literacy

Constructing Meaning – the Literacy of Numeracy

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“It is important that that learners acquire mathematical understanding by constructing their own meaning…”

So how can children make sense of, and then competently use, the language of mathematics? This article looks at ambiguous language and operational language.

The following interaction between a teacher and student was recorded.

T: Can you calculate the volume of this box?                 S: um .. [pause] .. no [has a puzzled look]

T: Do you know what volume is?                                     S: Yes, it is a button on the remote.

One of the issues with constructing meaning of the language of mathematics is the use of everyday English terms that have different meanings in the mathematics classroom.

Here is a list of just some of the many words that have a different meaning in mathematics. These words are just some of the homographs: rational, mean, power, odd, face, property, common

 

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The operational language can also be confusing. In the early years ‘and ‘is used for operation of addition.  In later years the word ‘and’ is used in an operation for multiplication, e.g. ‘What’s the product of 5 and 4?’

When assessing a student’s ability to solve word problems in mathematics it is so important to consider not only the wording of the question but also the order of the questions.  Two consecutive questions, similar to these, appeared in a standardised test. The word ‘altogether’ is used for a different operation in each question.  What meanings have the students constructed of the words ‘and’ and ‘altogether’?

Question 12.

Budi puts cards into 4 equal piles.

Each pile has 20 cards.

How many cards does Budi have altogether?

Question 13.

Wati collected 68 cans.

Puti collected 109 cans.

How many cans did Wati and Puti collect altogether?

The construction of operational language is so important for problem solving. In some classrooms students can identify words in a problem, referring to displayed visual mathematical vocabulary.

Although language is heavily involved in constructing meaning in mathematics, the use of visual representations and manipulation of concrete materials all support communication and success in the mathematics classroom.  The literacy of numeracy is a challenge for all and an additional challenge if English is an additional language. Our role is to support students to construct meaning as part of the stages of learning mathematics.

Melinda Mawson-Ryan

ACG School Jakarta

Melinda.Mawson-Ryan@acgedu.com