Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students' Performance on Arithmetic Word Problems

Article excerpt

There has been limited research into the intersection of language and arithmetic performance of students who are deaf or hard of hearing, although previous research has shown that many of these students are delayed in both language acquisition and arithmetic performance. The researchers examined the performance on arithmetic word problems of deaf and hard of hearing students in the South-East Queensland region of Australia; they also examined these students' problemsolving strategies. It was found that performance on word problems was similar for deaf and hearing students, but that deaf students experienced delays in achieving successful performance on word problems relative to their hearing peers. The results confirm the findings of other studies showing that students who are deaf or hard of hearing experience delayed language acquisition, which affects their capacity to solve arithmetic word problems. The study conclusions stress the need for greater use of direct teaching of analytic and strategic approaches to arithmetic word problems.

Research on the mathematics achievement of students with hearing loss has chiefly concentrated on these students' skills in operations and number. These studies have generally concluded that there is no central cognitive basis for major differences documented in mathematical performance between deaf and hearing students, and that the achievement differences that are observed are the result of a combination of linguistic, procedural, and experiential delays on the part of deaf students. Increasingly in these studies, it seems that the role of language in mathematics comprehension is being recognized not only in regard to hearing students (Wood, Wood, Griffith, & Howarth, 1986; Zevenbergen, 2000, 2002), but in regard to deaf students as well (Gregory, 1988; Luckner & McNeill, 1994; Serrano Pau, 1995; Titus, 1995; Wood et al., 1986; Zwiebel & Allen, 1988).

Extending beyond lexical and syntactic difficulties to more complex configurations, problems of an everyday nature involving the use of linguistic forms applied to arithmetic concepts and strategies have been found to cause significant difficulty for deaf students (Daniele, 1993; Luckner & McNeill, 1994; Serrano Pau, 1995; Wood et al., 1986). However, the nature of the relationship between language and mathematics understanding and the performance of deaf students has still not been established in any significant detail.

In examining and theorizing about the effects of language on the resolution of mathematical tasks, Wood et al. (1986) argued that the linguistic characteristics of mathematical problems create difficulties for both hearing and deaf students. They contended that both deaf and hearing students are often able to do the arithmetic of questions such as "How many minutes between 10:40 a.m. and 1:20 p.m.?" (p. 157), but that deaf students in particular experience difficulties in transforming the words of the problem into a workable mathematical format. Wood et al. concluded that an appreciation of the role of language delay (especially with more complex syntax) is critical to understanding the performance delays of deaf students; this conclusion represented a break with earlier "deficit" models, which posited that deafness in and of itself causes a cognitive deficit that accounts for an inability to solve problems.

Specific studies of the relationship between language and mathematics have been evident in the study of "everyday" word problems. If the classification of word problems reported by Riley, Greeno, and Heller (1983)-as "change," "compare," and "combine" forms, described below-and research reported by Del Campo and Clements (1987) are taken into consideration, it becomes clear that the wording of arithmetic tasks has a significant effect on the successful completion of those tasks. Even where the arithmetic is simple and involves addition and subtraction of two numbers whose sum or difference is less than 10, many students in the upper primary years can experience difficulty finding the correct solution (Lean, Clements, & Del Campo, 1990). …