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, Vol. 54, No. 1 (Feb., 1983), pp. 84-90 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1129864 . Accessed: 11/11/2011 13:52
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Correspondences and Numerical Differences between Disjoint Sets
Universityof Pittsburgh and Numerical Differences between Disjoint Sets. CHILD DEHUDSON, TOM. Correspondences VELOPMENT, 1983, 54, 84-90. Young children's understanding of correspondencesand nu-
merical differencesbetween disjoint sets was studied in a series of 3 experiments.In the first 2 experiments,64 children between 4 and 8 years of age were shown pairs of sets and were asked both standard("How many more birds than worms are there?") and nonstandard("How many birds won't get a worm?")numericaldifferencequestions.The children'sobservedsuccess in answeringthe Won't Get questions indicates that many young children are skillful at estaband determiningexact numericaldifferencesbetween disjoint sets; their lishing correspondences or poor performanceon the standard questions apparently reflects a misinterpretation inadequate comprehensionof comparativeconstructionsof the general form "How many . . . [comparative term] . . than . .. ?" The final experiment, involving 30 additional kindergarten children, dealt with children'ssolution strategies in answering Won't Get questions. The most frequently observed solution strategy was a sophisticatedindirect counting strategy rather than a perceptuallyguided pairing strategy. Taken together, the present findings restrictthe domain of applicabilityof the theory that young children are limited to perceptually based forms of mathematicalreasoning. A number of young primary-grade children perform poorly when responding to numerical difference questions of the form "How than . . . are there?" (see many more ---Gibb 1956; Riley, Greeno, & Heller 1982). Instead of stating the correct numerical difference, the unsuccessful children often respond by simply stating the size of the larger set. One potential explanation of the children's poor performance is that, consistent with Piaget (1965), the children may be unable to establish suitable one-to-one correspondences between the given sets. An alternative explanation is that, although the children can establish correspondences and determine numerical differences between disjoint sets, they do not do so because they misinterpret the "How than ... ?" construction. many more To investigate these alternative explanations, the first of three experiments we undertook employed two different question formats concerning numerical differences between disjoint sets. The first format-"How many more . . . ?"-is the wording commonly -than used in psychometric mathematics achievement tests and in elementary school mathematics textbooks. The second format-"How many won't get a . . . ?"-was specifically devised for use in this study in an attempt to circumvent potential linguistic difficulties associated with the "How many more than . . . ?" construction.
This paper is based on my dissertationresearchat Indiana University and on subsequent research conducted at the University of Pittsburgh. I wish to extend special appreciationto R. N. Aslin, who directed my dissertationresearch, and to L. B. Smith, who provided additional guidance in the completionof that researchand the preparation this paper. Thoughtful of comments by the reviewers of the manuscriptwere especially valuable. Additional thanks are due to the children, parents, teachers, and administrators the Monroe County Community of Schools. Preparationof this article and portions of the research reportedin it were supported by funds from the Learning Research and Development Center, supported in part by funds from the National Institute of Education. The opinions expressedherein do not necessarilyreflect the position or policy of NIE, and no official endorsementshould be inferred. The third study reportedin the article was previouslyreportedat the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Boston, April 1981. Schematic diagrams of the stimuli may be obtained from Tom Hudson, Department of MathematicalSciences, Manchester College, North Manchester,Indiana 46962.
[Child Development, 1983, 54, 84-90. @ 1983 by the Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved. 0009-3920/83/5401-0010501.00]
Method Subjects.-The subjects were 28 firstgrade children from a rural Midwestern elementary school. The mean age of the children was 7-0 (range: 6-6 to 7-8). Materials.-Two series of eight 30 X 13cm illustrations were drawn. Each drawing showed two sets of items whose numerical difference was either one, two, or three. Two random orders of the eight number pairs-3:2, 4:3, 5:4, 5:4, 3:1, 5:3, 4:1, and 5:2were used to form the two sequences of set sizes needed for the two series of drawings. The items in the two sets within each drawing were positioned so as not to form an obvious visual pairing of the elements in the two sets (see fig. 1); the larger of the two sets was always on the left. The following eight pairs of items were used in two different orders for the two series of drawings: squirrels and nuts, kids and bikes, bugs and leaves, people and hats, birds and worms, butterflies and flowers, dogs and bones, people and cookies. Procedure.-Each child was tested individually on both the More and Won't Get tasks, separated by a short break. Half of the children received the More task first; half received the Won't Get task first. In the More task, each child was tested using one of the two series of eight drawings described above. As each drawing was presented, the experimenter said, for example, "Here are some birds and here are some worms. How many more birds than worms are there?" In the Won't Get task, each child was tested using whichever series of drawings he or she did not receive during the More task.
