Word Problem Error Analysis: Do Student Math Interviews!

Posted on March 16, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

We can learn so much from students’ error patterns!  We need to look very closely at what they are doing and what they are not doing. White (2005) states that

” Mistakes can become entrenched, so error analysis is the first step towards doing something relevant which will remove the cause of the mistake.”  And as I was discussing in yesterday’s post, the Newman error analysis/interview protocol can help us figure out what is going on with students with word problems. White (2005) gives a great synopsis of the protocol.  Here is a summary of that synopsis.


The Five Newman Questions/Requests

  1. Please read the question to me: (This identifies Reading Errors)(Be sure to tell the student to tell you if they don’t know a word. (Put an R if there are errors here.)A reading error is when the student’s reading prevents them from understanding the problem.  If they cannot read key words or understand key symbols in the problem so much so that it prevents them from understanding the problem then this is classified as a reading error.


2. Tell me, what the question is asking you to do. (This identifies Comprehension Errors). (Record a C if the student has problems.) A comprehension error is when the student can read the whole problem but doesn’t understand what to do.  They did not get the big picture of what was going on in the problem and therefore could not proceed with the problem.

  1. Which method do you use to get your answer? (This checks for Transformation Errors.) (Record a T if there are problems here.) A Transformation error is when the student can read the problem, and comprehends what to do but doesn’t know how to do it.  The student doesn’t know what operation/s to use.  They get stuck.  For example, they don’t know if it is a multiplication or a division problem.


4. Show me how you get your answer, and “talk aloud” as you do it, so that I can understand how you are thinking. (This checks for Process Errors.) (Put a P if there are errors here.)  A Process error is when the student can read the problem, comprehend it, knows what to do but can’t do it.  It is when they don’t know how to do it.  For example, they know they need to multiply but they don’t know how.

5. Now, write down your actual answer. (This checks for Encoding Errors –defined as an inability to express the answer in an acceptable form.) (Ask the student to tell you the answer and to explain the answer.)(Record an E if there are errors here.) An Encoding Error is when the student found the answer but can’t write it out as the actual solution to the problem.  They don’t know how to express it as the answer.

Remember that if the student self corrects it could be classified as a CARELESS ERROR and coded with an X. Newman (1977,1983) also said that students make errors due to lack of motivation. Researchers have also found that 70% of word problem errors were at the Comprehension and Transformation levels  (Marinas and Clements ,1990; Singhatat ,1991;Clements and Ellerton,(1999 cited in White, 2005).


Read the whole article here.  It is well worth it!


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