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Finger-Counting Found Useful In Learning Arithmetic

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The researchers, who studied 160 children from Pittsburgh and the nearby suburb of Monroeville, maintain that students learn best by giving the correct answer--no matter how they arrived at it.

"Part of the reason not-so-good students have problems," said Robert S. Siegler, who conducted the studies with Dennis Kerkman, "is that they are bad at executing 'back-up strategies,"' such as finger-counting.

Without such strategies, Mr. Siegler added, "they create errors that they then confuse as right answers."

Forbidding finger-counting, he suggested, is like "killing the messenger for bearing bad news."

"Teachers reason that good students and older students tend not to use their fingers," he said, "and that bad students and younger students use them."

"They tend to make the poorer students superficially look like" the better students, the researcher added. "That doesn't seem to work very well."

Findings from the research are expected to be published later this year.

Elderly "mentors" can be especially effective in working with troubled young people, according to a new report by Public/Private Ventures.

The report released this month by the nonprofit research organization examines five "intergenerational" counseling programs in Michigan, Massachusetts, and Maine. The programs, targeted at such groups as teenage mothers, young offenders, and students in danger of dropping out of school, make use of members of the Foster Grandparents program, retirees from several labor unions, and other older volunteers.

Copies of "Partners in Growth: Elder Mentors and At-Risk Youth," are available for $5 each from the Communications Department, Public/Private Ventures, 399 Market St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19106-2178.

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