After reading about integrating math and literacy, I have reflected on several themes I found in the books and articles that framed my research. I presented two reasons why teachers should integrate math and literacy on the Research page here. On this Connections page, I’d like to share some connections I made while researching why teachers should integrate math and literacy.
Looking at literacy in terms of the four domains: reading, writing, listening, and speaking, there are many possibilities for incorporating literacy into math lessons. Similarly, there are many standards and domains of mathematics, which I presented here on the Standards page. Many of the articles I read offered specific strategies for incorporating one or more of those four domains of literacy into math lessons and many articles related literacy to one or more of the math standards. Whitin and Wilde’s book Read Any Good Math Lately? is a great resource for incorporating children’s literature into each area of the math standards: from numeracy to multiplication. Whitin and Wilde also present suggestions for using children’s literature, which I posted here.
One aspect of mathematics is the word problem, which is often difficult for students to master. In her book A Man Left Albuquerque Heading East: Word Problems as Genre in Math Education, Susan Gerofsky discusses word problems, the history of word problems, the intention of word problems, and how students read word problems. I had never considered word problems as their own genre but I agree with Gerofsky that they can be taught to children as a genre because they have a specific structure and purpose. I really liked her suggestions for working with word problems in a different way, which I posted here.
In chapter 5, Gerofsky discusses the intention that teachers and curriculum writers have for word problems. She interviewed many teachers from a range of grade levels and after interviewing an elementary teacher, Gerofsky reported, the “pedagogic aim was to emphasize the process of problem solving and to teach students multiple problem-solving strategies rather than to focus on mathematical algorithms that would generate a single ‘right answer’ ” (p. 77). This teacher also said, “the skill most needed by students was the skill of converting word problems to math algorithms – that is, the skill of removing the decorative ‘dressing’ of story from a word problem and uncovering the specific mathematical techniques and pertinent data intended by the problem writer” (Gerofsky, p. 78). So, to me, this is the struggle many teachers have. We want students to apply multiple problem-solving strategies to a range of problem types, so that they will be prepared for the future but this is a challenging skill to teach to our students.
While thinking about this challenge, I then read Shannon Foster’s article The Day Math and Reading Got Hitched. Ms. Foster taught her students to use reading comprehension strategies when trying to read and understand word problems. I posted about this idea here and think this is a super way to integrate math and reading. When first introducing this idea, Ms. Foster created a Venn diagram with her students to show how their reading and math strategies overlapped (Foster, p. 198). All of the strategies that the students listed were in the overlapping section of the two circles; there were no strategies just for math or just for reading. What a great visual for students and a great way to emphasize the idea that Moyer discussed: children see math and reading as naturally connected – not two distinct subjects (Moyer, p. 255). Here’s Ms. Foster’s Venn diagram:
I chose to read Whitney H. Rapp’s article, Avoiding Math Taboos: Effective Math Strategies for Visual-Spatial Learners because I know that math is too often taught in a lecture format, using primarily auditory-sequential teaching methods. Not all students are auditory-sequential learners and if the primary teaching style is auditory-sequential, these students will miss a lot of the material. I encouraged teachers to vary their teaching style and suggested that incorporating literacy will meet the needs of more students in my post here.
I think this is very important and is related to Strong, Thomas, Perini, and Silver’s article Creating a Differentiated Mathematics Classroom. Strong, et al., discuss the idea that often, teachers do not differentiate their math lessons. They describe the need to differentiate lessons and suggest that as teachers, we should make a commitment to these four ideas:
“Include all four dimensions of mathematical learning – computation, explanation, application, and problem solving – in every unit we teach;
Help students recognize their own mathematical learning styles … along with their strengths, their weaknesses, and where they need to grow;
Use a variety of teaching strategies to explore mathematical topics; and
Create or revise our assessments to reflect all four dimensions of mathematical learning and [the] learning styles that students use to approach those dimensions” (Strong, Thomas, Perini, & Silver, p. 78).
