Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Solving Word Problems: More Than Reading Issues for Deaf Students

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Solving Word Problems: More Than Reading Issues for Deaf Students

Article excerpt

Deaf and hearing college students were given 30 mathematics problems to solve. The initial 15 were presented as numeric/graphic problems, followed by 15 corresponding word problems, with both conditions sequenced for a progressive increase in problem complexity. Each word problem described the kind of shape and measurement information that was presented in its corresponding numeric/ graphic problem. The results showed that the deaf college students, regardless of reading level, were comparable in performance to the hearing college students when solving the numeric/graphic problems and the initial, least complex set of corresponding word problems. However, as the complexity of the descriptive information in the word problems increased along with the complexity of the problem situations, the performance scores of the deaf students decreased. No comparable decrease was observed in the hearing students' scores. While reading ability level was associated with the deaf students' lower scores when solving word problems, the analyses show that other factors also contributed.

Word problems are the primary context in which students are asked to apply mathematical knowledge in useful situations (Briars & Larkin, 1984). Rather than simply being practice for executing algorithms, Briars and Larkin suggest thatsuggest, "solving word problems may be an important precursor of ability to construct mathematical representations of more complex situations, a critical skill for many kinds of 'real' problem solving" (p. 246). Providing instruction that will enable students to solve "real" problems (or novel problems) has become a major concern of educators (Glover, Ronning, & Bruning, 1990). In developing national standards, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) has given primary emphasis to problem solving throughout the K-12 mathematics curriculum, stating that "problem solving is much more than applying specific techniques to the solution of classes of word problems. It is a process by which the fabric of mathematics... is both constructed and reinforced" (1989, p. 1). The "NCTM Standards 2000" (NCTM, 2000) continue the emphasis on helping students become flexible and resourceful problem solvers.

For young deaf students, it has been noted that most of their mathematics difficulties concern solving written mathematical problems (Pau, 1995). Deaf students' difficulties with mathematics in general, as well as with word problems, have been attributed to the linguistic content: "When asked about the problems their pupils are having with mathematics, teachers of deaf children seem to have an intuitive feeling that language is at the heart of their difficulties" (Barham & Bishop, 1991, p. 180). Rudner (1978) identified English-language structures used in both written and verbal instructions for mathematics that particularly vex deaf students. These language structures include conditionals (if, when), comparatives (greater than, the most), negatives (not, without), inferentials (should, could, because, since), low-information pronouns (it, something), and lengthy passages. Pertinent to some of these language issues, Pau (1995) examined the mathematics performance of deaf children 8 to 12 years of age with three different kinds of word problems--those that require the solver to change, compare, or combine. The results suggested that reading comprehension level was directly related to these children's problemsolving abilities.

Reading comprehension continues to be a factor when older deaf students do mathematics. At the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), students' entrance performance (n = 532) on the American College Testing (ACT) examination shows significant relationships between their mathematics scores and their reading scores, r = .60, p < .01, and English scores, r = .65, p < .01 (NID Admissions and Placement Research Committee, 2000). Similarly, data on 15-to-- 18-year-old deaf students' performance on the ninth edition of the Stanford Achievement Test show a strong positive correlation between their mathematics problem solving and their reading comprehension, r = . …

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