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.


Comprehending Math through Problem Solving

This spring I am championing a book club for the book Comprehending Math by Arthur Hyde. I was initially drawn to this book because it attempts to link reading comprehension strategies, which have been a focus of my professional learning for many years, with ways students can make sense of and understand mathematics. Hyde refers to this connection as BRAIDING- the weaving together of reading and mathematics comprehension strategies. I firmly believe if we can make these connections as teachers, we can help our students make them and in turn, enhance and strengthen their learning experiences in our classrooms. This opening comment by Ellin Keene says it best “teaching will be clearer, bolder, more connected. And for the ultimate beneficiaries, the help(the learners), they will have a chance to understand just how integrally our world is connected.” p. xii.

In this book Hyde emphasizes problem solving by demonstrating math-based variations of common reading comprehension strategies such as:

  • K–W–L
  • visualizing
  • asking questions
  • inferring
  • predicting
  • making connections
  • determining importance
  • synthesizing

One of my favorite take aways for this book is the KWC chart which is a modified version of the reading KWL chart. In this math version students take a math problem or situation and break it down into 3 separate area.

What do I Know?

– what information is given to us within the problem or situation

This could be a specific list of items such as:

  • 14 girls
  • 12 boys
  • 28 spots on the bus

What do you Want to figure out?

Basically, you have the students restate the question, problem or situation in their own words. This can be a brief sentence or a longer statement depending on the situation

Special Conditions– are there any special conditions we have to watch out for

This section can be a little tricky to fill out because sometimes the conditions are also things that we know. When doing the KWC chart with your students, feel free to go back and forth between the K and the C when you first start. Eventually, you can move onto the discussion of is that a K or is it a C? A condition would be something that must be remembered in order to complete the problem. For example, a condition might be

  • You cannot create the same shape more than once or
  • it is a 3 digit number

Sometimes with students I talk about the conditions as things we have in our schema that need to be brought forward to aid in the solving of the problem. For example if the problem is about money it might not specifically state that there are 100 pennies in a dollar, but this information must be drawn forward in order to complete the task.

When using this tool in the classroom I would recommend the “gradual release of responsibility model” as a guide. Begin first by using it with the whole class with the teacher being the guide, then gradually move into students using it in small groups, partners and finally own their own. Once students understand the mathematical problems they encounter they are more able to move into solving them with enhanced confidence and understanding.

Happy Problem Solving!!!