British Journal of Developmental Psychology

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Volume 34 Issue 4 (November 2016), Pages 471-597

Place‐value understanding in number line estimation predicts future arithmetic performance (pages 502-517)

In multi‐digit numbers, the value of each digit is determined by its position within the digit string. Children's understanding of this place‐value structure constitutes a building block for later arithmetic skills. We investigated whether a number line estimation task can provide an assessment of place‐value understanding in first grade. We hypothesized that estimating the position of two‐digit numbers requires place‐value understanding. Therefore, we fitted a linear function to children's estimates of two‐digit numbers and considered the resulting slope as a measure of children's place‐value understanding. We observed a significant correlation between this slope and children's performance in a transcoding task known to require place‐value understanding. Additionally, the slope for two‐digit numbers assessed at the beginning of grade 1 predicted children's arithmetic performance at the end of grade 1. These results indicate that the number line estimation task may indeed constitute a valid measure for first‐graders' place‐value understanding. Moreover, these findings are hard to reconcile with the view that number line estimation directly assesses a spatial representation of numbers. Instead, our results suggest that numerical processes involved in performing the task (such as place‐value understanding) may drive the association between number line estimation and arithmetic performance.

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