FIG. 1.-Examples of the spatial arrangement of pairs of sets in the More and Won't Get tasks of experiments1 and 2 (upper drawings); examples of the spatial arrangementof pairs of sets in the Numerical Difference task of experiment3 (lower drawings).
Except for the questions asked, the procedure was identical to that used in the More task. The wording of the questions in the Won't Get task was as follows: "Here are some birds and here are some worms. Suppose the birds all race over, and each one tries to get a worm. Will every bird get a worm? . . How many birds won't get a worm?" In either task if the child responded nonverbally by pointing to one or more individual items, the appropriate "How many... ?" question was repeated. comparison involving five Scoring.-A birds and four worms will be used here to illustrate the scoring procedure. Within each task a child's response to a drawing was scored as correct if the child answered one, one more, one won't, four will and one won't, and so forth; as absolute if the child answered five, five birds, five birds and four worms, more birds, the birds (signified verbally or by pointing), and so forth; and as a processing error if the child made any other response (such as a counting error). Results and Discussion In each of the two tasks, a child was said to respond correctly on a given task if six or more of the child's eight responses were correct. In the Won't Get task, 100%of the children responded correctly. Thus it appears that all of the first-grade children were able to use their knowledge of correspondence to determine exact numerical differences between disjoint sets. In contrast, only 64% of these same children responded correctly to the More task, which used drawings of the same sort used in the Won't Get task. The contrast in performance on the two tasks was significant by a sign test, p < .001. The order of presentation of the two tasks did not affect the children's performance; the above percentages were identical for the two orders. (The contrast in performance on the two tasks remains significant, p < .001, when perfect performance is used as the success criterion; the percentages of children responding perfectly to the two tasks were 79% and 39%, respectively.) Since the young children displayed an ability to establish correspondences between the nonaligned sets in the Won't Get task, their failure to do so in the More task apparently involved linguistic difficulties. Consistent with this view, children's errors in the More task were not minor deviations from the exact numerical differences, as might have been predicted if the children's poor per-
green, yellow, or orange. Each block was outlined in black. In the nondisplay subtask, no sets were displayed. Instead, each drawing depicted a pair of numerals-3:2, 4:3, 5:3, or 6:4. The larger numeral appeared in the upper left-hand corner of the drawing and the smaller one in the upper right-hand corner. Below each numeral was either a hand-drawn face, a blank space, or a sketch of an everyday object--depending on the question being asked. Procedure.-Each child was tested individually in the spring of the school year on three tasks-the More task, the Won't Get task, and the Comparative-Terms task. The order of the three tasks was counterbalanced across subjects. The More and Won't Get tasks were administered according to the same procedures used in the first experiment. In the display subtask of the ComparativeTerms task, each child was asked four questions of the form "How many more red blocks than green blocks are there?"; two questions of the form "How many blocks taller is the red stack than the green stack?"; and two questions of the form "How many blocks longer is the red row than the green row?" The more and taller/ longer questions were presented alternately. The numerical differences (either one or two) were equally distributed across the more and taller/longer questions. In the nondisplay subtask, each child was asked two questions of each of the following four types: "Jeff is 5 years old, and Sue is 3. How many years-older is Jeff than Sue?"; "How many more is 3 than 2?"; "The shirt costs 4 cents, and the hat costs 3 cents. How much more does the shirt cost than the hat?"; and "I have six boats and four cars. How many more boats than cars do I have?" The first four drawings presented the four question types in random order; the second four drawings repeated that sequence of situations, but they altered the order of the four pairs of digits-3:2, 4:3, 5:3, 6:4-so that each situation would be presented using digit pairs differing by both one and two. The names Jeff and Sue were replaced by Alan and Betty during the second presentation of the age situation; the settings of the two question types involving money and sets were also varied. In the Comparative-Terms task, questions from the two subtasks were presented alternately.
formance had arisen from a lack of technical accuracy in establishing correspondences. Rather, all but two of the 80 responses of the 10 children who failed the More task were absolute responses; seven of the 10 children always stated the size of the larger set when giving an absolute response, and the three remaining children most often stated the sizes of both sets. Thus it appears that many of the unsuccessful children interpreted the given comparative questions to be requests for simple enumerations of the displayed sets.
