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The Interrelatedness of Comprehension Skills and Understanding Mathematical Word-Problem

Word problems are an important part of the mathematics curriculum. However, learners face difficulties in solving mathematical word problems as they often do not understand the wording of the problem. Many learners across the globe are frequently confused by word problems, not because they cannot solve them, but because they do not understand the problem statement because of a language barrier. As a consequence, they frequently wait for the teacher to address the question in numerical form; otherwise, learners appear to focus on key words or misinterpret the problem statement and come up with the wrong answer themselves. In recent years, this has been a dilemma for teachers around the globe about how to help learners understand the meaning of the mathematical word problem. Studies and indicate that comprehension influences how learners view the written text. Connecting this to the substance of the mathematical word problem, learners need to consider the meaning of the terms in order to translate this mathematical word problem into a number sentence. True understanding guides learners to understand the meaning of the issue of the mathematical term.

In developing countries where English is taught as a second or foreign language and the medium of instruction is bilingual or even multilingual, understanding of the problem statement becomes more important. For example, the knowledge of the language used as a communication tool in the classroom is a prerequisite for English Language Learners (ELLs). Many studies have shown that the inability of learners to deal with word problems is due to lack of linguistic skills. This condition becomes even more complicated when the word problem is articulated in the second or third language of the learner. Research with students for whom English was a second language concluded that as a result of language difficulties, learners encounter a disadvantage of between 10% and 15% in mathematics. Similar findings were observed in other contexts of ELL and English as a Second Language (ESL). Learners use two distinct paths when interpreting text: a direct translation approach and a problem model approach. The former relies on key terms instead of constructing a mental image of the issues. What research has found is that if learners are asked to rely solely on the knowledge of certain key terms, they may actually be discouraged from trying to understand the problems. Key terms may cause confusion between everyday language and mathematical language. For example, the mathematical language used is often special or taken from everyday language and transformed into something else. The role of understanding word problems is therefore vital and represents a threshold for effective solutions.

Studying word problems are important aspect of the Mathematics learning competencies. However, most of the time, learners encounter difficulties in solving mathematical word problems because they do not understand the content of the problem. The explanation of the content of a problem becomes more crucial to understand in the context of Philippine setting where English is taught as a second or a foreign language and the medium of instruction is bilingual or even multilingual. For instance, proficiency in the language which is used as a tool in the classroom for communication becomes a requirement for English language learners. Teachers have been teaching the learners on how to become better readers and writers for years. Children reach an important milestone in their education when they go from learning to read to reading to learn. Specifically, word problem solving differs from other forms of mathematics competence because it requires learners to decipher text describing a problem situation and derive the number sentence representing the solution. The learners assumed that the sources of difficulty in comprehending and solving the mathematics word problems was the mathematical language that imposed difficult challenges to academic achievement. On the other hand, a research came out that fluent reading skills had no effect on classifying students according to their problem-solving success. Word problems in mathematics can be tricky. To get the right answer, learners have to be able to read words, figure out what math operation to use, and then do the calculations correctly. Word problem solving performance on both easy and difficult items was strongly related to text comprehension and arithmetic skills. Successful solving mathematical word problems requires both mental representation skills and reading comprehension skills. In order for the learners to learn from one another, they need to communicate their understanding through symbols and visuals. Learners’ mathematical vocabulary learning is a very important part of their language development and ultimately mathematical proficiency. Problem solving skills varied according to reading level of the learners. To focus on the comprehension of word problems, have learners write out their mathematician’s thought process, step by step without solving the problem. The mathematical language that we use is sometimes unique or is taken from everyday language and turned into something else. Therefore, the task of comprehending word problems is dangerous and represents the threshold to successful solutions. It was established the scarcity of conducting longitudinal studies that investigate the impact of language on the teaching and learning of mathematics and that there were few studies on how teachers were and could be trained to teach mathematics in the early grades.

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