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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Tool for Reading Informational Text

As we all move toward Common Core, there is more emphasis, in all content areas, on informational text and non-fiction reading.

The problem is, many students are not experienced with this type of reading, and struggle with strategies to use to help them pull meaning from the text.  Students are better at reading fiction, but need a different skill set to pull out key facts from non-fiction, or even science or social studies texts.

In the ELA Common Core Standards are many references in to reading and writing informational text, writing and following procedures, drawing conclusions, supporting with evidence, etc.  One area that I think we struggle as teachers, and may not reach our full common core potential is in terms of reading strategies.  (CCCS on reading informational text (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI). We expect kids to be able to read, or we find alternative ways around it, such as notes, hands-on, demos, videos.  We do need to teach reading strategies, even though we are not reading teachers.

This is something that I work on a lot in my classroom because the district I work in historically has students with very low reading levels.  Along with this, I have always taught courses ending in a state exam, where the reading level is at or slightly above grade level.  This is not a good combination.  Reading level is the biggest predictor of how they do on the exam.  (a topic for another day).

Anyway, one strategy I use for reading out of a textbook is this freebie available at my store.  It is really a scaffold to teach a good strategy for reading a textbook.  It includes what to do before reading the chapter (previewing), what to do during (vocabulary, looking at text features, recording new information and connecting it to what is already known) and after (questions you still have and reflection on what you learned).

tara bookIt is in a format that kids can readily fill in and understand.  This has been very popular with our ELL and SPED teachers and students, and used for students in grades 7-10 with very good results. If you use it, let me know what you think in the comments.  If you have suggestions or other strategies you use, let me know that too!



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Tara is a science teacher from upstate NY. She has taught General Science, Biology, Environmental Science, and Earth Science.
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Reading Across the Curriculum from English to History and Back

ChainsI think it is important for teachers from various subject areas to collaborate on ways to include reading into their classes. I personally, would love to work with a history teacher and have my students in English class read a historical fiction novel. Then, in history have the students analyze how factual it is.

But, even if I can’t collaborate with another teacher, I like to either require or encourage my students to read historical fiction. There are many very well researched books out there that will help students learn more about a topic. By putting the information into a story format it often allows students to relate to the characters more and be inspired to seek out more information.

Obviously, non-fiction options are great too. All of my students seem to respond well to memoirs. They love Anne Frank’s Diary, and Night.

Here are some of my favorite books that encourage an interest in history for grades 6-12:

Historical Fiction:

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson and the rest of her historical fiction

Fire on the Rock by Sharon Draper

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Weinpersepolis

Waiting for the Rain by Shiela Gordon

The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Curtis


Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Night by Elie Wiesel

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

What are your favorites? Do you know of books that easily tie in math or science? I’d love to broaden my knowledge base about those!

TPT ProfileSara Fuller is a 5 year veteran English teacher with an MA in literature who has experience teaching students ranging from the middle school to college level. She blogs about her teaching adventures at Ms. F’s Teaching Adventures and young adult books at YA Lit, the Good, the Bad, the Ugly!
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Digital Reading in the Classroom

Increasingly, we’re reading digitally– online, on phones, on tablets.  This includes the classroom, with things like Bring Your Own Device programs or digital textbooks rather than print.  Or even just researching on the computer rather than in the dusty stacks of a library.

But digital reading is not quite the same as reading in print.  Teachers– and students– should be aware of the differences.  After all, the first step to fixing a problem is recognizing it (or even the potential for the problem.)

First off, online readers tend to skim the page, hunting for key words, rather than reading linearly.  This is liable to mean they are missing information as they read.  There are also growing concerns that this type of reading is affecting in-dept processing.  This type of reading can transfer to other digital formats, especially if that digital reading includes internet access, where a world of distractedness is just a click a way.

Second, digital reading may have an affect on how much is retained.   Book readers tend to remember more from what they read the first time, with digital readers needing to reread (and this assumes that they are reading, and not, as above, skimming.)   As teachers, the issue of retention is at the core of much of what we do– you cannot scaffold learning if the previous information is not their to build upon.

Third,  using the internet is affecting our memory, in general.  When we know we have access to looking things up later, we’re less likely to work to remember them.  (Raise your hand if you work to memorize phone numbers, for example, instead of just programming them into your own cell phone contacts.)   Luckily, we’re getting better at remembering where we find things, which can help us find them again.  However, there is still the issue, I would argue, that we’re not taking the time to remember information.  Is it possible that this issue stretches beyond internet or smartphone access to use of general digital readings?

Clair laptopAnecdotally, I can report that one of my last papers for Grad School a few years back, I was reading through my print-outs from JSTOR, making annotations and notes as I had in for all those years of schooling.   As I’m flipping through the pages looking for that one line I wanted to use in my paper, a little voice in suggested I open the original PDF files and use the search tool.  It was a life-changing realization… but would it have been as effective if I hadn’t read the pages first with the intention of needing to and trying to remember?

There is a lot of information to process in the world.  Digital reading, including eTextbooks, offer great opportunities.  They do raise some concerns, but I like to think that being aware of the issues can help us work with them.

1.  Instead of skimming, readers should slow down and purposefully read with the intention of understanding, remembering, and questioning.  This, I think, should extend beyond school reading, but (nearly) all reading.  It may mean you can’t read everything (or it might cut into your time for Angry Birds/ Candy Crush/ SnapChats/ Facebook/ etc.)

