Chapter 1: Comprehension Strategies for Mathematics (BMC Book Study)

With the CCSS standards it has become more apparent that all teachers are READING teachers. Content area teachers are reading teachers, PE teachers are reading teachers, librarians are reading teachers...and yes, math teachers are reading teachers, too.

In Chapter 1 Laney Sammons discusses the global achievement gap in mathematics - a gap between what our students are taught and what is needed to be successful in our ever changing world. It goes on to define mathematical literacy as " individual's capacity to identify and understand the role that mathematics plays in the world, to make well-founded judgments, and to use and engage with mathematics in ways that meet the needs of that individual's life as a constructive, concerned, and reflective citizen." (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2010, 18). Bottom line, our students need to be able to functionally use mathematics.

Understanding mathematics is much more than just number crunching. Mathematicians have to construct meaning just like readers do. Characteristics of "good" mathematicians are similar to characteristics of "good" readers (22).
  • They use prior knowledge to help them to tackle "new" concepts and problems.
  • They use multiple strategies to tackle a problem.
  • They demonstrate mathematical fluency.
  • They monitor and fix up their understanding of concepts.
  • They reason and defend their thinking to others.
So how can we help our students construct meaning as they learn math concepts and solve problems? Well, we can borrow from what has worked well during reading instruction. Through explicit instruction (31-34), we teach strategies to our math students...but with a twist on mathematical content and processes. We need to explain "what" the strategy is, "why" we use the strategy, and "when" the strategy should be used. Learning opportunities need to include teacher modeling, guided practice where students work in small groups or with a partner, and then independent practice. As in reading, we want to gradually release the responsibility of learning back to the students to help them develop a deeper conceptual understanding of mathematics. One interesting recommendation made by Sammons (33) is that during the initial modeling of a strategy, it should be soley the teacher talking. Student participation during this time should be avoided so that the focus remains on the teacher's thinking. Something to think about...

A take-away from something I read from Beth at Thinking of Teaching was her idea to incorporate math text into guided reading. Not necessarily a book, but rather reading a math problem. This would give students the opportunity to peel away the layers of a math problem much like the way they peel away the layers of a more commonly used guided reading text. This reminds me of an activity I did last year with a math task. I didn't do it in a guided reading setting, rather as whole group "close" read. See the post here if you are interested in reading more.
The instructional strategies and terminology that reading teachers use so successfully in teaching reading comprehension should be utilized in the math classroom as well. The next chapter is Recognizing and Understanding Mathematical Vocabulary. Math is a language all its own. Come back June 15 and see some ideas how to help our students talk the language of math.

One of my passions is math. I would love to hear thoughts and ideas. Comment or link up below and share your take on math comprehension. Don't forget to visit some of the other blogs hosting the chapters. Click on the schedule below and happy reading.

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