Friday, July 19, 2013

From Reading to Math

I would probably describe myself as a literacy-first teacher, and my professional reading reflects that.  As a student, I was strong in both reading and math, but math was harder for me.  My beloved fourth-grade teacher, as she was taking some extra time to work with me one-on-one, declared that I was not "fraction-friendly".  It was in an undergraduate internship in a fourth grade classroom where I learned that I actually love to teach math too.  While I loved the literacy-focused positions I held, one of the things I looked forward to when I returned to the classroom was teaching math.  This book has been on my TBR pile for some time, and I was happy to finally get a chance to read it.

From Reading to Math: How Best Practices in Literacy Can Make You a Better Math Teacher by Maggie Siena (Math Solutions, 2009) is the perfect book for literacy-minded teachers who also teach math.  Whether you enjoy teaching math or you are maybe a little bit wary of it, this is the book for you.  Siena takes what we know about good literacy teaching and looks at how that applies to math.  Good teaching is good teaching, no matter which part of the day it occurs.  Here are some of my take-aways from the book:

  • Attitude is everything.  Siena writes about how we relish our read aloud time with students because we love books.  Our enthusiasm and passion for reading is demonstrated every dayHow are we demonstrating the same enthusiasm for math?  Do we get excited about opportunities in math?  Siena talks about the myth of the "missing math gene" that is perpetuated by parents and unfortunately, teachers, who may have struggled as students in math.  We need to approach math with a growth mindset for our students and for ourselves.
  • Decoding is important in math too.  In her section about decoding, she explained how letters and numbers are both symbols that have different meanings in different contexts.  (A g can sound like gem or girl, and a 5 can mean 5 o'clock, 5 apples, or 5 tens in 58.)  We teach children to decode letters by creating a print-rich classroom and giving them multiple opportunities across the day to see letters and words in different contexts.  We should be doing the same with numbers.  This is leading me to rethink how I am dedicating wall space.  I took a lot of my math stuff down when I moved my calendar routine onto the Promethean Board, but I will be returning some of those things in the fall.  Number lines, hundreds charts, and math word walls need to be where kids can see them all day.
  • We expect higher-order thinking about books; we need to expect the same level of thinking in math too.  Our end goal in reading is to make meaning.  Math, too, is all about comprehension.  It's not about getting the correct answer, but about knowing why the answer makes sense.  Fluency in math as well as reading is about doing it accurately and making meaning from what you've done.  Siena writes about the kinds of open-ended questions to build understanding, encourage reflection, and anchor math learning to meaning rather than algorithms. 
Siena's sections on the workshop model, comprehension strategies, assessment, and conferring with students are very helpful and worth revisiting.  Even though I do these things in my classroom on a daily basis, framing them from a literacy perspective made things a little clearer for me.  I know that some of the things I read will be echoing in my head as I'm working with my new students in the fall.  My favorite line in the whole book was on page 2 (note: that's when you know you're in for a good read): 

"In my quest to do everything, I've returned to the saving grace:  I'm a learner too."

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