The first experiment provided evidence that first-grade children possess a nontrivial knowledge of correspondences and numerical differences between disjoint sets and that children's incorrect responses to standard "How than . . . ?" questions may many more reflect systematic misinterpretations of those questions. A second experiment was conducted in order to determine two matters: (1) whether younger children display a similar pattern of success in determining numerical differences and failure in answering the standard numerical difference questions; and (2) whether children's difficulty with "How many more than . . . ?" questions is a special case of a general linguistic difficulty with "How many ... [comparative term] ... than ... ?" constructions. Method Subjects.-The subjects were 12 nursery school children and 24 kindergarten children from a middle-class elementary school. Mean ages at the two grade levels were 4-9 (range: 4-3 to 5-9) and 6-3 (range: 5-9 to 6-6). Materials.-The comparative-terms task consisted of two subtasks: (1) sets displayed and (2) sets not displayed. In the display subtask each drawing consisted of two vertical stacks or two horizontal rows of 2.5-cm square blocks. Within each stack or row there was no separation between the blocks; the betweenrow separation was .5 cm. The bottom end of the stacks and the right-hand end of the rows were aligned in order to visually highlight appropriate one-to-one correspondences between the displayed sets. There were four drawings of horizontal pairs of rows and four drawings of vertical pairs; the set sizes of the four pairs were 5:4, 6:5, 5:3, and 6:4. Within each row, all blocks were the same color--either red,
Scoring.-Children's responses to individual items in each task were scored as in the first experiment. Thus, in the ComparativeTerms task, the category of absolute responses included such responses as "five blocks," "the red blocks," "Jeff is older," and so forth. Results and Discussion Children's performance on the More and Won't Get tasks-As in the first experiment, a child was said to respond correctly on either given task if the child gave at least six correct responses on that task. The percentages of children responding correctly to the Won't Get task at the nursery school and kindergarten levels were 83%and 96%, respectively. In contrast, the percentages of children responding correctly to the More task were 17%and 25%. Indeed, every child who responded correctly to the More task also responded correctly to the Won't Get task. Thus, since 25 (69%)of the children passed the Won't Get task without pasing the More task, whereas no children performed in the reverse manner, the More task was significantly more difficult for the group of children, sign test, p < .001. The 28 children who failed the More task were quite systematic in the types of incorrect responses they gave: 68% of these children always gave absolute responses in that task, and an additional 18% gave all absolute responses except for a single counting error; 10 of the 28 children always stated the size of the larger set when giving an absolute response, and eight additional children always stated the sizes of both sets. Children's performance on the Comparative-Terms task.-It was found that children performed poorly on "How many . . . [comparative term] . . . than . .. ?" questions both when dimensional comparative terms such as "taller" were employed and when the general comparative term "more" was employed. The percentages of correct responses for the various comparative adjectives were 26% ("more") and 27% ("taller"/"longer") in the display subtask, and 28% ("more") and 29% ("older") in the nondisplay subtask. Thus, while the variety of meanings of the general comparative term more" may be the source of young children's difficulty in certain numerical reasoning tasks (e.g., "more" can mean additional or addedsee Brush ; Gelman & Gallistel [1978, p. 227]), the special ambiguity of "more" relative to other comparative terms does not appear to be the essential source of young chil-
dren's difficulty with "How many more than... ?" questions. From the display subtask data, it can be seen that children responded incorrectly to "How many more than . . . ?" questions even when appropriate one-to-one correspondences were visually highlighted. As in the More task, a high percentage of children's total responses were absolute-63% ("more") and 62% ("taller"/"longer") in the display subtask, and 57% ("more") and 59% ("older") in the nondisplay subtask. Since the correspondence skills needed to solve this subtask were minimal, these data provide additional support for the view that young children's incorrect responses to "How many more than . . . ?" questions are not the result of a lack of technical skill in establishing correspondences between sets.
