Literacy in Mathematics

The role of literacy is a life skill we often assume is relegated to English class or we confuse our learners reading a text with comprehension, and we need to play a much larger part in creating opportunities for learners to practice and develop their literary skills. Mathematical texts tend to be very dense, meaning the text is both rich in academic language and conceptual or procedural knowledge that is very difficult for learners to access, let alone understand. Giving learners the opportunity to access, decode, interpret, and understand mathematical texts prepares them to be self-directed, self-motivated learners. If learners are able to read a mathematical text, interpret the context of the text, and be able to write and speak about the text then imagine how much more likely our learners will be successful. Literacy is difficult to teach it is a process where slow growth in learners may be challenging on the nerves, and the dealing with some of the learners’ push back may be challenging, but it is a worthwhile endeavor for our learners. To this end, this post will be about three ways you may incorporate literacy into mathematics (really any subject). Number One: Anticipation Guide The anticipation guide is the only one of the three that requires you to do a little work ahead of time. The anticipation guide at its heart is just a way to get learners thinking about their own knowledge and provides learners with a buy in and access to the text. There are many ways that this may look like in your classroom, but I like to have around five questions, which I like to write addressing learners’ misunderstandings. The form usually is looks something like what you see below: You may notice that some of the statements are untrue and vary in level of difficulty, this is to illustrate that untruthful statements are useful, especially when they are a misconception the learners may have and the varying degree of difficulty is meant to illustrate the variety of ranges in classes you may use this structure in. In the classroom, there are numerous ways to use this, like as a warm-up for the “Me” column and then give learners the opportunity to read the text and finish the second column, then your lesson begins with a discussion of the text and you are able to address misconceptions or elaborate on ideas presented in the discussion. Imagine how much more buy-in you get and the lesson is learner-directed, not a lecture of information the learners may not wish to hear about. Number Two: Frayer Model The Frayer Model is an organizational structure for learners to access academic vocabulary and many, many other things if you wish to be a little clever. This structure has many representations you may find online or in most ELD texts, that you may print off and hand to your students, but I prefer learners make their own. The structure has the form shown to the left. For learners to make their own, they need a blank sheet of paper and then they can fold their paper “hamburger” and “hotdog” style to create four even sized squares, and then write the word in the middle. They can also turn it over to write another word. This is one of my favorite tools to use in the classroom because of the variable activities that I have my learners interact with text with this. As a classic example, I may pull four academic words from a lesson or unit and give direct instruction on these. Then I give learners the opportunity to create their own assigning pairs for two words and another pair with another two words. Each student is responsible for their word, they create their Frayer model, they share their model with their pod, and they must choose one of the four to be the model of a word they want to present. Then each member of the group will go to other groups with their best representation, they must describe the other representations and then detail why they think this is the best one. That same learner will then hear similar stories three times, and they will return to their original group to share out. The next day there are four posters in my room, each area laminated square meter of instructional gold. Learners will see some partially filled out squares from the day before, as pairs they have a few minutes to fill out the remaining squares however they see fit, and return to their seats (this is the warm-up). Within five minutes they should have 20 answers ready for me, the result of which is like a “quiz.”  This same routine is also used with classification schemes and detailing steps to various problem types, and now with multiple representations. Number Three: SQRQCQ This is another approach at getting learners to understand that academic texts are terse materials and usually require more than one read to obtain the important information. The power in this approach is that it costs nothing more than having learners all be able to see the text, and the persistence of having learners be able to feel free to share out. The letters and what you do are shown on the right. When I employ this strategy, it is usually with a particularly dense and rich text that I really want the students to understand. I usually project the text and give a copy of the text for the learners to annotate. If the text is about a paragraph, I will give them a minute to read it quickly, and we talk about what words stuck out or what they noticed the text is about. I usually do a think-pair-share here, and I record some of their responses. On the next pass, I give about three minutes to read and encourage learners to annotate the text, write down thoughts, details, or perform necessary computations. Learners then share what they highlighted, details, or what computations they made with a peer, then we will share out whole class and I record these details like the first pass. We then give it one more pass and learners make final calculations, incorporate final details, and write a sentence describing why they believe their solution is correct. Peers will share with a partner one more time, make any adjustments from their sharing, and then random selection will determine who gets to share with the whole class – the results of this discussion are recorded. The last thing we do is talk about how our thinking changed with each pass, what became clearer, how our understanding grew with the processing and multiple approaches to the text, all of which is brought out from asking the learners about how our thinking changed over the analysis. Conclusion Well that’s three of my favorite structures, combined with in-class activities that allow learners access to the literary components of the dense texts that they often encounter in mathematics. The structures provide a natural way to incorporate them into your lessons without much additional preparation and being driven by the learners, the interactions and engagement are much deeper and meaningful than by purely direct instruction. I hope you enjoyed this discussion and you will find some ways to incorporate these (or any other) structures into your lessons to increase learners’ literacy. If you do have any success with literacy in mathematics or if you have additional suggestions, please share I am always interested in learning new or seeing that wish is already known in new ways. Please enjoy making your learners’ thinking visible.

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