Making Sense of Graphs: Critical Factors Influencing Comprehension and Instructional Implications

Friel, S. N., F. R. Curcio, and G. W. Bright. 2001. “Making Sense of Graphs: Critical Factors Influencing Comprehension and Instructional Implications.” Journal for Research in Mathematics Education 32 (2): 124–58. doi:10.2307/749671.

Authors Friel, Curcio, and Bright (faculty at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Queens College of the City University of New York, and University of North Carolina at Greensboro respectively), argues for teaching graph comprehension and proposes the term “graph sense” to describe the ability to interpret and apply concepts from graphs. Provides a history of guidelines and research about creating graphical displays. Claims educators focus on having kids create graphs, but that it is important to teach why we use graphs. Suggests how to teach graph comprehension at the K-8 grades. Students demonstrate graph comprehension across three abilities: extracting information, interpreting information, and extrapolating or interpolating patterns from graphs. Shares guidelines about what skills kids can do and understand at each age/grade. During grades K-2 emphasis is on tallying frequencies.

Related Research and Readings

  • Curcio, Frances, and National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. 2010. Developing Data Graph Comprehension. Third Edition. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
  • Curcio, Frances R. 1987. “Comprehension of Mathematical Relationships Expressed in Graphs.” Journal for Research in Mathematics Education 18 (5): 382–93.

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