2.  Readers should expect to return to the text to find information (or quotes).  Challenge them to take notes and/ or to NOT use the search function.  They might find a better quote, for example, as they skimmed through the text again to find the original one.

3.  Prioritize.  We’re not going to remember everything.  But some things need to get memory slots and focus– there are concepts in math and science, for example, that require prior knowledge to understand.  Phone numbers and appointments may be best left to our SmartPhones to keep track of for us.  Digital videos or interactive graphics in an eTextbook for science may be great, but perhaps an old fashioned print novel is better in English class sometimes.

In the end, I think there are great possibilities with digital reading, in the classroom and beyond.  Just use the tool wisely, aware of it’s benefits and it’s drawbacks.
CDickson Profile PicClair Dickson, high school English teacher, likes free eTexts and Project Based Learning to stretch her meager budget. Visit her store High School English on a Shoestring Budget to stretch your budget.
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Annotation- A Conversation with the Text

Common Core emphasizes close reading, but how do we teach students to do this? In my professional reading and discussion, I have repeatedly learned that annotation is a key strategy. If it is done well, annotation lets students enter into a conversation with the text. To some students this may come naturally, but for many others they need to receive explicit instruction. Unfortunately, I have had students who just highlight entire paragraphs when asked to annotate a text. Sometimes, to help students learn annotation without overwhelming them, I set a purpose for their annotations. For example, when my students read “The Story of an Hour,” I want them to focus on the characterization of the main character. I want them to note how she changes throughout this clever story. Of course there is much more that could be analyzed in the story – symbolism, irony, point of view- but for a developing reader, it may be best for the teacher to provide direction.


Another important strategy is modeling. Teachers may want to do a think aloud to show students their own thinking process when they annotate a text. This helps students “see” what a reader may want to focus on during his or her reading. When I annotate in a think aloud, I demonstrate my thought process. For instance, I star key ideas, showing students that I may look for information that may lead me to predictions or abstract ideas. I circle repeated, important, or unknown words. I may show them that I use context to make meaning of a word or find a definition. Additionally, I write lots of questions. I may even try to answer the questions with my personal reactions or inferences. Because I am teaching students to pay attention to author’s craft, I will also show them my analysis of literary devices. For example, I may identify a rhyme scheme or figurative language. Finally, I will also paraphrase or summarize key sections by writing notes in the margins. Here is an example of a think loud for a paragraph in the story, “The Devil and Tom Walker”:


In addition to the strategies mentioned above, I continually consider new ways to teach annotation. During a recent discussion with a colleague, we considered using emoticons for annotation. We think this may be appealing to our students, making a relevant connection to their use of social media and online communication. Perhaps a student would prefer the use of 😮 to an exclamation point. I’m still working on a lesson for this idea to use in my classroom, but hope to have it ready soon.

Although I’ve given examples from my high school English classroom, annotation is a reading strategy that can be used in any content area. However, a science or social studies teacher may want to adjust the types of notations that students make to better fit the content of the class. For instance, a science colleague of mine asks her students to use equal signs when annotating formulas and arrows for procedure words. What strategies and ideas do you have for teaching annotation? Please share them in the comments!

OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKim, the OCBeach Teacher,  is a National Board Certified English teacher who is currently teaching American Literature and AP English Literature and Composition.  She shares classroom ideas and tips on her OCBeachTeacher Facebook Page.
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Engaging Students with Differentiated News Articles

News stories and current events are a great way to help students become engaged in the topic that they are studying, and also to realize that the topic of study is REAL, it is relevant, and it is something that is currently happening around them. In addition to helping engage students, there are several other reasons to use news articles in class, as well. News articles are an ideal method to integrate common core standards for reading informational text. In addition, news stories can be a way to build up students’ international and national awareness of themselves as part of a larger community. News stories can include video clips, and, most commonly, written articles. These written texts are a great way to build up language skills, in context.
I use articles in several ways. Here are a few ideas:
— at the beginning of a unit, or mini-unit, to build up background knowledge, and to engage students. Students can read one article, and answer questions, or complete a graphic organizer. Students can read different articles on related topics and jigsaw to find common ground, and common themes among there topic. For example, in a recent unit on genetics, students read one of several articles about genetic mutations, and then shared information about what causes mutations, what are the effects, and whether or not mutations are beneficial.

— at the end of a unit, students can write a position paper, based on a controversial news article, or write their own news story, modeled after a given story, based on their content knowledge.

— students can read to related news article for homework, with questions or a written summary, to build up vocabulary, reading skills, and content knowledge.

As useful as news articles are, it can be difficult to find articles at your students’ appropriate reading levels, on topic that are relevant. newslaSome magazines and news sites have a kids news portion, such as Time or National Geographic. However, my new favorite website takes current news stories, on many topics, searchable by keyword, and presents them on various reading levels. Check out Newsela. It is in beta, and free, at least for now. With a click of the button, you can adjust the reading level on any article from high school down to 4th or 5th grade. You can give different students different reading levels of the same article. Some of these news articles even come with quizzes built in. I’m so impressed with the selection of articles, and the ability to easily differentiate! I have already used this website three times, and have gotten great results! I hope you check it out, and please share your impressions in the comments section.

profile pic2Tara is a science teacher from upstate NY. She has taught General Science, Biology, Environmental Science, and Earth Science.