Sometimes, it seems,
mathematics teachers live on an island, separated from teachers of other
subject areas. When other teachers use or reference mathematics, they generally
do so with the expectation that students have already learned the content in
our classrooms. Where are the help and support from colleagues? Why must
mathematics teachers bear the responsibility for helping all students learn
mathematics when all teachers are supporting students in learning the reading
and writing standards in a schoolwide literacy framework?
is a question I hear often, a belief I once held, and a mindset in need of
changing. Perhaps it is time to look at the issue through a new lens. How are
the other subject area teachers working to support students’ learning in mathematics
November 2013 issue of Educational
Leadership focused on teaching students to read and access informational
text. As I read the journal, several statements struck me as similar to
teaching students to read high-level tasks and mathematical texts.
mentions teachers in subject areas needing to find text that is “accessible,
engaging and complex”; if sufficiently complex, the informational text allows
students to integrate ideas and feel success in meeting the challenge, gaining
“new insights and epiphanies” through solving the task (Ehrenworth 2013, p. 18).
Don’t we mathematics teachers do the same thing when finding worthwhile high
cognitive tasks to use in class? What are students learning in other areas that
will help us?
and Fisher (2013) establish several considerations for reading informational
text, three of which include a connection to mathematics learning: establish
purpose, use close reading, and use collaborative conversations (pp. 35–37). Why
should students engage in a task? What is the purpose of the work, and why does
an answer need to be found? Can students generate their own questions? How can
they interact with one another to challenge one another to solve problems using
collective strategies? In close reading, teachers provide short passages and
model posing questions while reading the text to monitor one’s own thinking. Students
learn to annotate text and answer text-dependent questions that require
critical thinking and to reread passages as needed.
familiar? Perhaps the literacy framework used in cross-curricular areas can
support students in learning mathematics. One challenge is for us to recognize
the connections and tap into the strategies that students are already learning.
Another challenge is to allow students time to struggle productively when
solving problems and to develop curiosity to ask more questions and explore the
true beauty of mathematics.
teacher in Oregon recently shared with me the gains made by students in her
Algebra 1 and Calculus AP classes when she started to focus on reading
informational text as part of a schoolwide literacy program. Perhaps we all are
working to deepen students’ critical thinking skills, and perhaps the island is
really a community.
Frey, Nancy, and Douglas
Fisher. 2013. “Points of Entry.”
Educational Leadership 71 (3): 35 – 38.
Ehrenworth, Mary. 2013.
“Unlocking the Secrets of Complex Text.” Educational
Leadership 71 (3): 16–21.
Sarah Schuhl has worked as a secondary mathematics teacher and instructional coach for twenty years, is an author, former MT Editorial Panel Chair, and consultant. She enjoys working with teachers to find instructional and assessment practices that result in student learning