How can math educators and literacy educators pool their knowledge and experience on student learning in their field to elevate student achievement? What competencies, processes, strategies, etc. overlap between math and reading? For example, both disciplines require problem solving. What problem solving strategies used in math might help readers and writers, and vice versa? We are interested in hearing the perspectives of math and literacy educators from all over. Please share.

Tags: achievement, areas, arts, content, cross-disciplinary, ela, english, inter-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, language, More…literacies, literacy, math, mathematics, reading, student, writing

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I have often thought of that in the last several years (especially as my own children advanced into “Middle School Math”).

As a reading specialist I have read a lot professional texts, attended professional development workshops and staff development training, and participated in list serve/group discussions and book talks on reading strategies. I have read (and own - much to the dismay of my husband) quite a few texts on the topic, starting in 1998 with Mosaic of Thought (I have both the original and the second edition), to Strategies that Work (also both original and second addition) and Reading with Meaning, and, my current bedside companions Teaching with Intention and To Understand. Six years ago I began to teach reading strategies in my classroom. I think that I began to think about the connection with “Comprehension Strategies” and Math Instruction a little over a year ago. But, as a reading specialist who hasn’t taught math in over 12 years, it was hard to initially get a handle on it.

I think the most powerful thing that I did was read Comprehending Math: Adapting Reading Strategies to Teach Mathematics K-6 by Arthur Hyde. I was hooked by the first sentence in the first paragraph in the Foreword, where Ellin Oliver Keene (co-author of Mosaic of thought and author of To Understand) wrote, “Sometimes, in schools and classrooms, we simply confuse the help.” (p ix) She goes on to write later in the Foreword “ might we confuse the help less if we used the same language to describe similar thinking processes throughout the learning day and around the school” (p x). In the book Comprehending Math, Arthur Hyde shows how to “braid together” math, reading, and thinking with a cognitive approach to instruction.

As for the how educators can pool their knowledge and experiences - I think it has to happen through discourse at a school level, through discussions at conferences, through participation in initiatives such as Classroom 2.0. I think that the social networking resources available could be a great tool!!!

As for the comprehension strategies that can be used in problem solving -
1) Asking Questions
2) Making Connections
3) Visualization
4) Inferring and Predicting
5) Determining Importance
6) Synthesizing
Hyde proposes that phase one of George Polya's Four Phases of Problem Solving, Understanding the Problem, is the most critical phase and takes up 75% of the time used to solve a problem. These comprehension strategies 1-5 play a major part in this phase. Then Inferring/Predicting and Synthesizing occurs in the third phase - Carrying out the plan/solving the problem. Making Connections appears again in phase four - Looking back/checking.
Thanks, Kate, for your thoughtful and informative reply. Comprehension strategies have been a major part of my work for several years as a reading intervention teacher and as a literacy staff developer, and I have two children advancing to middle school math soon, so I would say that we have common interests and experiences! Hyde's book is a terrific resource, and you have inspired me to revisit it--I always find that I get something new when I reread great professional texts such as those you list here. I agree that Ellin Keene is right on target about illuminating similarities and using common terminology to help students make connections between these two disciplines. Comprehension strategies instruction has become relatively mainstream, but rarely are these same terms mentioned in math class, and it would be wonderful to see more schools supporting children in this way. Likewise, there may be math concepts and language that would transfer to the reading and writing classroom, and it would be interested to hear what other educators think about that.

I am affiliated with an organization called LitLife. ( While our work usually focuses on effective literacy instruction, we have begun to ask questions and generate discussion about math/literacy connections. This summer, we began a conversation in person with experts in math instruction, and we are pleased to expand the conversation using Classroom 2.0. For example, LitLife has developed a structure that categorizes the strands of literacy instruction called the Complete 4: Process, Genre, Strategy, and Conventions. The Complete 4 is already in use with teachers across the country through LitLife consultation and professional books. The premise is that all four areas of literacy instruction are critical and should be balanced across a school year. We think that these four areas have potential connections with the mathematics classroom as well. Applications of the Strategy strand is addressed beautifully in Hyde's work---and maybe Process as well with the Poyla's problem-solving process. Genre knowledge may fit in math as well--we teach readers and writers how to navigate genres--would students benefit from the explicit teaching of the characteristics, strategies, real-world uses, etc. associated with various strands (genres) of math such as geometry, probability, discrete math, algebra? Conventions may be understood as basic facts, symbols, and vocabulary needed for success in math. We certainly have experienced the tension over balance, specifically with conventions (think phonics, grammar, spelling, math facts and logarithm memorization) in literacy as well as math over the years. Comments, ideas on any of this most welcome!

Thanks again, Kate. I hope you continue to share and that more people join the conversation!
It’s an interesting discussion.
Some years ago the secondary school I work in launched a major drive to incorporate literacy across the curriculum: the impressive resource book a group of dedicated teachers produced now gathers dust on bookshelves around the school! I sometimes wonder what went wrong. I suspect that teachers felt that this was an extra demand that they simply didn’t have time for.
So it’s been good this week to read an article by Elizabeth Birr Moje called Foregrounding the disciplines in secondary literacy teaching and learning: a call for change in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. Prof Moje suggests that it’s less about looking out for links between the disciplines (ie less about breaking down boundaries) and more about seeing the role all kinds of literacy play in a fuller experience of each discipline. She writes:
“... a person who has learned deeply in a discipline can use a variety of representational forms - most notably reading and writing of written texts, but also oral language, visual images, music or artistic representations - to communicate their learning, to synthesize ideas across texts and across groups of people, to express new ideas, and to question and challenge ideas held dear in the discipline and broader spheres.”
I think Kate’s example here - about the way to understand a problem in maths - is a great example of this.
Hmm, that's funny about your school's efforts to do reading across the curriculum. My school is just starting that. We are coming out of a few years of Writing Across the Curriculum, which sort of phased itself out in much the same way I imagine your school's program did. And, I think the reaction to the Reading Across the Curriculum implies a similar fate.

