Literacy in Mathematics:
Understanding the Importance of Reading and Writing in Mathematics Lessons Patricia J. Guajardo
Our Lady of the Lake University
November 29, 2011
Understanding literacy in Math means more than just knowing the basic skills of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Mathematics is made of letters, numbers, symbols, and a vocabulary that form a language all its own. It is important for teachers to understand the complexities of Math and how to share strategies of learning for student success. Some research suggests a lack of prior knowledge and basic skills and others suggest a breakdown in the system. Regardless, student success is dependent upon an understanding of the literacy of Math and the ability to teach all students to be successful.
Math is all around us. We learn Math in school and use it in our daily lives; often not realizing we are performing Math functions. Literacy in Math is essential; however, there are many factors that are preventing students from succeeding in the Math. Research shows that reading and writing in Math are critical to success in Math. If students are fluent in reading, one would assume fluency in Math as well. However, this is not the case. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 32% of eighth graders have attained a “proficient” level on reading scores leveling many children who are not as fluent in reading materials, making inferences, and thinking critically as teachers expect or would like (Richardson, Morgan, and Fleener, 2006). If only 32% of students are proficient in reading, what does that do to Math scores? Math is a language unto itself and is often a challenge to many students, but if you cannot read well what does this to do achievement scores in Math. My research has indicated that literacy in Math is the key to success in Math. Therefore the answer should be simple: teach students to understand the language of Math. However, research indicates that many students lack prior knowledge, basic facts, ability to read, mathematical thinking/interpretation skills, and confidence (Amen, 2006). Lui (2006) stated No Child Left Behind produced a policy environment with no one left responsible for the “savage inequalities” between affluent schools and those in poor communities of color. Regardless of who may be to blame for the breakdown in the education system the only way out of this is to focus on educating our students. My goal is to teach Math to secondary students. To achieve this goal, I need to understand literacy in Math, its importance, and how to help students become successful. This paper will examine literacy in Math and the importance of reading and writing in the Math class to fully comprehend the functions of Math. Literacy in Math
Kilpatrick (2001) identifies five strands of mathematical proficiency. They are conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, strategic competence, adaptive reasoning and productive disposition. Conceptual understanding refers to a student’s comprehension of mathematical concepts, operations and relations. Procedural fluency refers to a student’s skill in carrying out mathematical procedures appropriately. Strategic competence is the student’s ability to formulate, represent, and solve mathematical problems. Adaptive reasoning refers to the capacity for logical thought and for the reflection on, explanation of, and justification of mathematical arguments. Productive disposition is the student’s habitual inclination to see mathematics as a sensible, useful, and worthwhile subject to be learned, coupled with a belief in the value of diligent work and in one’s own efficacy as a doer of mathematics.
Based on Kilpatrick’s definition of mathematical proficiency, it is clear that Math is a very complex subject and requires much understanding. As a result, literacy in Math is a...