Literacy bridges every focus area of education together. It is woven into every aspect of learning and sets the foundation for the rest of a student’s educational journey and beyond. Specifically, for math instructors, it’s essential to recognize that literacy and math are not mutually exclusive. While in the classroom, students are consistently developing their literacy skills—reading, writing, listening and speaking—which are transferable to math. The best way to make your math instruction more engaging is to leverage literacy into your lesson plans.
Since literacy exists in all content areas of learning, we constantly exercise our literacy skills to comprehend all the information put in front of us. With that information, we make critical decisions—whether that’s who to vote for, how to solve a problem, or reading directions to create something. Because literacy and math are interconnected, instructors need to acknowledge that many math concepts are similar to the act of reading. Like reading, math problems also require the ability to think critically, make decisions, make mistakes, and try multiple attempts.
When it comes to how math problems are written out, digits, numerals, and numbers all have different meanings. For instance, how we line up digits and how many we put in a number can change its value and meaning. In a similar way, not only do the 26 letters in the alphabet form countless words, but different combinations of letters create different sounds. Although in math there are only 10 different digits, the intention of how one will use these digits will determine the value. Ultimately, math and literacy share the value of patterns, relationships, and analysis.
There are a few key points math instructors can follow to implement literacy into their curriculum and instruction. First, recognize in math, we learn to face things head-on that we don’t understand. The more we are challenged, the better we get at math. Remind students we can make sense of the world through both words and numbers. If we can teach students how to tackle problems in math, they will carry that decision-making skill set throughout their lives. To encourage authentic learning and engagement, we need to take a step back and let students be the author of their learning. Good instructors know their role as facilitators, meaning the students should be doing the work while instructors assist them when necessary. In addition, note that asking questions will increase engagement. You should be continuously asking your students questions to prompt critical thinking and encourage them to ask questions while problem-solving.
The bottom line? Authentic learning stems from engaging in dialogue, making mistakes, struggling, suggesting multiple solutions, and so much more. If your students are already doing all of these things, it may be the time to encourage accelerated learning. While accelerated learning leaves instructors a bit more hands-off, they can still act as facilitators asking advanced questions that will deepen comprehension skills while students problem-solve. When instructors hold students accountable for their work and remind them of what is expected, their skills and knowledge sharpen—making the math instruction a success!
Keep Indiana Learning’s expert networks, Math Connect and Literacy Connect, are comprehensive resources for educators across Indiana. These networks foster a community dedicated to collaborating with various organizations to serve Indiana educators by providing professional learning opportunities, ongoing support, and resources. The focus areas of each expert network include content knowledge, effective teaching practices, critical thinking & problem solving, and real-world application.