Math, Reading

Reading in Mathematics? Absolutely!!

Reading in Mathematics?  When I was a student in elementary school these two subjects were not only separate but almost complete opposite.  Today however, my perception has changed and I see more similarities between the two than differences.

First of all, there IS reading in mathematics…reading of textbooks, word problems, literature, the whiteboard…the ability to read supports the student’s ability to take in information, comprehend problems and creating meaning.

Secondly, reading at it’s very essence is thinking.  It is the interpretation of a set of symbols (letters and words), and using our understanding of the symbols to create meaning.  This process must involve thinking.  Likewise, mathematics is the interpretation of a set of symbols (numbers, objects, representations, letters, and words) to create meaning, and gain understanding.   This process must also involve thinking.   Since both subjects are looking to strengthen thinking it only makes sense that we use the strategies and supports for strengthen student thinking, and comprehension in reading to strengthen thinking and understanding in math.  Creating consistency between the strategies can foster students ability to make connections and allows them to build on an existing foundation within a new context.

In reading we use the Super 7 Reading Strategies to support thinking and comprehension.  In mathematics these same strategies can be built upon to support mathematical thinking comprehension.



Making Connections

  • Text to Self
  • Text to Text
  • Text to World
Making Connections

  • Math to Self
  • Math to Math
  • Math to World

  • Creating a mental image to help construct meaning

  • Creating a mental image to help construct meaning

  • Drawing conclusions
  • Making predictions
  • Reflecting on reading

  • Constructing answers
  • Estimation
  • Reflecting on mathematical thinking
Determining Importance

  • Determining topic and main idea
  • Determining author’s message
  • Using knowledge of narrative or expository text features/structures
  • Determining relevance
Determining Importance

  • Determining what is given in the problem
  • Determining what we are being asked to discover
  • Using existing knowledge in mathematics to solve new problems
  • Determining relevance

  • Reviewing, sorting and sifting through information leading to new insight as thinking evolves

  • Reviewing, sorting and sifting through mathematical problems and information which leads to new insights in math
Monitoring and Repairing Comprehension

  • Monitoring understanding and knowing how to adjust when meaning breaks down
Monitoring and Repairing Mathematical Thinking

  • Monitoring understanding and knowing when to stop and adjust (when thinking breaks down)
  • Identifying where thinking broke down and trying another solution

  • Clarifying meaning by asking questions before, during and after reading to deepen comprehension

  • Clarifying mathematical thinking by asking questions before, during, and after solving problems to deepen understanding
  • Asking questions of others about their strategies for solving problems.

So next time you are explicitly teaching comprehension strategies to your students in reading consider the possibility of expanding on those strategies in mathematics.  As Maggie Siena  (2009) so eloquently puts it “we can become more effective teachers of mathematics by drawing from our successful experiences with teaching literacy.  It’s the art of lighting two candles with one flame” (p.2).


From Reading to MathSiena, M. (2009). From reading to math. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions.

7 thoughts on “Reading in Mathematics? Absolutely!!”

  1. I’ve often found myself thinking about the understandings my students have of mathematics vocabulary and mathematical phrases. I try to start with the conceptual understanding using familiar language, move into conceptual understanding using the more formal mathematical language, in essence layering the language on top of the concepts as students develop their understanding. This reduces how much students have to think about when they are learning a concept, which I find to be a huge benefit for their learning.

    1. I like the idea of layering David. It is an idea which can happen if teachers have an awareness of how students learn, effective instructional practices and the content. The more I learn the more I believe that we can’t leave learning to chance but need to carefully and deliberately create the conditions for ALL students to succeed. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. I agree with your premise. The purpose of these reading strategies is to teach children to think critically about the information they are receiving from the text. Of course this is connected to math concepts. We want students to think critically about the math they are learning, to figure out what strategy works best, to consider whether their answer makes sense. We don’t want them to just blindly follow a rule they have been taught and memorized.

  3. I am talking to K-2 teachers about teaching Math in a metacognitive, meaningful way in a few days and your chart about the correlation between reading and math skills is just what I need. I am definitely going to be referring them to your article. Thanks!

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