Reading in Math: Deliberate Shifts

“Reading across the curriculum” is not some new kid in town. He’s a pretty established face even if he hasn’t always demanded center stage. I took a couple Teaching Reading classes to become a math teacher. How about you? That was at least ten years ago. Then, workshops and math/reading coaches pushed reading fictional texts with mathematical connections to students. Yes, I bought my copy of The Number Devil, and I read aloud a chapter to my 8th grade, non-interested math class. I had been told reading aloud would mesmerize even the toughest crowd. Despite the ingenious plot line, my students didn’t seem affected by the magic.
My experience: A large amount of time invested for little mathematical return.
At some point I am responsible for teaching math standards in a certain order. A novelist’s “pacing guide” is dictated by a compelling story– not quite the pacing guide that I’ve had dictated to me. The Number Devil still rests in a visible place on my “enrichment” shelf but admittedly is sorely neglected.

Thankfully, the new elevation of non-fiction texts by the Common Core Standards has changed the image of “reading in math” (at least in my area). “Decoding” is a new buzz word.
My new experience: A modest time investment is now producing more critical mathematical thinking. However, incorporating more reading strategies in teaching math requires deliberate shifts rather than drastic change.

Here’s one deliberate shift:
A typical math slide or excerpt from any math text                                       New slide
Where are the examples? Is the teacher unprepared?
Students are challenged, “After you finish writing, I want you to generate an example or non-example based on your reading of the key concept.”

Another small shift
(A conversation in my Algebra classroom from last week)
What does the title, “Simplifying Rational Expressions,” tell you before we go any farther?
(student response)
Simplifying- What is the base word?
Rational – Do you see the word ratio in there? What is a ratio? Give me an example of a ratio? Think “fractions” when you see the word “rational.”Exponential Expressions Practice Guide
Expressions – What’s the difference between expressions and equations?
Let’s string it altogether. Who can put this title in their own words?
(Revealing of first example) Does this first example match your understanding?

Whoa! Modest time investment? That was only the title! Yes, but it’s only the first few weeks of school.
They get better. They speed up. Their minds get the hang of naturally decoding math terms and steering their owner in the right direction. Given the privilege of teaching the same kids 85 minutes a day for 180 days, I love seeing the long term effect on students. Perhaps, if I hadn’t abandoned “The Number Devil” after that first fateful chapter, the same would have been true.

AlgebraSimplifiedIconDawn is a secondary Algebra teacher in Maryland with a B.S. in Secondary Mathematics Education and a Masters in Information Science and Learning Technologies.
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