University of Oregon

What are the issues surrounding the use of word problems in the math curriculum?

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Word problems are consistently used as practice exercises and illustrations throughout math curriculum.  Despite this prevalence, many students have difficulty solving word problems, based on the complex and varied nature of these exercises. 

Success in solving word problems is reliant on a student’s knowledge of language and structure, ability to interpret vocabulary in mathematical terms, and actual mathematic knowledge and ability. The difficulty level of each of these factors can vary greatly between problems, and ability levels can vary greatly between students.  Based on this complex interaction, traditional teaching strategies for solving math word problems (e.g. key words, step-based problem solving models) are rarely universally helpful.   Instead, research suggests that strategies emphasizing comprehensive understanding of word problems, especially in how individual problem elements relate to each other and the problem as a whole (e.g. schema-based instruction), are most effective in helping students improve their word-problem-solving ability.  Students with learning disabilities and other obstacles to learning (e.g. ESL/EFL populations) have been shown to benefit from this type of instruction as well, but may require additional instruction in specific areas in order to achieve the same levels of success.

 

General:

Barlow, A. T. (2010). Building word problems: What does it take? Teaching Children Mathematics, 17(3 [Annual Focus Issue: “Teaching Mathematics in a Flat World”]), 140–148.

Bebout, H. (1990). Children’s symbolic representation of addition and subtraction word problems. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 21(2), 123.

Capraro, R. M., Capraro, M. M., & Rupley, W. H. (2012). Reading-enhanced word problem solving: A theoretical model. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 27(1), 91–114.

Dunlap, W. (1980). Teaching strategies for solving word problems in math. Intervention in School and Clinic, 15(4), 431–441.

Englard, L. (2010). Raise the bar on problem solving. Teaching Children Mathematics, 17(3), 156–163.

Gooding, S. (2009). Children’s difficulties with mathematical word problems. (M. Joubert, Ed.) Proceedings of the British Society for Research into Learning Mathmatics, 29(3), 31–36.

Hershkovitz, S., & Nesher, P. (1999). Tools to think with: Detecting different strategies in solving arithmetic word problems. International Journal of Computers for Mathematical Learning, 3, 255–273.

Ilany, B. S., & Margolin, B. (2010). Language and mathematics: Bridging between natural language and mathematical language in solving problems in mathematics. Creative Education, 1(3), 138–148.

Kapa, E. (2001). A metacognitive support during the process of problem solving in a computerized environment. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 47(3), 317–336.

Lee, K., Ng, S. F., Bull, R., Pe, M. L., & Ho, R. H. M. (2011). Are patterns important? An investigation of the relationships between proficiencies in patterns, computation, executive functioning, and algebraic word problems. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(2), 269–281.

Littlefield, J., & Rieser, J. J. (1993). Semantic features of similarity and children’s strategies for identifying relevant information in mathematical story problems. Cognition and Instruction, 11(2), 133–88.

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Swanson, H. L. (2011). Working memory, attention, and mathematical problem solving: A longitudinal study of elementary school children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(4), 821–837

Learning Disabilities:

Alter, P. (2012). Helping students with emotional and behavioral disorders solve mathematics word problems. Preventing School Failure, 56(1), 55–64.

Babbitt, B. C., & Miller, S. P. (1996). Using hypermedia to improve the mathematics problem-solving skills of students with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 29(4), 391.

García, A. (2006). Solving arithmetic word problems. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 39(3), 270–281.

Gersten, R., Chard, D., Jayanthi, M., Baker, S., Morphy, P., & Flojo, J. (2008). Mathematics Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities or Difficulty Learning Mathematics: A Synthesis of the Intervention Research. Review of Educational Research, 79(3), 1202–1242.\

Giordano, G. (1992). Heuristic strategies: An aid for solving verbal mathematical problems. Intervention in School and Clinic, 28(2), 88–96.

Jitendra, A. K., & Star, J. R. (2011). Meeting the needs of students with learning disabilities in inclusive mathematics classrooms: The role of schema-based instruction on mathematical problem-solving. Theory Into Practice, 50(1), 12–19.

Jitendra, A., & Xin, Y. P. (1997). Mathematical word-problem-solving instruction for students with mild disabilities and students at risk for math failure: A research synthesis. Journal of Special Education, 30(4), 412–38.

Maccini, P., McNaughton, D., & Ruhl, K. L. (1999). Algebra Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities: Implications from a Research Review. Learning Disability Quarterly, 22(2), 113–126.

Powell, S. R. (2011). Solving word problems using schemas: A review of the literature. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 26(2), 94–108.

Stellingwerf, B. P., & Van Lieshout, E. C. D. M. (1999). Manipulatives and number sentences in computer aided arithmetic word problem solving. Instructional Science, 27(6), 459–476.

Xin, Y. P., Jitendra, A. K., & Deatline-buchman, A. (2005). Effects of mathematical word problem solving instruction on middle school students with learning problems. The Journal of Special Education, 39(3), 181–192.

Other:

Beal, C. R., & Shaw, E. (2009). An online math problem solving system for middle school students who are blind. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5(4). Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol5no4/beal_1209.htm

Delgado, A. M. (2007). The Effects of Multimedia Technology on the Learning of Math Story Problems of Elementary and Middle School Deaf Students (Master’s thesis). Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas. Retrieved from http://gradworks.umi.com/14/52/1452086.html

Hyde, M., Zevenbergen, R., & Power, D. J. (2003). Deaf and hard of hearing students’ performance on arithmetic word problems. American annals of the deaf, 148(1), 56–64.

Kempert, S., Saalbach, H., & Hardy, I. (2011). Cognitive benefits and costs of bilingualism in elementary school students: The case of mathematical word problems. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(3), 547–561.

Lean, G. (1990). Linguistic and pedagogical factors affecting children’s understanding of arithmetic word problems: A comparative study. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 21(2), 165.

 

 

 

 

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