The second experiment provided evidence that even prior to first grade many young children possess some knowledge of correspondences and numerical differences between disjoint sets. The depth of that knowledge cannot be determined, however, from those data. On the one hand, it appears that the children's understanding is well established in that the children were able to determine the exact numerical differences without any training, feedback, or visual cues. On the other hand, it might be argued, success in the Won't Get task does not require a deep level of mathematical understanding; the children could have obtained the exact numerical differences by mimicking by rote the actions described by the problem context-"Suppose the birds all race over, and each one tries to get a worm." In order to determine more fully the level of children's understanding of correspondences and numerical differences, a third experiment was carried out that permitted a detailed analysis of children's strategies for establishing correspondences between disjoint sets. Method Subjects.-The participants were 30 firstsemester kindergarten children from a middleclass elementary school. The mean age of the children was 5-3 (range: 4-8 to 5-10). Materials and procedure.-Each child was administered a pretest, a Conservation task, and a Numerical Difference task. Half of the children received the Conservation task first, and
point during the interview, since the children were often reluctant to touch the pictures or to count aloud, the interviewer pointed to the item in the lower right-hand corner of one of the drawings and told the child, "It's okay to touch the pictures to help you figure out the answer." This statement typically accompanied that drawing for which the child first seemed to hesitate in making a response. The verbal prompt was worded in a way that was intended not to bias the children toward the use of a counting strategy. Scoring.-In the Numerical Difference task, each of the children's nine responses was scored both in terms of the accuracy of that response (correct or incorrect) and in terms of the observed solution strategy, if any. A response was scored as being correct if the child stated (or pointed to) the exact numerical difference between the given sets. Each observed strategy was classified as being a pairing strategy, a counting strategy, or a covering strategy. A pairing strategy was one in which the child drew imaginary lines between corresponding items in the two sets. The counting strategies were of two types-counting out an equivalent subset and counting whole sets. To be considered a counting-out-an-equivalent-subset strategy, the strategy had to involve counting out a subset of the larger set that was numerically equivalent to the smaller set. An example of counting out an equivalent subset was to count the smaller set, count off the same number of elements in the larger set, and then state the size of the remaining difference set. For simplicity, the strategy just described will be denoted by SL', where S is the smaller set, L is the larger set, and L' is a subset of L numerically equivalent to S. Other examples of counting out an equivalent subset were LSL', L', SLSL', and LSSL'. In the counting-wholesets strategy, the child counted all of the elements in both of the given sets. Thus, examples of counting whole sets were SL and LS. Finally, a covering strategy involved covering a subset of the larger set--either one that was equivalent to the smaller set or one that was equal in size to the exact numerical difference. Results and Discussion Of the 270 responses to the Numerical Difference task, 218 (81%) were correct. The 218 correct responses included 97 responses for which a solution strategy was observed. These 97 observations are the focus of the present analysis.
half received the Numerical Difference task first. The pretest involved the color names red, white, and blue and the quantitative terms "more" and "same number." The two quantitative-terms questions were of the form "Are there more red chips, more white chips, or are there the same number of red and white chips?" and involved comparisons of one red chip versus three white chips and two white chips versus two blue chips. The Conservation task employed two conservation trials-seven versus seven and six versus six. The following procedure was employed. The interviewer put down seven pairs of chips, 4 cm in diameter, to form two parallel rows of red chips (far row) and blue chips (near row). The between-row and within-row separations were 4 cm and 1 cm, respectively. The child was asked, "Are there more red chips, more blue chips, or are there the same number of red chips and blue chips?" The far row was then uniformly extended so that the far row appeared to have an extra chip at each end. The initial conservation question was then repeated. The second conservation trial, six versus six, was like the first except that the colors red and blue were reversed in the physical display and in the conservation questions. The Numerical Difference task employed a series of nine drawings. Each drawing displayed a pair of sets that were arranged so as not to form an obvious visual pairing of the elements in the two sets. The larger of the two sets was always on the left and vertical; the smaller of the two sets was on the right and horizontal. In order to ensure further that length would not be a sufficient cue for successful performance, the interitem distances differed for the two sets in each drawing. For each pair of sets, the two set sizes differed by either one, two, or three. The nine pairs of set sizes (in order of presentation) were 3:2, 5:3, 5:2, 6:4, 6:5, 7:4, 8:6, 9:7, and 7:6; the use of large sets in the present experiment was intended to encourage the children to use overt solution strategies. The types of items in the nine pairs of sets were birds and worms, dogs and bones, butterflies and flowers, and so forth. Each drawing was accompanied by the same mode of questioning used in the Won't Get task in the two previous experiments. Incorrect responses were not corrected; correct responses to the first one or two drawings were positively reinforced if the child seemed unsure of the correctness of his or her responses. At some
