I clearly remember those high school days as a student in a classroom with at least thirty-five classmates. As an introverted person, I also remember thinking to myself: “If I do not understand something, I will wait to go home and read the textbook; that should be enough.”
To my surprise, reading the textbook was far from enough to clarify most of the questions derived from a math class; perhaps the textbook was too complicated or I did not have the proficiency required as a reader to decipher the math text myself. To make things more complicated, completing a project was usually a difficult task since I was used to short meaningless answers such as “True,” “False,” “A,” or “x=10.” The lack of structure in reading and writing and how it was negatively affecting my performance in mathematics was evident. Why was I not able to understand the book and communicate my findings to my teacher?
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics states: “The development of a student’s power to use mathematics involves learning the signs, symbols and terms of mathematics. This is best accomplished in problem situations in which students have an opportunity to read, write, and discuss ideas in which the use of the language of mathematics becomes natural. As students communicate their ideas, they learn to clarify, refine, and consolidate their thinking” (NCTM, 1989). It is reasonable to infer that whether or not students are proficient in reading, they need to be trained in reading mathematical content in order to build independence in the future and understand the unique reading skills of the discipline when teachers are not around to assist them. Moreover, if we think of a topic, such as algebra, as a unique language that allows one to translate verbal expressions into algebraic expressions and equations to solve real life problems, the reading of mathematical contents should become more natural and meaningful, allowing students to become more comfortable and confident while studying math.
On the other hand, writing offers students and teachers valuable information about the processing and understanding of math concepts and provides an opportunity to organize ideas and improve the communication of findings. Furthermore, the teaching of math as an isolated subject is a thing of the past; nowadays we have the chance to incorporate interdisciplinary lessons in our teaching that can help students in the process of integrating not only reading and writing in mathematics, but also other disciplines, allowing students to make connections between math and other subjects. Generally speaking, it is extremely important for teachers to guide their students, regardless of the discipline being taught, in the process of becoming effective communicators in a very demanding global society where communicating and learning on one’s own are becoming required skills to improve one’s chances of success.
By Jose Parra, Private Tutor