Report on student interview on fractions Basis for doing the interview: On the previous day, a revision class was

observed on fractions in Class 4 of this school. The focus of the entire class was superficial understanding of terms (proper, improper and mixed fractions, equivalent fractions etc.). On raising this point in the interactive session later on, the teachers voiced that the students would be able to answer conceptual questions related to fractions also, if they were asked. The interview was planned to try and find out whether this really was the case. The mode of selection of the questions: Though the original plan was to use only those questions where the students of that particular school had demonstrated a misconception (Nishchal helped in selecting those), later it was decided to use at least one question from a past round. This turned out to be a good idea, as the class seemed to have been tutored on the questions from their own paper. Methodology: A question was projected on the computer monitors around the class and written on the board. Students were given time to put down the correct option and think of the justification. Then the one by one the options were read out and students who had chosen that asked to raise their hand to enable a head count. In 2 of the questions, the answers were read out in scrambled order for the head count, keeping the correct option for the last. After giving a few kids the opportunity to justify their answer to the class, students were again asked for the answer (noting to see if some had changed their answer). Discussions: Question 1(past question from ASSET):

11/4 is a number between A. 1 and 2 B. 2 and 3 C. 3 and 4 D. 11 and 12
Initial responses: A. 2, B. 11, C. 6, D. 14

When one of the children who chose D was asked why, he said “I took the numerator and chose D.” The other children choosing this option agreed – no one had a different reason for choosing D. The children who chose C had a similar reason (“took the denominator 4 and option C says between 3 and 4”) for choosing D.

The group choosing correct answer B was asked for the reasoning last, thinking that that might give away the answer to the class. What followed was truly surprising. Child 1 (The very first child who was questioned among those who chose B as the answer): “When we convert 11/4 into a mixed fraction, it becomes 2 ¾. So they are the same.” [At this point the class was asked if the students agree that 11/4 can be written as 2 ¾. Most students agreed. However, on being asked if they also agree that that they have the same value, only a few students said yes.] Child 1 (continuing): “So, if we cut off the 4 from the denominator (of 2 ¾), we have 2 and 3 left. So 11/4 is between 2 and 3.” At this point, one girl was very keen to say something. When called upon, she said: Child 2: “We can cut off the 2 (of 2 ¾), and then 3 and 4 remain and so we can say that it is between 3 and 4.” [The interviewer was not sure whether she was trying to prove that ‘cutting off’ is wrong or now believed this to be the actual reason for selecting option C – on being asked it turned out to be the latter!] On being asked if anyone had a different reason for selecting B, some kids were raising their hands. One boy responded. Child 3: “Till 2 ¾ it is correct, but when you cut off 4 it is wrong, 2 ¾ means it is between 2 and 3, cutting off 4 is not proper.” Interviewer: He has taken 11/4 as 2 ¾, does 11/4 mean the same as 2 ¾? All students agreed to this now. At this point, the class was asked to think about what quantity 2 ¾ represents – that is if they have 2 ¾ apples, how much is that. On taking a head count again on responses it was found that now: A. 2, B. 15, C. 6, D. 11. So, the whole discussion had only convinced 4 students that 2 ¾ was between 2 and 3. [At the end of the class, the discussion led once again to this (while discussing whether a fraction represents one quantity or 2). By having a students show ‘2 ¾ dosas’ pictorially on the board and than being prompted to think about whether 2 ¾ means ‘2 and a little more’, ‘3 and a little more’ or ’11 and a little more’, many students finally said it is 2 and a little more and therefore the answer is B.] ……………………………………………………………………………………………… Question 2. (from round 11 ASSET paper – which this class took)

What fraction of the children in the following group are GIRLS ?

(above figure was not used in the interview; it was drawn with 2 boys in top row, and 2 girls and 1 boy in bottom row) A. 2/3 B. 2/5 C. 3/5 D. ½ (Actually, the old version of this question, which had 2 boys in the top row and 2 girls and 1 boy in the bottom row got used accidentally. Interestingly, hardly any child overlooked the fact that the second row had a boy among the girls, and counted correctly.) Not much came out of this question – with only 5 students going for option A and no one for C or D. Interestingly, the ASSET results of this school had shown this as a misconception. It looked like this question or similar ones had been discussed in class, but there was some interesting words from the few children who initially went for option A - 2/3. Child 4: “I saw 2 (children) in the numerator column of the picture and 3 (children) in the denominator column and wrote 2/3.” Another child explained the reason for choosing A as counting 2 girls and 3 boys and hence picking 2/3 as the answer.

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Question 3(from round 11 ASSET paper – which this class took): Arjun had 6 pencils. (picture of 6 pencils) He gave one third of the pencils he had to his sister. How many pencils did he give?

