When presenting a word problem, diagram, or chart to students, we must consider what students already know and what they need to know to be successful and independent with the problem.
Do they know how to read a chart?
Do they have the academic language needed?
Do they read through each sentence carefully?
Do they have strategies to add, subtract, multiply, and divide?
Can they construct mental representations based on past experiences with manipulatives?
Smarter Balance Assessment 4th grade NBT sample problem.
I looked at the second lesson for fractions in a fifth-grade textbook.
The problem is below:
Mr. Smith has a one-meter wire he is using to make clocks. Each fourth meter is marked off and divided into five smaller equal lengths. If Mr. Smith bends the wire at 3/4 meter, what fraction of the smaller marks is that?
The above problem is a top-heavy problem. It is what students should be able to do at the end of a unit or year. Not on day 2 of fractions. When we elect to teach top-heavy word problems embedded with multiple academic terms, excess language not necessary for solving, multiple steps, and academically challenging, we must also identify the skills required to solve the problem. We must provide additional time and resources to ensure all students can make sense of the problems and solve it accurately and independently. Consider all the skills and knowledge required for a student to solve the above problem independently.
Students would need:
Knowledge of meters, fourths, fourth-meter, and lengths.
Ways to divide the fourth meter into five smaller units.
Understand and create equivalent fractions
Read and make number lines using fractions.
Small Group 1: Comprehension Strategies for making sense of problems
Small Group 2: What is a fourth? What are fifths?
Small Group 3: Equivalent fractions
Small Group 4: Using a number line to represent fractions
The example problem may be the perfect problem to challenge students with the above skills. But, if my students have comprehension challenges, language challenges, and lack familiarity with meters, fourths, and number lines, the above problem may be too overwhelming and create a sense of uncertainty and fear of mathematics. Small group instruction is likely to be needed to address the many different skills the word problem above requires.