Writing and mathematical problem-solving in grade 3
The mathematics curriculum currently used in South African classrooms emphasises problem-solving to develop critical thinking. However, based on the local performance of South African Foundation Phase learners as well as performance in comparative international studies in mathematics, there is concern regarding their competence when solving mathematical problems and their use of meaningful strategies. This qualitative research study explores how writing can support Grade 3 learners’ mathematical problem-solving abilities. Writing in mathematics is examined as a tool to support learners when they solve mathematical problems to develop their critical thinking and deepen their conceptual understanding. The study followed a case study design. Social constructivist theory formed the theoretical framework and scaffolding was provided by various types of writing tasks. These writing tasks, specifically those promoted by Burns (1995a) and Wilcox and Monroe (2011), were modelled to learners and implemented by them while solving mathematical problems. Writing tasks included writing to solve mathematical problems, writing to record (keeping a journal or log), writing to explain, writing about thinking and learning processes and shared writing. Data were gathered through learners’ written work, field notes, audio-recordings of ability group discussions and interviews. Data were analysed to determine the usefulness of Burns’ writing methodology to support learners’ problem-solving strategies in the South African context. The analysis process involved developing initial insights, coding, interpretations and drawing implications to establish whether there was a relation between the use of writing in mathematics and development of learners’ problem-solving strategies. This study revealed an improvement in the strategies and explanations learners used when solving mathematical problems. At the end of the eight week data collection period, a sample of eight learners showed marked improvement in verbal and written explanations of their mathematical problem-solving strategies than before the writing tasks were implemented.