19 Jun

Dealing with Finger Counting!

I am having a little difficulty teaching my student mental math and adding strategies. She still counts on her fingers. She cannot add 9 and 4, she would have to count on her fingers. Last lesson I politely banned her from using her fingers and went over BASIC mental math strategies. It turns out she actually knew them, but never uses them; she says its easier to count on fingers.


Over time, maths tutoring should serve to create the habit of thinking for oneself.

Younger students often have trouble moving from rote learning to seeking understanding. The are generally not used to “thinking” logically but rather remembering. The BASIC method must be applied as well as any other methods that improve her abstract reasoning skills. It is just a process of conditioning the student to think for themselves rather than relying on memory and counting on fingers etc– obviously easier said than done.

Clearly, counting basic numbers on fingers requires less straining of the brain and this habit is likely just a mixture of laziness and lack of confidence. Straining the brain takes much more effort and from the perspective of the student the reward (a correct answer) is the same – so why would they strain their brain. You need to demonstrate (not just explain) to the student why putting pen to paper and using proper strategies is important. For example, give her a hard question that you know she won’t be able to do on her fingers, then guide her through the same question using appropriate strategies such as self questioning and putting pen to paper. Do this as many times as it is necessary for her to really appreciate that counting on fingers does not work.

The other consideration needed here is that there might be a confidence issue. The student is confident that they can get correct answers using a process they know – counting on fingers. Perhaps she is reluctant to try the other method because she feels uncertain in her ability? Also, if you demonstrate that finger counting doesn’t really work this could also serve to demoralize her a little. So just be careful to make sure the student feels supported throughout the transition and that you continuously instill “Its Okay To Be Wrong” etc. The reluctance to put pen to paper is really common in non-confident primary students, almost as if they don’t want to write anything down because it might become “proof” that they are wrong or unintelligent etc.


1 comments Posted in All Categories, Primary School Learning by Gene

One comment

  • Khumalo said 08 August 2013

    Thanks a lot for your leossns, Alan. I think leossns are very clear and instructive. I love music and now, at my age (48) i am learning to play guitar with you. I dont know what can i say to you to show how grateful i am, i listen your songs once and again and (though im not good with guitar) i practice a lot. Beautiful songs, excellent teacher. Thank you very very much. Excuse for my English (Im from Spain).

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