task used is asking children to represent the cardinal value associated with a given number name using sets of blocks representing units and tens. Children whose native language is Chinese, Korean, or Japanese are consistently more likely to represent numbers as sets of tens and ones as either a first or second choice than are children whose native language is English, French, or Swedish.

Ho and Fuson (1998) compared the performance of Chinese-speaking preschool children in Hong Kong with English-speaking children in Britain and the United States. They found that half of the Chinese-speaking 5-year-olds (but none of the English-speaking children) who could count to at least 50 were able to take advantage of the base-ten structure of number names to quickly determine the answer to addition problems of the form “10 + n= ?,” compared with other problems. Fuson and Kwon (1992) argued that the Chinese number-naming structure facilitates the use of a tens-complement strategy for early addition. In this approach, when adding numbers whose sum is greater than 10 (e.g., 8 + 7), the smaller addend is partitioned into the tens-complement of the first addend (2) and the remainder (5); the answer is 10 plus that remainder (10 + 5). In Chinese-structured number-naming systems, the answer corresponds to the result of the calculation (“shi wu” − “10 5”); in English, there is an additional step as the answer is converted into a different number name (“fifteen”). Fuson and Kwon reported that most Korean first graders they tested used this method before it was explicitly taught in school. Explicit instruction may be required for English-speaking children, but there is evidence that it can be quite successful, even with children from at-risk populations. Fuson and her colleagues (Fuson, Smith, and Lo Cicero, 1997) report success with explicitly teaching low-SES urban first graders about the base-ten structure of numbers, with the result that their end-of-year arithmetic performance approximated that reported for East Asian children.


Mathematics learning disabilities appear in 6 to 10 percent of the elementary school population (Barberisi et al., 2005). Many more children struggle in one or more mathematics content area at some point during their school careers (Geary, 2004). Although less research has been devoted to mathematical than to reading disabilities (Geary and Hoard, 2001; Ginsburg, 1997), considerable progress has been made over the past two decades with respect to understanding the nature of the mathematics difficulties and disabilities that children experience in school (Gersten, Jordan, and Flojo, 2005).

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