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Does language matter?: sources of inequivalence and demand of reading ability of mathematics tasks in different languages
Umeå University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Science and Mathematics Education. Umeå University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Umeå Mathematics Education Research Centre (UMERC).ORCID iD: 0000-0002-3211-8906
2019 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)Alternative title
Spelar språket någon roll? : källor till inekvivalens och krav på läsförmåga för matematikuppgifter på olika språk (Swedish)
Abstract [en]

Practicing mathematics is not possible without the use of language. To communicate mathematical content, not only words in natural language are used but also non-verbal forms of communication such as mathematical symbols, graphs, and diagrams. All these forms of communication can be seen as part of the language used when doing mathematics. When mathematics tasks are used to assess mathematical competence, it is important to know how language can affect students’ possibility to solve the task. In this thesis, two different but related aspects of the relation between language and mathematics tasks are investigated. The first aspect concerns linguistic features of written mathematics task that can make the task more difficult to read and/or to solve. These features may result in unnecessary and unwanted reading demands, that is, the task then partially assesses students’ reading ability instead of their mathematical ability. The second aspect concerns differences between different language versions of mathematics tasks used in multilanguage assessments. These differences may cause inequivalence between the language versions, that is, the task may be more difficult to solve for students of one language group than students of another. Therefore, the purpose of this thesis is to investigate some of the effects that language can have on written mathematics tasks, in particular, on the validity of mathematics assessments. The thesis focuses on unnecessary reading demands and inequivalence in multilanguage assessments. The data in this thesis are obtained from tasks of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012. The task texts and the student results on these tasks are analyzed quantitatively to identify the occurrence and possible sources of unnecessary reading demands and inequivalence. Think-aloud-protocols and task-based interviews of students who had worked with some of the tasks, serve to qualitatively identify possible sources of reading demands and inequivalence, respectively.

The results showed both unnecessary reading demands and inequivalence in some of the tasks. Some linguistic features were identified as possible sources of these reading demands, while others were not related to them. For example, sentence length was not related to reading demands of tasks in Swedish, whereas sentence structure was identified as a possible source of unnecessary reading demands. Some linguistic differences between different language versions of mathematics tasks were also identified as possible sources of inequivalence, and in addition there were curricular differences that were such potential sources. The findings of this thesis have implications for designing mathematics tasks both in one language and in multilingual settings. They may help to ensure validity of mathematics assessments, but also to make mathematics texts easier to understand for students in general.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet , 2019. , p. 36
Series
Doktorsavhandlingar i pedagogiskt arbete, ISSN 1650-8858 ; 87
Series
Umeå Studies in the Educational Sciences ; 35
Keywords [en]
mathematics tasks, reading, equivalence, DIF, multilingual assessments, PISA
National Category
Didactics Pedagogical Work Mathematics
Research subject
didactics of mathematics; educational work
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-161963ISBN: 978-91-7855-091-3 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-161963DiVA, id: diva2:1341230
Public defence
2019-09-12, KBE301, KBC-huset, 13:00 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2019-08-15 Created: 2019-08-08 Last updated: 2019-08-12Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. The role of linguistic features when reading and solving mathematics tasks in different languages
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The role of linguistic features when reading and solving mathematics tasks in different languages
2018 (English)In: Journal of Mathematical Behavior, ISSN 0732-3123, E-ISSN 1873-8028, Vol. 51, p. 41-55Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The purpose of this study is to deepen the understanding of the relation between the language used in mathematics tasks and the difficulty in reading and solving the tasks. We examine issues of language both through linguistic features of tasks (word length, sentence length, task length, and information density) and through different natural languages used to formulate the tasks (English, German, and Swedish). Analyses of 83 PISA mathematics tasks reveal that tasks in German, when compared with English and Swedish, show stronger connections between the examined linguistic features of tasks and difficulty in reading and solving the tasks. We discuss if and how this result can be explained by general differences between the three languages.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Elsevier, 2018
Keywords
PISA, Word length, Sentence length, Task length, Information density, English, German, Swedish
National Category
Didactics Mathematics
Research subject
didactics of mathematics
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-150157 (URN)10.1016/j.jmathb.2018.06.009 (DOI)000442439500004 ()
Funder
Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, Pl3-0226:1
Available from: 2018-07-13 Created: 2018-07-13 Last updated: 2019-08-08Bibliographically approved
2. Variations in students’ reading process when working on mathematics tasks with high demand of reading ability
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Variations in students’ reading process when working on mathematics tasks with high demand of reading ability
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
National Category
Didactics Pedagogical Work Mathematics
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-161959 (URN)
Note

Artikeln är ett bidrag till konferensen Cerme 11, Utrecht, Holland, 6-10 februari 2019. Den är accepterad för publicering i konferensens proceeding.

Available from: 2019-08-07 Created: 2019-08-07 Last updated: 2019-08-12
3. The relation between linguistic features and DIF in multilanguage mathematics assessments
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The relation between linguistic features and DIF in multilanguage mathematics assessments
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
National Category
Didactics Pedagogical Work Mathematics
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-161960 (URN)
Available from: 2019-08-07 Created: 2019-08-07 Last updated: 2019-08-12
4. Using Students’ Reflections to Identify Sources of Inequivalence in Translated Mathematics Tasks
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Using Students’ Reflections to Identify Sources of Inequivalence in Translated Mathematics Tasks
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
National Category
Didactics Pedagogical Work Mathematics
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-161961 (URN)
Available from: 2019-08-07 Created: 2019-08-07 Last updated: 2019-08-12

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Theens, Frithjof

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