Reading Math

You may have heard this complaint or even made it yourself: “These tests are more about reading than they are about math!”  Students are increasingly asked to understand and apply math to situations, rather than just perform an operation on numbers. This involves reading the math text that sets out the problem scenario.

Add to that the inherent difficulty of math vocabulary, where a word can mean one thing in a mathematical context and another in everyday settings.  Symbols, another part of vocabulary, can look alike but have different meanings, or different symbols can represent the same operation (for example, *, x, and · for multiplication).

And there’s the textbook, usually opened only for the problem sets, since most students are alienated by its language and its very format.

How can we help middle school students learn to read the math they need for today’s tests and high school courses?  Far from expecting teachers to stretch their class time to include yet more content, I’d like to offer online resources that can enrich math instruction as teachers help their students better understand the content they are already tackling.

Reading in the Mathematics Classroom
Written by Diana Metsisto, a middle school mathematics coach, this online chapter involves both the “why” and the “how” of integrating reading in the teaching of mathematics. She offers a number of concrete classroom strategies.

Unlocking the Mystery of Mathematics: Give Vocabulary Instruction a Chance
Math teacher Bizzie Cors realized that her students needed to “construct meaning for all vocabulary terms and connect to prior knowledge as well as to new concepts and algorithms.”  This led her to create a new process to teach vocabulary development.  Described here is what she calls the “sticky-note chain” process; its final product is a graphic organizer complete with sticky notes, connections, and problems created by the students themselves.

A Maths Dictionary for Kids
This animated, interactive mathematics dictionary for kids explains over 500 common mathematical terms in simple language. Each term is illustrated and, often, accompanied by an interactive applet that makes visual and immediate the definition of the term.

Getting to Know Your Middle Grades Mathematics Textbook
This article by Diane Kahle, an experienced teacher of middle school mathematics, shares general tips, small group and whole class ideas for textbook reading, and a ten-question scavenger hunt to help students learn how to find information in their mathematics textbook.

Books can be used to teach actual math concepts. For ideas, spend a few minutes at the Mathematics Bookshelf.

Please comment on these resources and offer your own ideas on teaching students to read math.

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5 thoughts on “Reading Math

  1. I’m so glad this resource collection is here. It makes sense; it’s just rare for this to be part of the conversation in math. I feel that when reading and math are separated, it’s almost always in an inauthentic context. I’d like to add to your list Doris Lawson’s “Oral Storytelling and Mathematics” and shamelessly, my own project “Ko’s Journey” by Imagine Education:

    The idea is that math can be constructed within story with a rich plot and characters. In the case of Ko, she becomes separated from her kin, and survives by finding a guidebook that teaches her how to travel through the wilderness. The math makes sense within the story, such as when she mixes a poultices using ratios to save a wolf pup.

  2. Scott makes an excellent point in his comment: stories are the way to involve middle school students in authentic problem solving. I read through the preview for his Ko’s Journey and look forward to previewing the full game in January. I trust there is help for teachers who are presenting the game for the first time.

  3. Thanks a ton for applying time to compose “Reading Math | Middle School Math
    and Science”. Thank you once again ,Horace

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