QISSR - A Mathematics Word Problem Strategy

When I was student teaching, I had amazing cooperating teacher (shout out to Lauren!). She had her bachelor’s in math and I was getting mine in history. We were a pretty good match for that reason (and a million others!).

Easrlier in the year, she had taught the class a word problem strategy called QISSR, which she then taught me and I used with the kiddos. Looking at the CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practice, I found this strategy helps to meet at least two practice standards. The first, Practice Standard 1(Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them) and the second, Practice Standard 5 (Use appropriate tools strategically.).

QISSR is an acronym that stands for:

Question – What is the problem asking? (Highlight)
Information - What important information is provided in the problem? (Underline)

Strategy – What strategy will you use? What operation? What tools?

Solve – Solve the problem using your strategy.

Recheck – Check to make sure your math is correct. Also check to make sure you answered the question asked.

I (of course) had to make a poster for this.

Okay, technically there already was a poster in the SRBI math room that was similar to this. But the steps were backwards (See Purposeful Posters)! And they were not labeled with a cute catchy acronym (FYI QISSR is pronounced Kisser)! The acronym helps students remember the strategy even when they didn’t have the poster in front of them (i.e. in math class).

I happily pulled out my Sharpies from their baby wipes container and began to create a poster.

(Side story: I first bought these Sharpies when I was a junior in college and used them to make posters with my after school running club. I stored them in a thin rectangular baby wipes container because it was the perfect size and fit well in my tote among my million other things. A para who helped out with the club went to get the markers, but was confused why they were in a baby wipes container. Oh well!) It ended up looking like this:

(Okay so it wasn’t an artistic masterpiece nor did it have a pretty picture but…)
Since making the poster, I have used the strategy with several of my students. With one of my 7th grade students, it came in helpful when he had word problems for homework. He reported back success using it in class and that his teacher was impressed with how he used the strategy to complete his homework. Yea!

I also used it as an independent lesson with another 7th grade student. A third student, who was learning to subtract fractions, was working with some word problems. This student is an ELL student and I wasn’t exactly sure how she would fare with the word problems. Using this strategy she was able to successfully identify the question, important information, choose a strategy and set up the problem, solve then recheck. One interesting piece that came up was with how she worded one of her answers. The word problem was something as follows:

“Kenneth eats 2/3 of a pie. Lisa eats 1/6 of a pie. How much more pie did Kenneth eat?”

When beginning to read the problem she paused at the first name. I said it for her and she was able to repeat the name and read the rest of the problem successfully.

In her answer, however, she wrote “She ate 3/6 more pie.”

Besides having not simplified, it raised an interesting issue. She technically had not answered the question. We didn’t care about Lisa and Lisa in fact had eaten less pie than Kenneth, not more. When we went to Recheck we looked at whether she had answered what the question asked. In this case, by using the pronoun she, it made it seem like the student thought Lisa had eaten 3/6 more pie.

I mentioned that Kenneth is a boy’s name and asked if she would like to change anything in her answer. She reread the problem and the answer, then changed the “she” to a “he”. Now she had answered the problem correctly.

But it raised a larger issue: on tests such as SBAC, if a question like this is asked and the student responded as she did, would she be marked wrong? Since she was unfamiliar with the name Kenneth and for whatever reason thought it was a girl’s name (it is similar to the name Kendall, a popular name, so she might have made that jump), she answered incorrectly, through no real fault of her own.

After talking with the other math para about this, I came to the conclusion that it was really an issue of making sure she was using names in her answer and not just relying on pronouns. Next time I see her we can work on making sure she is specific in her answers to avoid this problem altogether. This was a conundrum that I realize is actually a real problem for all ELL students who may not be as familiar with common English names often used in word problems, and was an issue I had never really thought about before.

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