An exploration of the strategies used by grade 12 mathematical literacy learners when answering mathematical literacy examination questions based on a variety of real-life contexts.
With the introduction in 2006 of the school subject Mathematical Literacy (ML) in the further Education and Training band, there have been expectations that such a subject will develop responsible citizens, contributing workers and self-managing people. The extent to which the subject can meet these aims is dependent on the ways in which the subject is assessed which influences the focus of ML in the classrooms. With this in mind, this study set out to explore the ways in which a class of Grade 12 learners engaged with a preparatory examination designed and administered by the KZN Department of Education. This is a qualitative study carried out with seventy-three grade 12 mathematical literacy learners from an urban school in North Durban. The purpose of this research is to explore the learners’ engagement with the examination tasks, thereby identifying possible factors which influence learners’ success in these items. Data were gathered from a document analysis of the 2009 KZN Trial Examination question paper and marking memorandum; 73 learners’ written responses to the examination tasks, and interviews with ten of these learners. The purpose of the document analysis was to identify contexts in which learners performed well or poorly, as well as to assess the design of the instrument. Semi-structured interviews were conducted individually with ten learners and video recorded. The purpose of the interviews was to explore some of the factors which influenced their written responses. The findings revealed that the task design was problematic for learners in terms of the order of the questions and the placement of the crucial information necessary to answer the questions. Some tasks also contained errors. The complexity of the scenario in terms of the amount of information, the language used, and the presence of distracters further influenced the way in which learners responded to the task. Learners’ personal experience of the context also affected the way they interpreted and responded to the task. Factors that constrained learners’ success in the examination task included poor conceptual understanding, misconceptions and language-related misinterpretation. It was also found that learners did not consider it a priority to make sense of the context: they focused on identifying formulae or information that could be used to present answers with little concern about the reasonableness of their responses. Some strategies used by learners in responding to the task included number grabbing, guessing without checking, scanning for crucial information and assumption-making. The study recommends that provincial examination papers be subject to the same stringent moderation requirements of the national examinations. It also recommends that should diagrams be used, they must be relevant to the context and should not conflict with the subject matter. The use of contexts should cater for alternate answers and multiple approaches and the marking memorandum should be flexible to accommodate these multiple approaches. Care must be taken in the presentation and placement of crucial information, so that learners do not miss the information they need to answer the questions. When familiar contexts are being used, task designers should also consider whether learners’ everyday experiences may conflict with these scenarios.
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