A. 1 B. 2 C. 3 D. 4 Again, this was a question from the paper they had taken and the responses reflected it, but the few children who answered incorrectly opened up a whole new interesting discussion which exposed some glaring gaps in learning. Child 5 (responding to why he thought the answer is C, 3): “When he (Arjun) shares with his sister, they must share equally. He has 6, so he has to give 3.” [This child stuck to this answer even after he was made to read the question again and check whether it mentions sharing equally or some other way.] Child 6(also responding to why he thought the answer is C, 3): “one third means 3.” Child 7 (responding to why he thought the answer is A, 1): “I read the full question – it says ‘He gave one third of the pencils he had to his sister’ – since one third has 1 as the first number, I feel it will be A. Based on the above two responses, a discussion was started on what ‘one third’really means. Interviewer: “Is ‘one third’ one number or two different numbers – that is, does it mean one quantity or two different quantities? Only 4 students said it is one quantity, 22 said “2 quantities” and the others were not sure. One of the children from the second group explained why he thought one third was two different quantities. Child 8: “One third means 1 out of 3. So 1 is one quantity out of 3. 3 is a different quantity.’ [At this point there was a short discussion on this at the end of which all kids seemed to agree that one third is one quantity. But the understanding was very very shaky.] In an attempt to relate this to the first question (11/4 is between…) the class was then asked whether 11/4 represents one quantity or two – again students were not sure, and in case of 2 ¾, many felt it represented 3 different quantities. The ensuing discussion showed up huge gaps in the very basic understanding of fractions. The interviewer tried to get the students to arrive at the fact that the quantity 2 ¾ means ‘2 and a little more’. When asked to represent 2 ¾ dosas on the board, the first child who came to the board just chopped off a part of the third circle.

Child 1’s representation of 2 ¾ On asking whether we could be certain that the third figure was ¾ of a dosa, the child said she was positive. Many children started saying that we can’t be sure that is ¾. One of the children who said it can’t be said for sure that it was 2 ¾ was asked to come and show how she would represent it. The child came and showed it like this.

Child 2’s representation of 2 ¾ Many students in the class said that this was a correct way of showing 2 ¾. On asking for other ways, a third child came up and divided it this way.

Child 3’s representation of 2 ¾ When the class was asked to decide if both Child 2’s way and Child 3’s were fine or one was better than the other, quite a few students in the class said both were fine. When one of those who felt both were not ok was asked which one was ‘better’ and why, he chose Child 3’s way, and explained that he chose that because the parts were equal. After hearing this argument some more children changed their view and said Child 3’s way was ‘more correct’. After this, since the time was almost over, students were asked what this representation of 2 ¾ showed – whether 2 ¾ was a little more than 1, a little more than 2, a little more than 3 or a little more than 11 dosas – that is, is it between 1 and 2, or 2 and 3 etc.? Finally most students agreed it was between 2 and 3. Learnings and insights:  Often, even simple concepts are not really internalized. In a class, the teacher ‘explains’ a concept and immediately asks questions on that – for example a

teacher might ‘explain’ that to shade/ represent a fraction as a part of a whole, the parts must be equal. When questions based on this follow immediately afterwards, many students ‘get’ the answer. But when the same concept needs to be applied in a different situation or context later on, only a small percentage are able to apply it, maybe simply due to lack of opportunities provided for application. This is true even for the simplest or the most basic of concepts, like the ‘equal parts’ example in question 3.  Terms like ‘numerator, denominator’ are drilled so much, that students start referring to them in all kinds of contexts – even pictures, in all earnestness. It is good that ASSET results are being looked at and specific misconceptions addressed – but it is somewhat obvious that this is done superficially – as shown by the fact that they were able to answer specific questions from ‘their’ paper correctly, but not other basic concepts. Also, due to ASSET, certain schools seem to be making students do non routine problems, but there isn’t any overall stress on developing conceptual understanding. In terms of item development, this exercise showed the importance of selecting numbers more carefully. For instance, during the 11/4 = 2 ¾ discussion it was apparent that some of the misunderstandings were arising because of the choice of numbers – since the number was 2 ¾ and the options were ‘between 2 and 3’, ‘between 3 and 4’ etc. A number like 4 2/7 or something would probably have been a better choice. One learning on the methodology – I was not sure whether to pick up the more pronounced but unconnected misconceptions or those that might not be that pronounced, but from related concepts. I ultimately chose the second option and found that it lends itself well to taking the discussion deeper and revealing other hidden misconceptions in that area. The most important learning was that student interviews are TOUGH to do! It is extremely difficult to not lead the students towards the right answer directly or indirectly. There is an overwhelming desire to just tell the answer – I felt it especially during the discussion on whether a fraction means one number or two. It was felt that we all need to build a lot of expertise in this – both for us to get a glimpse into how students think and also, to demonstrate to teachers and schools how to encourage students to reason and articulate their reasoning well. This seems to be a critical skill that seems to be lacking in many of us, not just students, and we need to develop expertise internally in this and then expose schools to it.

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