Solving Word Problems Part 1: Work it out In Guided Math Groups

Posted on March 16, 2011. Filed under: Common Math Errors, During the Guided Math Lesson, Math is a Language | Tags: , , , , , , |

Word Problems are one of the biggest challenges for students in math. In 1977, Australian educator Anne Newman discussed five steps that students need to work through in order to solve a word problem successfully–

(1) reading the problem / READING

(2) comprehending what was read /COMPREHENSION

(3) transforming the words into a mathematical strategy/TRANSFORMATION

 (4) applying a mathematical procedure/PROCESS SKILLS

(5) writing the answer/ ENCODING

Her research showed that over 50% of errors that children make occur in the first three steps– before they even begin to solve the problem!


She suggested a 5 step protocol for word problem solving error analysis.  She would ask the following questions:

1.       Please read the question to me. If you don’t know a word, leave it out.

2.       Tell me what the question is asking you to do.

3.       Tell me how you are going to find the answer.

4.       Show me what to do to get the answer. “Talk aloud” as you do it, so that I can understand how you are thinking.

5.       Now, write down your answer to the question.

The five questions link to the 5 processes (noted alongside them).  Whereever the student has a break down, this is where the teaching point begins.  Now, if asked to rework the problem and the student gets it right and can self correct, Newman labels this as a careless error.  All other errors are teaching points.  Try this out on your students and let me know what happens.


Reference 1 (Be sure to watch the video) 

Happy Mathing,

Dr. Nicki

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Individual Math Conferences

Posted on June 22, 2010. Filed under: Assessment, Math Conferences | Tags: , |

Today, I interviewed several upper elementary students about math.  These were students who had failed the math test and were going to be going to summer school.  I wanted to know what their perception of what happened was.  Surprisingly, they all said they liked math and felt they had a handle on it.  I thought, “Wow!”  What does this mean?  So, I told them that I would like to do a “math interview” with them, where we would discuss problems and how they solved them.  They agreed and we were off! 

Now there are several types of interviews, but I did a content interview.  I wanted to know what they knew.  This experience just reminds me again, that  IT’S really important that we talk to students about math.  Some things we will only ever know by having a conversation.  We should be doing math conferences.  We have to find time in our schedules.  Even if we only do 1 or 2 a semester, it is probably more than we have been doing.  Math conferences can make all the difference in a student’s progress.  When student’s have the time to talk about math and their individual performance, they have the opportunity to set goals.  When students set goals, they have the opportunity to meet them.  So, look at the forms I’ve uploaded and use them!  And let me know how they work, please:) 


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Balanced Assessment Part 1

Posted on June 7, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

Balanced Assessment is one of the linchpins of great math instruction. It is an integral part of planning for guided math groups.  Balanced Assessment is premised on the McTighe and Wiggins (2004) idea that assessment should be a scrapbook rather than a snapshot.  We should have multiple pictures of what students can do by giving them ample opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of ways.  We should begin each unit of study by pre-assesing our students.  This can be done through a variety of pre-assessments such as surveys, questionnaires, checklists and quizzes.  Moreover, teachers should be strategically using ongoing assessments such as anecdotals, math inventories, exit slips for lessons and conferences.  Finally, teachers should use a variety of summative assessments such as project menus, short essays and chapter tests with both multiple choice and constructed response questions.   If we are really going to use assessement as a powerful way to move our instruction and advance student achievement, then we must move beyond teach, test and move on.

How are you using balanced math components in your classroom?  Please leave comments and questions:)

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Students should set individual math goals!

Posted on January 18, 2010. Filed under: Assessment | Tags: , , |

Developing mathematicians must also have multiple opportunities to discuss their strengths and as well as their areas of struggles.  They must set specific math goals and then make a plan for achieving those goals.  Research shows that when students set goals for themselves, they are much more likely to achieve them.  Teachers have to work with students in order to set appropriate goals.  They should base these on the math data- including ongoing observations, math interviews and quizzes.  For instance, a student might say that their goal is to learn their 6 times tables.  However, after doing a math interview, the teacher might find out and discuss with the student that they really need to learn their 3’s first.  Math interviews can play a crucial role in scaffolding goal setting.

Furthermore, observations of students during Guided Math sessions, individual math conferences and math running records can help teachers guide students’ in their individual goal setting.

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