Reading the math textbook or handouts or extended response problems presents built-in challenges. The vocabulary of mathematics can be confusing, with some words meaning one thing in a mathematical context and another in everyday settings. Symbols can look alike, and different symbols can represent the same operation (for example, *, x, and • for multiplication). Graphs vary in format, even when representing the same data. Writing is valued as a way of communication in most school subjects, yet rarely in math. If students can learn to explain their thinking in solving a math problem (using drawings or tables or graphs as well as words), they acquire a means of setting out their work logically and refining their thinking as they communicate their understandings.
Far from expecting teachers to stretch their class time to include yet more content, a new Explore in Depth publication from the Middle School Portal, Reading and Writing Mathematics, offers resources that can enrich math instruction as teachers help their students better understand the content they are already tackling. Each section of the publication contains articles, many by teachers, who share their experiences, rationale, and classroom methods. Each section also offers lesson plans or activities appropriate for middle school students. Enjoy the challenge of opening your students to mathematical communication!
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