While students’ scores on classroom tests and high-stake assessments showed improvement in recent years, many students continue to have difficulty when solving math word problems.
Students with disabilities have even lower scores than their peers, a gap that increases as they progress through the school years. Data from the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress suggest that students with disabilities typically perform more poorly on applied mathematical problem solving than they do on basic computation.
What Is It About Solving Math Word Problems That Creates Difficulties for Students?
A 2013 study (Pearce, Bruun, Skinner, & Lopez-Mohler) surveyed teachers’ perceptions of difficulties students have solving math word problems and what teachers believed to be the causes of those difficulties. Not surprising, 45 percent of teachers indicated that solving math word problems is difficult for students who struggle with reading and understanding the problems. Thirty-five percent of teachers pointed to students’ inability to make a plan to solve a problem. Researchers noted that teachers in the study expressed an interest in learning more on how to teach their students to solve math word problems.
Comprehending a word problem and making a plan to solve it are fundamental to the evidence-based Solve It! instructional approach. Solve It! teaches students—including those with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, and math difficulties—how to solve math word problems. Instructional strategies are built into the approach to address difficulties students face while mastering math word problem-solving skills.
Solve It! Addresses Student Difficulties with Comprehending Math Word Problems
The evidence-based Solve It! cognitive strategy includes seven steps that students learn and use to solve math word problems.
Step 1: “Read (for understanding).” This step asks students to read the problem and decide if they understand what it is asking. If they do not understand it, then they are directed to read it again, and if necessary, ask for assistance.
Step 2: “Paraphrase (in their own words).” This step promotes further comprehension of what the problem is asking. Students answer three metacognitive questions regarding their understanding. They are guided to underline important information and cross out unimportant information. They also may be guided to identify unknown words and/or identify to whom or what pronouns are referring in the word problem.
Step 3: “Visualize.” In this step, students are asked to visualize the problem. They draw an illustration of the word problem or create a graphic representation of it. They review their visualization in reference to steps 1 and 2. Metacognitive questions help them determine if they are on the correct path to solving the problem.
Step 4: “Hypothesize.” This step speaks directly to making a plan to solve the word problem. Based on students’ understanding of what the problem is asking them to do, they determine the number of steps and mathematical operations that will be needed to solve the word problem. Steps 5 through 7 help students carry out their plan and check that it results in a correct answer.
In total, Solve It! offers teachers an approach that addresses the most common student difficulties while incorporating evidence-based instructional approaches. In addition, Solve It! includes techniques and accommodations to help struggling students succeed.
Learn more about Solve It! here.
Citation: Pearce, D. L., Bruun, F., Skinner, K., & Lopez-Mohler, C. (2013). What teachers say about difficulties solving mathematical word problems in grades 2–5. International Electronic Journal of Mathematics Education, 8(1), 3–19. Retrieved January 28, 2019, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/286608143_What_teachers_say_about_student_difficulties