Successfully solving mathematical word problems requires both mental representation skills and reading comprehension skills. In Realistic Math Education (RME), however, students primarily learn to apply the first of these skills (i.e., representational skills) in the context of word problem solving. Given this, it seems legitimate to assume that students from a RME curriculum experience difficulties when asked to solve semantically complex word problems. We investigated this assumption under 80 sixth grade students who were classified as successful and less successful word problem solvers based on a standardized mathematics test. To this end, students completed word problems that ask for both mental representation skills and reading comprehension skills. The results showed that even successful word problem solvers had a low performance on semantically complex word problems, despite adequate performance on semantically less complex word problems. Based on this study, we concluded that reading comprehension skills should be given a (more) prominent role during word problem solving instruction in RME.
Boonen, A. J. H., de Koning, B. B., Jolles, J., & van der Schoot, M. (2016). Word Problem Solving in Contemporary Math Education: A Plea for Reading Comprehension Skills Training. Frontiers in Psychology, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00191