Theses Doctoral

Exploring Algebra-based Problem Solving and Strategies of Spanish-speaking High School Students

Hernandez-Duhon, Andrea

This dissertation analyzes differences found in Spanish-speaking middle school and high school students in algebra-based problem solving. It identifies the accuracy differences between word problems presented in English, Spanish and numerically based problems. The study also explores accuracy differences between each subgroup of Spanish-speaking students in each category. It identifies specific strategies used by successful students when solving algebra problems. The study also sought to identify factors that could serve to predict Spanish-speaking students' ability to accurately solve algebra word problems presented in English and Spanish.
A heterogeneous urban sample composed of one hundred and fifty two middle school and high school students were given an assessment composed of pre-approved algebra-based problems and a biographical information sheet. Specific students were then chosen for individual interviews in which researcher sought to gain more in depth information about student's reaction to assessment. The study found that the average accuracy rate for Hispanics non-ELL and non-Hispanic students was significantly higher for numerically based problems than Spanish word problems. Similarly, the average accuracy rate for Hispanics non-ELL and non-Hispanic students was significantly higher in English word problems that in Spanish word problems. Results showed that there was a significant difference in the overall performance of the assessment between Hispanic ELL and Hispanic non-ELL students. On one particular set, set C (Spanish word problems), findings showed that Hispanic ELL students performed better than Hispanic non-ELL students and non-Hispanic students. All other subgroup comparisons did not show a significant difference.
The study found that students who were most successful in the assessment: (a) used previous linguistics knowledge and memory of previously seen mathematical problems properly; (b) highlighted the question being asked; (c) used key words to identify mathematical principles and to aid in the translation process; (d) used diagrams, tables and graphs to organize data; (e) showed work and had all processes laid out clearly; and (f) displayed a clear verification process for their answer as strategies for successfully answering the problems. As it was evident through the study, the diversity in the Spanish speaking population and their needs exposes the need for teaching methods, which are inclusive of all populations. Schools must be sensitive to the diversity in which students learn and aim to individualize the teaching for every student. As Hispanics become the largest minority in the United States, understanding the diverse needs of Spanish speaking students in the classroom will be necessary for the development of a better educated society.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Mathematics Education
Thesis Advisors
Walker, Erica
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 13, 2013