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.

 Reading Math Making Connections Text to Self Text to Text Text to World Making Connections Math to Self Math to Math Math to World Visualizing Creating a mental image to help construct meaning Visualizing Creating a mental image to help construct meaning Inferring Drawing conclusions Making predictions Reflecting on reading Inferring 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 Synthesizing Reviewing, sorting and sifting through information leading to new insight as thinking evolves Synthesizing 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 Questioning Clarifying meaning by asking questions before, during and after reading to deepen comprehension Questioning 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).

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