Students are asked questions to show teachers and other stakeholders both what they know and what they do not know. In mathematics, the terms that they use and the way in which they phrase their answers are an indication of their increasing understanding of the topic. This is reflected in the Mathematics Curriculum that accepts everyday language for lower levels and expects mathematical language for higher levels. This paper reports on how different questions resulted in differences in whether or not students used everyday or mathematical terms in talking about the activity they were undertaking. The students whose responses are discussed in this paper were part of the National Educational Monitoring Project's assessment of mathematics in 1997. Analysis includes differences between responses of Year 4 and Year 8 students, between students from upper and lower decile schools and between boys and girls. Why is language in mathematics learning important? This paper reports on one aspect of a larger study documenting the language used by students in Year 4 and Year 8 to describe quantitative and numerical comparisons. The language used in mathematics classrooms has long been recognised as important because ‘school mathematics is a practice in whic
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