Deaf Education Home Page
Instructional Strategies Home Page

Deaf Students and Solving Mathematical Word Problems

Key Words:Instructional Strategy, Math, 4-6

Submitted by Kendra C Billker

Topic: The article dealt with the problems of deaf students solving mathematical word problems.

Task: The point made in the article was that deaf students experience difficulty with word problems not because they can not do the math but because they are having problems comprehending the word choice in solving the particular math problem.

Resource: Pau, C.S. (1995). The deaf child and solving problems of arithmetic: The importance of comprehensive reading. American Annals of the Deaf, 140 (3), 287-290.


The article was a case study that set out to discover why deaf students who could do well in math but when faced with a word problem scored lower than their hearing peers. The participants in this study were comprised of 12 school children between 8 and 12 years of age. These students were studying for the Spanish primary school certificate at various state schools in the provinces of Gerona and Barcelona. All of the students were prelingually and profoundly deaf. The students were all educated in a mainstreamed setting. The students did not use signs in the classroom and all of them had average intelligence.

The students' reading comprehension levels were assessed by the Psychopedagogic Instrumental Learning Test. The students were provided with two versions of the test, Catalan and Castilian Spanish, thus making it easier to meet the particular needs of those students being assessed. The students were then asked to solve linguistically formulated arithmetic problems. The analysis was confined to: three problems in the change category, two problems in the combination category, and finally three problems that dealt with comparisons. The directions for the test were given verbally to the students. The students' knowledge of the vocabulary used on the test was verified through examples of tasks.

The results of the reading comprehension showed that most of the students achieved a typical score of >5 on each test. The study also showed that the majority of the students had reading comprehension levels 2-5 years below their present grade level. There were only two students whose reading level and grade level coincided.

The problem-solving scores ranged from three correct to a perfect score of eight correct. The difficulty of the problems varied greatly. The study showed that the students found it easier to solve problems in which the unknown factor and the conditions were presented in the same manner in which the operation is to be carried out. The problems that were presented contained verbal cues that were useful in establishing connections between the given and the unknown factor. The study found that terms such as: greater then, less than, together, gave, and have can act as either an aid or a hindrance. The students tended to ignore comparative linguistic forms when they read the text. This influences their problem-solving level and ability.

Insights: The studies showed that a student's success rate in the area of problem-solving hinges directly on the present reading level. The study showed we, as educators, can increase our students' success rates if we simplify the word choice present in the word problems. It also shows that on a whole, where we once thought their level of functioning was lower than that of their hearing peers may no longer be considered true once we as teachers find a way to simplify the language in the problems that we ask our deaf students.


1. Are there any resources available to teachers on how to write and select the vocabulary for the word problems that we as teachers write for our students?

2. Are deaf students tested regularly on their reading comprehension levels?

3. What techniques do deaf educators use to aid students in enhancing their reading comprehension levels?

4. How can deaf educators help their students understand the many vague and redundant words present in many of the mathematical word problems?


Barham, J. & Bishop, A. (1991). Mathematics and the deaf child. In K. Durkin & B. Shire (Eds.). Language in mathematical education. Research and practice. Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Riley, M., Greeno. J., & Heller, J. (1983). Development of children's problem-solving ability in arithmetic. In H. Ginsburg (ED.). The development of mathematical thinking. New York: Academic Press.

Serrano, C. (1994). The role of understanding in solving arithmetic word problems by deaf pupils. (Paper). 23rd International Congress of Applied Psychology, Madrid.

Edited by: Melissa Close/Kent State/Deaf Education Major