sharing problems by direct physical modelling
39. Solves 'lots of' problem by direct physical modelling
44. Appreciates conservation of number
28. Appreciates commutativity of addition for sums of the form 1 + n
29. Uses a counting-on strategy for addition
30. Reads a selection of non-sequential two-digit numerals
32. Repeats numbers in correct sequence for counting in 2s, 5s and 10s
37. Uses counting on strategy when provoked
31. Repeats numbers in correct sequence to 99
41. Knows numbers backwards from 10
36. Compares collections and states whether equal
42. Can say numbers in correct sequence to 20, can solve addition and take away by
direct physical modelling
43. Makes 1 : 1 correspondence

Performance of wider sample in Diagnostic Assessment Interview classified according to
S k i l l Ho.
level of performance
TABLg ylll(s)

, i.~i!::%.::>..:>>::!:!.i "': ",".~i!~i~ii.!i~i!i~ii


iI U '.'.., :..::.v,..... :.)':'..'.;:'.,7:Z.2'.v:7::)v:z,: :r ":-::.)'
,4 ' :'+i".% ~:?i:2"~!:i':i:i.::i:i:):i:i~:i.~'!i.!:i:?.!:i~r
:i:i':): :i':Z:'i:

',~~ ...::::: ,;~:,:.~::. " >.:.?:.::?:::ii:U.:::
~.."? ::::::::::::::::::::::::::i'.'...'..:..ii!:::.:.<

,: :!:::iT;ii:i:::i!i
ili:711: ::::7;i
. ======".:.========:.".::
::":::f.H::::[ ===::::::::::::::
::~ i :.:i~i[~:i}:~}i:~iii:2:ii~5i:i:~igii!!:~:?:i:i:!i)!ii!i:!::i:i:Xii}}i:ii:!:i:!i?i:}::{ii:iil:~:~::i::
~ u p l l Hame



* Absent when NFER test administered.

'levels' defined by a particular range o f facility so that every pupil w h o had
succeeded in 2/3 o f the skills at any level had succeeded in 2/3 o f the skills
at every preceding level. This is shown in Table VIII(b). Thus it was possible
to describe each child's performance in one o f two ways, firstly by detailing

performance on each of the 47 skills and secondly by ascribing one of 7 levels
of performance to each pupil. As Table VIII(b) indicates, the first (listing
performance on every skill) produced a unique description for each child.
Oneskill in Table VIII(b) appears misplaced; skill 20: uses counting back
for 'take away', though low in facility is passed by pupils with an overall low
score. Carpenter and Moser (1982) found few children using counting back
strategies: our results support these findings. However both quantitative
and qualitative data suggest that children do reach a stage when they grasp
that 'counting backwards will solve a take away'. Whilst, in practice, they
may find this difficult, preferring either 'direct modelling' or 'counting on',
it seems likely that this is an important notion for children to have grasped.
We conclude that, in this case, the assessment should have focussed more
closely on the child's perception rather than the preferred strategy.

The Descriptive Framework
There are two criteria for portraying a pair of skills in the framework as if
one were prerequisite for the other:

(i) There should be a logical reason (which can be defended by the
researchers) why one skill depends on the other.
(ii) All or nearly all of the children interviewed who succeeded on the
harder skill must have succeeded on the easier one.

The descriptive framework is shown in Figure 3. In addition to relation-
ships between skills in which one skill is 'prerequisite' for the other
(indicated by solid lines in Figure 3), some skills appeared to be strongly
connected by a logical relationship (e.g., skill 8: mentally carries out 2-digit
addition without regrouping and skill 1: models 2-digit addition with
regrouping using 'base ten' apparatus) and also by empirical evidence, but
some pupils acquired the skills in the reversed order so that neither could
be regarded as being prerequisite for the other. These are indicated by
broken lines.
As hypothesised, whilst the acquisition of some skills forms part of a
'hierarchy' of skill acquisition, others are quite independent. The strongest
hierarchical strand appears to be a 'place value strand': counting on
(29) ~ counting collections grouped in tens (23) --* modelling addition and
subtraction with blocks (14, 13) ~ mentally adding units to decade numbers
(1) ~ mentally adding tens to 2-digit numbers (10) ~ mentally carrying
out 2-digit take away without regrouping (7).
The method of assessment consisted of attempting to discover what
strategies each child had for dealing with numbers. On the whole the items

~ '

Fig. 3-Descriptive framework,n indicates skill n in Table VIII(a), ~ indicates skitl m
pre-requisite for skill n, a n d ( ~ Q indicates strong connection between skill i and skillj.

used and the techniques adopted appeared to yield a coherent and sensible
description of children's understanding, but nevertheless the method has
some important limitations.
The child's understanding is inferred from the strategies which that child
is observed to use. in fact the child may have the understanding but simply
choose to use other strategies all the time. Furthermore there is a motivation
aspect. It is likely that some children only produce their most sophisticated
reasoning when they are highly motivated to succeed. Although both these
limitations were recognised from the outset and interviewing strategies
designed as far as possible to overcome the difficulties, nevertheless in some
cases the results may provide an underestimate of pupils' abilities.

The Longitudinal Study
The D.A.I. was used to examine changes in performance of seven pupils
interviewed approximately six monthly over a period of two years. The

Level Of

f !h_

3 8 13 20
Time in months




Dn ~ C h


0 3 8 13 ZO
Time in months


Fig. 4. Changein performance with time for pupils in the longitudinalstudy.

timing of these interviews is shown in Table IX. Figures 4(a) and 4(b) show
their progress in terms of changes in raw score (i.e., total number of skills
successfully performed) and in level of performance, respectively. Several
points emerged from an examination of these results:

(i) All the children made progress at nearly every stage of the study, but
this progress was, in most cases, very slow; so slow, in fact, that a less
sensitive instrument might not have registered any change for some of the

(ii) Whilst no two pupils acquire skills in the same order, the match
between each pupil's performance at each interview and the hierarchical
framework was extremely good - only 3 skills were at any time acquired
'out of order'.
(iii) Each pupils' performance in relation to the framework was used as
the basis for two remedial teaching studies which are described in a forth-
coming paper (Denvir and Brown, 1986).


If one assumes that there is a development aspect to children's learning of
number, useful prescriptive teaching arising from diagnostic assessment
needs to take account of three different aspects of learning:
(i) the orders in which children learn, i.e., a framework describing
(ii) where each individual child is within the framework;
(iii) how the individual progresses from one skill to another, i.e., how
individuals learn.

This paper has described, within a limited range of performance for a
small aspect of the mathematics curriculum how the first two aspects have
been considered. The third aspect was also dealt with during the research
study and will be reported in a subsequent paper (Denvir and Brown, 1986).


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Shell M a t h e m a t i c s Education Unit,
Centre f o r Educational Studies,
Kings College ( K . Q . C . ) ,
University o f London,
552 Kings Road,
London S W I O OUA,