Saturday, December 19, 2009

Favorite comments of '09: Anonymous and bky on key words in word problems

Re Ideas on Helping Children with Hard Word Problems, Anonymous writes:

Looking for key words is not a good idea. Things are not necessarily going to be written with key words meaning the same thing.

There are 15 candies altogether. Two are outside the jar. How many are in the jar?

Students taught to look for the "key" word altogether might add. What makes them key words anyway? the textbook writer?

If a student understands the problem and what it is asking, "key" words are irrelevant. If a student is dependent on key words, and cannot solve the problem correctly without them, then any time in life when a problem is worded without those so-called key words, or the words are used differently, as in the examples above, that student will not be able to solve the problem. It is an ineffective "tool". Better to give students tools they can use in all circumstances.

and bky writes:

I think that Anonymous' last remark about keywords is on the money: if kids know to read a problem and get the mathematical content, keywords are irrelevant. Therefore the goal should be to get kids to read for understanding -- it is as much about literacy as about arithmetic. It is also not something that can be done in one lesson, it needs to be the ongoing framework in which word problems are addressed.

1 comment:

Elaine C. said...

What about English Language Learners?

I often use keywords/'translation' as a stepping stone for them, to get them past the language barriers. I have them write the numbers/symbols above the words - and put the symbols for the words with multiple meanings in ""s.

Then, once they've done that, I have them answer a few questions before working the problems out: What do we know, what are we looking for, what is 'extra'?

Ultimately, they DO need to actually *read* the problem... but often the individual words get in the way for my ELL kids.