Paraphrasing math word problems improves performance of some students

iStock_000010865073XSmallMath word problems are especially challenging to students because they place demands on both reading and math skills. Does paraphrasing the word problems improve performance?

A new study in Learning Disability Quarterly says  paraphrasing is helpful for students at risk for math disability only if they have a good working memory capacity. This may account for why some children benefit from strategy instructions and others do not, researchers write.

The 82 3rd graders who participated in the study  were randomly assigned to 4 conditions: Restatement of the question; restatement of the question and relevant propositions;  restatement of the question, relevant, and irrelevant propositions (complete) and the control group.  Children in the complete condition showed a clear advantage in problem-solving accuracy and solution planning.

All children were at risk of math disability. Children were identified at risk for MD if they scored above the 16th percentile on a measure of fluid intelligence and scored in the lowest 25th percentile on a norm-referenced word problem-solving math test and a norm-referenced arithmetic calculation test.   Participants completed the Colored Progressive Matrices Test before and after receiving the interventions.

“We found that a key variable in accounting for the outcomes was WMC (working memory capacity),” the researchers write.  “Clearly, WMC would not be the only variable across studies to account for outcomes; however, the role of WMC in this study appeared to be fairly robust.  It may be the case that when children with both computation and/or reading difficulties are included in the analysis that effects would be different.”

 “The Effect of Explicit and Direct Generative Strategy Training and Working Memory on Word Problem-Solving Accuracy in Children at Risk for Math Difficulties,” by H. Lee Swanson et al., Learning Disability Quarterly, 2014, Volume 37, Number 2, pp. 111-123.

2 Responses to “Paraphrasing math word problems improves performance of some students”

  1. Martin Wilson

    The ability of students to be able to state what the question is asking in their own words is a critical component of problem solving. For most students, this component of problem solving is by far the biggest struggle in making meaning of the problem. It is something that should be modeled, practiced, and discussed regularly.


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