Teachers' classroom practices in addressing learners' errors in algebraic word problems: a case of selected secondary schools in Isoka district.

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Mubanga, Stephen
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The University of Zambia
Good classroom practices in algebraic word problems by teachers at junior secondary school level are crucial if learners are to build a strong foundation in mathematics. Algebra is important as it is a pre-requisite to nearly all forms of mathematics. Many scholars analysed learners’ errors in mathematical word problems but did not look at what teachers do in class to identify and correct learners’ errors in algebraic word problems, hence the gap. Therefore, the study explored teachers’ classroom practices in addressing learners’ errors regarding how they engaged grade eight learners in reading; how they probed learners’ understanding; and what they did to enhance learners’ process skills and encoding abilities in algebraic word problems. Five teachers and twenty five learners (in five focus groups discussions of five members each), at three secondary schools in Isoka district of Muchinga province, Zambia were purposively sampled to participate in the study. The study used a qualitative approach which followed a descriptive case study design. Data collection was done using lesson observations, semi-structured interviews, document analysis and focus group discussions. To capture observations and interviews in totality, video and audio recordings were used respectively. Thematic analysis was used to analyse data. The five performance strategies of solving word problems by Newman namely; reading ability, comprehension ability, transformation ability, process skills and encoding ability guided the analysis of data. Findings revealed that, although teachers engaged grade eight learners in reading, explaining, and solving of algebraic word problems, they did not adequately follow the five steps of solving word problems as outlined by Newman. Teachers read and explained algebraic word problems for the learners and were inconsistent in probing learners’ understanding of algebraic word problems. Moreover, teachers did very little to enhance learners’ process skills and encoding abilities as even themselves were not consistent in the way they expressed their final answers when solving algebraic word problems. Therefore, teachers did not do enough to discover and correct learners’ errors. In view of these findings, it was recommended that teachers should be oriented to Newman error analysis model so that they can apply it in their classrooms when teaching algebraic word problems as it can help them discover and correct learners’ errors. Teachers should also ensure that they express final answers accurately and consistently and improve their planning on how to engage learners when teaching algebraic word problems. It was further recommended that teachers should allow learners to take a leading role in their own learning as it can help them discover and address learners’ errors.
Thesis of Masters of Education in Mathematics Education.