Understanding the Development of Flexibility in Struggling Algebra Students


K. Newton, J. R. Star, and K. Lynch. 2010. “Understanding the Development of Flexibility in Struggling Algebra Students.” Mathematical Thinking and Learning , 12, 4, Pp. 282-305. Publisher's Version


The ability to flexibly solve problems is considered an important outcome for school mathematics and is the focus of this paper. The paper describes the impact of a three-week summer course for students who struggle with algebra. During the course, students regularly compared and contrasted worked examples of algebra problems in order to promote flexible use of solution strategies. Assessments were designed to capture both knowledge and use of multiple strategies. The students were interviewed in order to understand their rationales for choosing particular strategies as well as their attitudes toward instruction that emphasized multiple strategies. Findings suggest that students gained both knowledge of and appreciation for multiple strategies, but they did not always use alternate strategies. Familiarity, understandability, efficiency, and form of the problem were all considerations for strategy choice. Practical and theoretical implications are discussed.