Try Using Newman’s prompts to help your kids become confident at solving math problems. These Simple 5 Problem Solving steps will SKYROCKET your students’ problem solving success. Download Your FREE Template and Get Started.
Life isn’t easy as a numeracy coach, kids just don’t feel good about doing math, especially when it comes to problem solving! All those words and numbers written in a confusing way is enough to send anyone running to the hills!
Whenever problem solving appeared on the numeracy teaching schedule, I always started by teaching Polya’s Problem Solving Steps. They’re fantastic strategies for solving problems and included:
- Guess and check Look for a pattern
- Make an orderly list Draw a picture
- Eliminate possibilities Solve a simpler problem
- Use symmetry Use a model
- Consider special cases Work backwards
- Use direct reasoning Use a formula
- Solve an equation Be ingenious
These strategies were suggested in almost every Math Problem Solving Resource Book for teachers I have ever used. But when I taught problem solving using these strategies I found I got mixed results. Kids either got the problems right or very wrong! And it got me wondering, WHY?
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So many teachers I spoke to swore by these problem solving strategies but it seemed to be different for the kiddos. For those kids who really struggled with word problems they just didn’t work! Polya’s math problem solving steps didn’t help one bit. I decided to ask around to try and find out what the issue was with math word problems.
After speaking with other teachers I found that they believed that kids were struggling in maths because the kids didn’t read the question!
So I tested this theory by sitting one-on-one with a range of kids and asked them to read out loud a stack of word problems for me. I told them they didn’t have to solve anything, just read the problem. And guess what, they could read them; really well in fact.
After they had read the question I also asked the kids what strategies they could use to try and SOLVE the word problems, and guess what, they could rattle off a stack of strategies that their teacher had taught them! So they could read and they had the tools but they still struggled with solving the problem!
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I went off and did a lot of research into problem solving strategies and 99% of it linked back to Polya’s strategies. But then, by chance, I came across the research of Anne Newman: The Newman Procedure for Analysing Errors on Written Mathematical Tasks . Which had all the answers to why kids struggle with math word problems.
Click the images to see these Problem Solving Strategies Kits…
Newman’s Prompts For Analysis Of Word Problems
Dr. Anne Newman’s Analysis of Word Problems research found that “a person wishing to obtain a correct solution to a word problem…, …must ultimately proceed according to a specific hierarchy.” and “failure at any level of the sequence prevents problem solvers from obtaining satisfactory solutions (unless by chance they arrive at correct solutions by faulty reasoning).
So according to Newman’s 5 steps to solving a word problem research, students must use all 5 steps to solve word problems successfully. The 5 steps included:
- Read the problem;
- Comprehend what is read;
- Carry out a mental transformation from the words of the question to the selection of an appropriate mathematical strategy;
- Apply the process skills demanded by the selected strategy; and
- Encode the answer in an acceptable written form.
After reading this it became glaringly obvious where the issue was for the kids, Number 2. Comprehend what is read.
So when teachers said that students didn’t read the problem properly, what they actually meant was that the kids didn’t comprehend the word problem and couldn’t work out what they had to do.
And in the Teacher Resource Books these steps had been overlooked and dumbed down to include:
- Highlight the important words
- Use a strategy to solve the problem
Whereas according to Polya’s there’s 4 basic Problem Solving Principles:
- Understand the Problem
- Devise a Plan
- Carry Out the Plan
- Look Back
So no wonder kids were not successful at solving word problems. All Problem solving programs tended to miss key elements of the problem solving process – Comprehend the question!
Click these images for Newman’s Problem Solving Printables…
Using Newman’s Prompts & Error Analysis
By incorporating Newman’s prompts and error analysis into problem solving activities, I was able to teach students the 5 steps that they need to step through to become successful at solving maths problems. As an educator you will also be able to use these same 5 steps to help you to identify where your students understanding breaks down.
I created a Free Template for Problem Solving at the end for you! Here’s some details about using Newman’s Prompts for error analysis in problem solving.
Australian educational researcher Dr. Anne Newman identified that students, as a whole, disliked and failed at solving maths problems due to the same issues.
She found that students did not read the whole problem but instead just wanted to add together any numbers in every word problems. Her research identified that students struggled with:
- Reading and decoding semantic structures
- Interpreting visual cues in problems
- Symbolism of mathematics
Newman also found that typically all the students were confident with attempting to solve the problem using a standard algorithm as part of the solution; they rushed ahead to writing a ‘sum’ to solve the problem. She found that typically, the algorithms did not match the operations being described in the problem because the students did not have a series of steps to follow to get them to a solution.
Many teachers do not like teaching word problems and many students don’t like tackling them either. Using Newman’s Error Analysis when teaching numeracy, also known as NEA, will help students and teachers be successful.
5 Steps To Solve A Word Problem
Newman’s prompts is a framework, for teachers to use, that identifies the specific areas where students understanding breaks down when solving problems. This information can then be used by teachers to support student understanding.
Newman’s research (1977, 1983) identified that when a person attempted to answer a standard, written, mathematics word problem they had to be able to pass over a 5 sequential hurdles:
- Level 1 Reading (or Decoding)
- Level 2 Comprehension
- Level 3 Transformation
- Level 4 Process Skills
- Level 5 Encoding
So we took these 5 levels and put them into a 5 step template to help you gauge which part of the problem your students are struggling with.
Use these prompts in your classroom and get instant results for your students! You can read how to implement them when you are teaching problem solving strategies. Read our Related Post 5 Steps To Successful Problem Solving to get you started!
We have put together a simple cheat sheet with these prompts so you can have them at your fingertips Click the image to get the FREE Template!
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