Relationships between reading and solving mathematical tasks

Research project
Students' success rates on written mathematics tasks should not depend on their reading ability, but at the same time mathematical ability also includes the ability to interpret written mathematical descriptions.

The purpose of this project is to better understand the intricate relationships between aspects of reading and aspects of solving mathematical tasks. Included in this purpose is to try to distinguish between aspects of reading that are irrelevant from a mathematical perspective from those aspects of reading that are essential parts of mathematical ability. For example, we are interested in identifying linguistic features of mathematical tasks that are particularly important when students solve these tasks, and also to determine which of these features can be said to add unnecessary complexity to the task.

The complex relation between reading ability and mathematical ability is important to examine, especially since written tests are the predominant form of assessment in mathematics teaching. On the one hand, tests which are intended to measure achievement in mathematics should not measure reading ability. On the other hand, a student has to be able to read and write in order to pass a paper and pencil test. In addition, communication is one of the competences brought forward within frameworks describing school mathematics worldwide.

When discussing validity of mathematics test items, the complexity of the text is sometimes highlighted. However, it is not trivial to decide exactly what can be regarded as a purely linguistic simplification of a test item and what linguistic properties of a test item are also parts of the mathematical content of the task. Therefore it can be difficult to locate and describe a border between types of communication that are seen as part of mathematical knowledge and types of communication that are not, which if included in a mathematical task can be seen as having a negative effect on the validity of the task.

Thus, there is a need for research that focuses on relationships between reading and solving mathematical tasks.

The overarching goal of our project is to better understand and be able to describe the connection between reading and solving mathematical tasks. This goal includes several different aspects:

* To develop a theoretical model of the process of reading and solving mathematical tasks.

* To identify linguistic features of mathematical tasks that are particularly important when students solve these tasks.

* To clarify how relationships between reading ability and mathematical ability influence students' performances when solving mathematical tasks.

We plan for many different types of studies using different methods and different types of data in order to gradually give us a deeper understanding of the connection between reading and solving mathematical tasks.