In her book, Mathematical Literacy: Developing Identities of Inclusion, Yvette Solomon discusses the idea that the identity our students assume is tied to their experiences and participation in school and their relationship with teachers. To me, this is connected to the Strong, et al., article because if a teacher uses a primarily auditory-sequential teaching style, but a student has a predominantly visual learning style, that student will struggle in math and, Solomon suggests, will feel excluded from math. Solomon suggests that math is “part of an established community and this means that math is not therefore negotiable without participation in that community” (Solomon, p. 165). All teachers want their students to grow up to participate in and contribute to society, so this means it is important for students to grasp mathematics. Solomon says, “teachers need an awareness of math as a discourse that is played out at several levels from word to text and the ways in which learners respond to this. Enabling learners to develop an identity of participation requires ‘some telling, some showing, and some doing it with them along with regular rehearsals’ and hence, a teacher role of expert and guide” (Solomon, p. 177). I think Strong, et al., Moyer, Pierce and Fontaine, and Biddle echo Solomon’s idea that the teacher’s role is expert and guide and math is a way to communicate within society.
Biddle, in her article, When Opportunity Knocks: Integrating Language Arts and the Daily Calendar, and Pierce and Fontaine, in their article, Designing Vocabulary Instruction in Mathematics both discuss ways to integrate math and communication. Biddle uses the daily calendar time to integrate language arts, read more about it in my post here. Pierce and Fontaine advise teachers to provide vocabulary instruction for students and to specifically address technical and sub-technical math words, which are important for students to know in order to be prepared for “high-stakes” tests; read about in my post here.
Karen Gallas discusses communication in her book, The Languages of Learning. She says, “for children, meaning is built into stories and children’s narratives aren’t naturally confined to the spoken or written word. From early childhood they tell stories in dramatic play, drawings, paintings, movement, and spontaneous song” (Gallas, p. xiv-xv). I agree and think that children can also tell stories through math. I suggested that one way to incorporate math and writing was to encourage students to write their own math story problems in my post here. I also think that Gerofsky’s suggestions for working with word problems can be another area where students tell stories in math class. In addition to encouraging her students to write stories, Gallas also provided many opportunities for her students to share their stories during their daily Sharing Time. Gallas suggests that “the process of making thinking visible through oral and written narratives becomes continuous with (not separate from) the subjects we study, and it promotes an integrated view of our curriculum” (Gallas, p. 89).
This integrated view of the curriculum is echoed in Moyer’s article Communicating Mathematically: Children’s Literature as a Natural Connection. She says, “both literature and mathematics help us to organize and give order to the world around us” and “children’s literature and mathematics both have underlying patterns and structures that help learners make sense of their world” (Moyer, p. 248, 249).
Susan Carter addresses both math and communication and math and writing in her article Connecting Mathematics and Writing Workshop: It’s Kinda Like Ice Skating. To help her students develop their mathematical understanding, Carter modeled and taught her students to write in math journals, which I shared in this post. Then, like Gallas, she encouraged students to share their mathematical writing in the Author’s Chair. She was surprised with the results saying “students helped one another revise their mathematical thinking during Author’s Chair in a way that had never happened before in our math class … another surprise was the renewed spirit of excitement about writing that permeated the classroom” (Carter, p. 609).
Reading these articles and books has given me an important framework to approach integrating math and literacy in my own classroom. I have seen many connections among the sources I researched and have learned many great strategies for implementing this integration. I enjoyed exploring the opportunities for integrating math and children’s literature, math and writing, and math and communication. It was interesting to discover that word problems can be taught as a unique genre and can be solved using reading comprehension strategies. I learned more about the teacher’s role as an expert and guide, including the importance of differentiating the teaching style in order to meet the learning needs of all kinds of students. I learned the importance of stories and about the great benefit that sharing those stories and writings can have in a classroom. After this research and after making these connections, I strongly believe integrating math and literacy instruction is essential to ensure that students have deep, meaningful learning and are prepared for the future.