Visual imaging and mathematical work problem solving by students of varying abilities

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Special Education

First Committee Member

Marjorie Montague, Committee Chair


The purpose of this study was to investigate students' with learning disabilities (LD), average-achieving students' and gifted students' use of visual imagery while solving mathematical word problems. Additionally, the relationships between visual imagery types, spatial visualization ability and mathematical problem solving were examined.The sample included sixth-grade students (N = 66) from four urban South Florida elementary and middle schools. Students were assessed on measures of mathematics achievement, mathematical word problem-solving, visual-spatial representation, and spatial visualization. Visualization, or visual imaging, was defined as the construction and formation of images either internally (e.g., mental imagery) and/or externally (e.g., with the aid of pencil and paper).The results indicated that gifted students use significantly more visual images than average-achieving students and students with LD. Five types of visual-spatial representations were used by students while solving the mathematical word problems. They included: (a) concrete imagery, (b) action imagery, (c) kinesthetic imagery, (d) number forms, and (e) pattern imagery. Visual-spatial representations were coded as either schematic, representations that encode the spatial relations described within the problem, or pictorial, representations that encode objects or persons described in the problem. Success in mathematical word problem solving was correlated with the use of schematic representations, whereas use of pictorial representations was negatively correlated with success. Schematic representations were positively correlated with spatial visualization ability, whereas pictorial representations were negatively correlated with spatial visualization ability. Students with LD used significantly more pictorial representations than the other students. Students with LD and average-achieving students performed significantly more poorly on measures of spatial visualization ability than gifted students.This research further clarified the relationships among visual imagery, spatial ability, and mathematical problem solving. Additionally, the findings contribute to the literature related to visual imagery use and mathematical word problem solving by students with LD. The results of this study have important instructional implications for all students, but especially for students who have difficulty solving mathematical word problems.


Education, Mathematics; Education, Special

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