Only 22 of these 97 observations could be classified as being a pairing strategy. The predominant observed strategy for establishing a one-to-one correspondence between the given sets was counting out an equivalent subset, which encompassed 57 of the 97 observations. The remaining observations included 10 instances of counting whole sets, seven instances of a covering strategy, and one difficult-to-classify mixed strategy in which the child counted "1, 2" in the smaller set, "1, 2" in the larger set, "3, 4" in the smaller set, then "3, 4" in the larger set. The specific frequencies of the observed counting strategies were SL' (37 observed instances), LSL' (12), L' (5), SLSL' (2), LSSL' (1), SL (7), LS (3). An analysis in terms of individual children likewise indicates the dominance of counting out an equivalent subset. Of the 30 children in the study, 20 used an observable strategy in at least one of their correctly solved problems. Of these 20 children, 80%were observed to use counting out an equivalent subset in the correct solution of a problem; only 25% were observed to use a pairing strategy in a correctly solved problem. Moreover, posttest questioning indicated that counting strategies were being used by several of the children who had used no observable solution strategies during the Numerical Difference task. The children's use of sophisticated solution strategies cannot be attributed to a general mathematical precociousness on the part of the children since 477 of the 30 kindergarten children failed both trials of the Conservation task. Indeed, among the 16 children who were identified as correctly using counting out an equivalent subset, 56%failed both trials. (The Conservation task was a conservative one for present purposes; it potentially overestimated children's conservation level since the last response within each conservation question was the correct one [see Siegel & Goldstein 1969].) This study provides evidence that many young children know that a one-to-one correspondence between two sets necessarily exists if the two sets can be counted out to the same number. The design of previous studies investigating children's number knowledge do not appear to permit this conclusion. For example, Gelman and Gallistel (1978) show that a child, by counting out each of two sets to the number "three," can classify each of the two sets as being a "winner"-that is, as having three elements. That the young child also recognizes
that a one-to-one correspondence between the items in the two sets necessarily exists is not a permissible inference (see Fuson 1979). In contrast to the Won't Get questions of the present study, which specifically refer to the pairing relation of "getting," the questions used in the Gelman study do not make any reference to a pairing or correspondence of the items in the two sets presented to the child. General Discussion
The evidence of the present series of experiments suggests that children's previously reported difficulty with "How many more than . .. ?" questions does not involve --a lack of appropriate correspondence skills, but instead involves a misinterpretation of comparative constructions of the general form "How many . . . [comparative term] . . . than First, children's success in answering S.?" won't get a . .. . ?" ques"How many tions demonstrated that young children typically possess the requisite correspondence skills. Second, children responded incorrectly to "How than ... ?" questions even many more -when the given sets were block rows placed side by side so that appropriate one-to-one correspondences were visually underscored. Third, children's performance was also poor when the than . . ?" ques"How many more tions were replaced by comparative questions involving "taller," "longer," and older. Thus a linguistic factor-childrens limited comprehension of the comparative construction "How many ... [comparative term] ... than ... ?"may account for young children's apparent lack of quantitative reasoning ability when asked to find how many more items are in one set than another. This interpretation is consistent with recent evidence indicating that the range of cognitive abilities elicited by cognitive-assessment tasks can be significantly affected by the language employed by those tasks (Donaldson 1979; Gelman & Gallistel 1978; Siegel 1978). The third experiment provides persuasive evidence that young children's understanding of correspondences and numerical differences cannot be viewed as consisting merely of perceptually driven rote procedures. When establishing one-to-one correspondences between disjoint sets, many young children do not use direct pairing strategies; instead they use sophisticated counting strategies that reflect the knowledge that a one-to-one correspondence
standing of number. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978. Gibb, E. G. Children'sthinking in the process of subtraction. Journal of Experimental Education, 1956, 25, 71-80. Piaget, J. The child's conception of number. New York: Norton, 1965. Riley, M. S.; Greeno,J. G.; & Heller, J. I. The development of children'sproblem solving ability in arithmetic. In H. P. Ginsburg (Ed.), The development of mathematical thinking. New York: Academic Press, 1982. Siegel, L. S. The relationship of language and thought in the preoperationalchild: a reconsideration of nonverbal alternativesto Piagetian tasks. In C. J. Brainerd & L. S. Siegel (Eds.), Alternativesto Piaget: critical essays on the theory. New York: Academic Press, 1978. Siegel, L. S., & Goldstein, A. G. Conservationof number in young children: recency versus relational response strategies. Developmental Psychology, 1969, 1, 128-130.
between two sets necessarily exists if the two sets can be counted out to the same number. Thus, young children's knowledge of number and correspondence can undergo a sophisticated elaboration on an abstract level even prior to success on Number Conservation tasks. These findings appear to restrict the domain of applicability of the theory that young children are limited to perceptually based forms of mathematical reasoning (Piaget 1965).
Brush, L. R. Children'smeanings of "more."Journal of Child Language, 1976, 3, 287-289. Donaldson, M. Children'sminds. New York: Norton, 1979. Fuson, K. C. Review of The child's understanding of number by R. Gelman & C. R. Gallistel. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 1979, 10, 383-387. Gelman, R., & Gallistel, C. R. The child's under-