Eye Gaze Patterns Reflect How Young Fraction Learners Approach Numerical Comparisons


  • Alison T. Miller Singley
  • Jeffrey Lynn Crawford
  • Silvia A. Bunge


Learning fractions is notoriously difficult, yet critically important to mathematical and general academic achievement. Eye-tracking studies are beginning to characterize the strategies that adults use when comparing fractions, but we know relatively little about the strategies used by children. We used eye-tracking to analyze how novice children and mathematically-proficient adults approached a well-studied fraction comparison paradigm. Specifically, eye-tracking can provide insights into the nature of differences: whether they are quantitative—reflecting differences in efficiency—or qualitative—reflecting a fundamentally different approach. We found that children who had acquired the basic fraction rules made more eye movements than did either adults or less proficient children, suggesting a thorough but inefficient problem solving approach. Additionally, correct responses were associated with normative gaze patterns, regardless of age or proficiency levels. However, children paid more attention to irrelevant numerical relationships on conditions that were conceptually difficult. An exploratory analysis points to the possibility that children on the verge of making a conceptual leap attend to the relevant relationships even when they respond incorrectly. These findings indicate the potential of eye-tracking methodology to better characterize the behavior associated with different levels of fraction proficiency, as well as to provide insights for educators regarding how to best support novices at different levels of conceptual development.