I do wonder what the problem is.

After our in services on reading and writing, there is always some version of this statement: of course, we're not sure if this applies to math, or how it would work in math, or if it is relevant to math.

It does confuse people on how reading and writing initiatives work with math. So, we usually have to artificially add things in to participate, create manufactured connections between the initiative and things we are already doing, adapt the school wide initiative and do just our version of it, or not participate at all.

This year the math department joked that maybe we should do Math Across the Curriculum, because it is super important, too.

I like the idea that you don't link things, or try to make everybody do that same thing, or break down boundaries between departments, but rather you just make sure students are using a variety of ways, including reading and writing, to express learning.

Math and Reading teachers could pool their resources on an as needed basis, not massive school wide unification initiatives. Trying to get everybody to buy into the same program will never work. If Math teachers need help getting their students to read texts, then they ask Reading teachers what works. If Reading teachers are having trouble getting their students to problem solve, decode, make connections, they could ask math teachers.
Kate and Steve's posts bring up a realistic point--teachers may not welcome or feel a need for connections between disciplines, especially if it means adding something that does not feel authentic or directly connected to the curriculum. I agree that the goal is not breaking down the walls for its own sake, nor is it simply to spread reading and writing strategies across subject areas. I love the "math across the curriculum" comment from the math department.

I do believe, however, that math and English teachers each have knowledge and experiences that could help students achieve in each other's subject areas and that teasing these ideas out, district initiative or not, is a worthy discussion goal.
One of the books that our staff read was Chris Tovani's Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?: Content Comprehension, Grades 6-12. It explains that all subject areas read, but that the reading looks different in math compared to history. One of the points that she stresses is that we teachers need to model how we read. In a math class that involves reading slower, reading the entire problem, going back and dissecting the information so that students will know what to do with the math problem. The book made me very aware that reading in low text classes such as math, industrial tech, home ec, etc. is different than reading in classes with lots of text. I don't remember the book talking about competencies, processes, strategies, etc. that overlap between math and reading but there might be information in the book that will help you integrate reading with math.
Thanks for your thoughts, Julie! I will check out the Tovani book. Interesting characterization--"low text" classes vs. "lots of text" classes. Are you a math teacher?
This was one of the books that my school used in their launch of Reading Across the Curriculum. That's funny. I definitely think modeling how we read is a great idea. That's a good universal strategy for teaching. I'm not sure that it fits "Reading Across the Curriculum" as much as a "Study Skills Across the Curriculum" because doing meta-cognition type stuff isn't so much a literacy skill, it's more of an attack skill.

We do a lot of thinking out loud and deconstructing in math. Not just with story problems, but with the informational text that explains the steps and processes to do new types of number based problems.
I have taught Maths for over 20 years and have firmly come to the conclusion that teaching maths is like teaching a language. If you do not understand the maths lingo then you cannot do the questions. Often the maths language is written in symbols (more so in senior years) whilst in other cases it is a worded question and you have to extract the question and write it down using maths symbols. Kids certainly need a good grasp of basic arithmetic to use once either the question is extracted mathematically or "read" from the symbols. Sometimes the arithmetic basics can seem unrelated to the end task of being used in problem solving. I find that many teachers can use too much mathematical language and students do not understand. Often getting the students to teach each other is more effective. It is clearly shown in research that if a student does something alone then they will recall this only about 30% of the time - when discusssed with others, reflected upon this increases to about 60 % - when they show someone else this increases to about 80% recall. excuse the exact % I only remember them very roughly. So maths is all about language, interpretation, recalling and passing it on and then you have greater success with students. Now I work with teenagers, hormones on legs I reckon - so you have to get them interested to start with - that is an even bigger challenge. LOL
Carolyn, Great discussion. I haven't read all of it, yet, but this is a hot button topic for me! I spend most of my time helping teachers create a literate mathematics classroom from elementary to secondary. It is such a critical issue not because literacy is a hot topic, but because mathematical literacy is about communicating what students know about math, and quite frankly if they can't communicate their understandings then they probably don't know very much. What I loved about your original post is the question about the overlap between math and reading. It's interesting that what students tend to read most in math are equations and graphs. Both of those things don't read like a paragraph written in English. They can be read and are often read not only left to right but right to left and in the case of graphs are really read up and down as well as horizontally. Those processes need to be taught, and they are reading processes. The rest of this discussion will take some more reading but I will be back and I look forward to more discussion.

Thanks for starting this!
Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful posts! I am learning so much from all, and the discussion has truly enhanced my thinking about the topic. I hope every else feels similarly and that people continue to share.
I've just come across the following podcast. I haven't listened to it yet, but will later. It looks interesting. It's described at the blog where it's posted as follows:

This podcast features a recording of the January 2, 2009, live morning radio show interview in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on CJOB|68 with Darren Kuropatwa, minus the news and advertisement breaks. The conversation focused on Darren’s utilization of scribe posts by his Calculus and Pre-Calculus students at Daniel McIntyre Academy in Winnipeg, the imporance of numeracy as well as literacy, and the power of online learning communities to support as well as motivate students inside and outside the classroom.



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