Effects of rephrasing word problems on sixth-grade ESL and native English-speaking students' mathematics performance and attitudes



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Texas Tech University


One hundred and four sixth-grade students, 52 native English-speaking and 52 English as a Second Language (ESL) students, participated in this experimental study. The purpose of the study was to investigate the effects of native language and rephrasing of mathematics word-problems on their performance on mathematics word-problem solving and attitude toward mathematical tasks. It was predicted that rephrasing mathematics wordproblems, by replacing low-frequency vocabularies and restructuring complex sentences to make the problems easy to understand, would positively affect students' performance on the problems and change their attitude toward mathematical tasks. It was also predicted that the enhancing effects of rephrasing of word-problems would be more profound among ESL students than native-English-speaking students. The enhancing effect of rephrasing, as predicted, was evidenced in the study in which students working with the revised version of the mathematics word-problems outperformed those who working with the original version of problems drawn from mathematics textbooks. As revealed in the result of the study, the native Englishspeaking students performed better than the ESL students on the mathematics test. Not supported by the study, however, the interaction effect between native language and rephrasing of word-problems that rephrasing should have had a stronger effect on ESL students than it did for the native English-speaking students. Opposite to the prediction, native English-speaking students working with the revised version of the test performed significantly better than control group students working with the original version. Although ESL students working with the revised version of the test had better score than those working on the original version, they did not perform significantly better than the other group. The pattern of the difference was explained in terms of anguage proficiency of Englishspeaking and ESL students. It was postulated that the rephrasing of the word-problems did not reduce the language difficulty level that was appropriate to some ESL students, especially those who were at the beginning level of a ESL program, but rephrasing benefited native English speaking students who had problems understanding original mathematics word-problems. This explanation implies that extra attention should be given to students' language proficiency in future research.