This past week I had the opportunity to work with a kindergarten classroom. This is a class that my co-worker has been working with weekly in a small group setting. I was cleaning up our small group materials when I observed the classroom teacher gathering her students on the carpet for a whole group activity using music sticks. I have used these in my own kindergarten classrooms in the past so the sound they made brought back many memories. Now let’s be real, using these music sticks with five-year-olds can be scary! Not all my memories are joyful, but most are. That being said, when I saw this classroom teacher using something I have experience using in my classroom, I saw an opportunity!
This classroom teacher is amazing! I can’t say that enough. What makes her even more dynamic in my view, is her eagerness to learn more to benefit her students. I watched as she was clicking the music sticks together as the students joined in and counted. Now knowing what I know after reading this research, everything she was doing was great. I knew that most of her students were working in additive situations within ten, yet, they were having a hard time counting past ten on their fingers. Anytime they would get a problem that would have them count past ten they thought it was impossible to solve, due to the lack of more than ten fingers. The music sticks gave me an opportunity to have a classroom discussion with the whole group about counting past ten with our fingers. I humbly asked for permission from the classroom teacher to continue counting with her students and using the music sticks. To my delight she allowed me to work with her students.
The time that I spent with the class was quick, and it was over in a flash. My goal in taking a portion of the whole group activity was that I saw something the teacher was already doing in her classroom and to share something with the students I knew they all could benefit from, but is rarely posed to students – recounting using our fingers. I started by just doing what I saw the classroom teacher do, counting the clicks she did with the sticks. I had students click the sticks twelve times. I then asked them how they could show me twelve using their fingers.
I knew that most of these students were limited to counting their ten fingers and they do not realize they can reuse their fingers to count past ten. One student raised his hand and demonstrated counting to twelve by tapping his two index fingers as if they were sticks. Another student did what I was hoping would happen. He counted on his fingers to ten and looked at me when he ran of fingers, then continued to reuse two fingers to complete his count to twelve. This was HUGE. I know that I never realized how important this skill was before I read the research of Les Steffe, but now that I do, I know how much not having this skill can limit a child’s mathematical progression. I immediately highlighted this child’s counting behavior to see if others in the class would think this was a good idea. The comments from other students were amazing, and they all wanted to count the same way. We altogether counted to twelve using our fingers, reusing two of our fingers to get to twelve!
Counting in our classrooms is sometimes something we take for granted. I am not saying that counting does not happen, but the magic of counting is not always celebrated. We need to take a look at our counting routines and see how we can enrich them for our students at all ages and grade levels. Let’s utilize the opportunities where students need to reuse fingers to count. The possibilities are endless. Counting is the basis for all mathematical thinking! Where do you see the opportunity to get your students counting past their finger patterns for ten?