Our system of numerals has a long history of development, with the symbols derived from the Indian Brahmi numerals, then adopted and popularised by the Arab empire. Initially the place value system used nine numerals and a blank space called sunya in India and sifr in the Arab world, both words meaning empty. The tenth symbol for zero appeared later. There are two uses of zero that are both important but are somewhat different. One use is as an empty place indicator in our place-value system and the second use of zero is as a number in its own right. There are also different aspects of zero (and other numbers), namely the concept or quantity, the notation and the name. In assessing numeral identification we seek to establish the link between the verbal and the symbolic.
In using number, children must integrate many layers of verbal, procedural, symbolic and conceptual meaning. To illustrate how these layers can coexist, consider the following video showing some of the different meanings attributed to “five”.
Get me 5 counters…
This child has learnt what five fingers are, and in that limited context, could be said to know five. He has knowledge of the forward sequence of number words to five and recognition that the last word in a count has special meaning. His counting procedure starts with the first item in a row and ends on the final item in the row, but he does not match his counting words one-to-one with each and every item.
As well as the spoken word (e.g. “five”), number can be represented symbolically as a written word (e.g. five) or as a written numeral (e.g. 5). Although numerals are the written and read symbols for numbers, they can also play a similar role to letters in forming part of a name, as in licence plates and telephone numbers. At its most basic level, numeral identification is a form of shape recognition, which can result in a simple association of the word “two” with the symbol ‘2’ without a cardinal meaning (Mix, Sandhofer, & Baroody, 2005). This means that numeral identification can develop at a different rate to number knowledge.
Learning to identify, recognise and write numerals is an important part of early arithmetical development. When a young child learns the name of a numeral it sows the idea that a symbol can stand for a whole word (Mix, Huttenlocher, & Levine, 2002).
Numeral identification refers to being able to state the name of a displayed numeral.
Level 0: Emergent
At the emergent numeral identification level the student may identify some, but not all numerals in the range 1–10.
Level 1: 1-10
At the 1–10 numeral identification level the student can identify all numerals in the range 1–10.
Level 2: 1-20
At the 1–20 numeral identification level the student can identify all numerals in the range 1–20.
Level 3: 1-100
At the 1–100 numeral identification level the student can identify all numerals in the range 1–100.
Level 4: 1-1000
At the 1–1000 numeral identification level the student can identify one–, two– and three–digitnumbers.
Level 5: 1-10 000
At the 1–10 000 numeral identification level the student can identify one–, two–, three– andfour–digit numbers