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Back to BlogRead, Write, and Solve for X: Why Math Teachers Should Teach Literacy Too

From building SEL competencies to personalizing learning, teaching literacy will empower your students in math class–and beyond!

Are reading and writing part of your math class yet?

If not, they should be!

In a recent blog post, I talked about why literacy instruction is crucial in the math classroom. Communication skills, including reading, are among the most significant components of not just math achievement but overall academic and career success.

The statistics are dire. Even with teachers in all content areas providing literacy instruction, two out of three students nationally are still reading below grade level. But even if your students are excellent readers, there are still tremendous benefits to making literacy part of your math curriculum.

So whether you're teaching literacy in your math class consciously or there's room for more, here are five (of many!) benefits for both teachers and students of a literacy-rich math classroom.

1. Writing in Math Class Empowers Students

Writing is a great way to get your students to reflect on their learning. Helping students become aware of their strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments, and goals is integral to having them take responsibility for their own learning. Using writing to help students identify challenges, patterns, and connections teaches them *how* to learn and not just *what* to learn. This type of knowledge is empowering.

2. Teaching Literacy in Math Class Improves Critical Thinking

You might think that constructing viable arguments, critiquing the reasoning of others, and paying careful attention to details are skills only needed in the ELA or science classroom. But math requires these skills too! Teaching them will help your students become more competent mathematicians, stronger critical thinkers, and more successful learners.

3. Writing Gives Math Teachers Unique Insight

Writing regularly in math class can also be a boon to teachers. It lets you adjust your curriculum and create meaningful formative assessments. When I bring up this point, I always think of who I'll call Maya, an Algebra I student and total rockstar. She aced everything, but, more importantly, she approached every unit with curiosity and enthusiasm. One week when I had students write their self-reflection outlining what they’d learned, Maya told me she had no idea what we were doing in class and was confused.

Maya’s comments were a red flag for me. Her interactions in class showed that she understood the material but didn’t believe in her own understanding or ability. I knew this would translate to test anxiety or poor performance on other tasks. With this valuable intel, I adjusted the feedback I gave Maya to boost her confidence and help her recognize her formidable accomplishments.

4. Literacy in Math Class Engages Students

Students giving each other a high five | Math class | Carnegie Learning] Allowing students to write in math class increases their engagement in course material, which, unsurprisingly, improves learning outcomes.

But how do you get students to engage personally with math?

Let them personalize it.

I remember presenting a situation about an ice cream truck to students and asking them to determine the best strategy to earn a profit. One group asked me if they could write about a taco truck instead. This was a minor change, but it allowed students to insert themselves into the math, giving them more stake in formulating and solving it.

As a bonus, the process of transposing the problem from ice cream to tacos required the students to engage with the math more deeply. So, students were allowed to write themselves into the curriculum, *and* they delved deeper into the math. That’s a win-win if I’ve ever seen one.

5. Writing Lets You Reach More Math Students

Incorporating writing into your math class lets you involve a wider variety of students, even those who may not consider themselves to be “math people.” It also provides you with a way to connect with students who are doing fine mathematically but may feel uncomfortable speaking in class. I’m reminded of another student I'll call Terrence, who wouldn’t say a word in class, even when called upon directly, something I quickly learned to stop doing since it caused him stress.

Terrence would solve problems at the board or on his computer, he’d text me answers in class, and he’d write reams of words in response to my prompts. But during class discussions, homework reviews, group work, or games that required speech, he remained silent. To this day, I have no idea what his voice sounds like.

A quick check-in with Terrence’s guidance counselor revealed an extensive history of trauma. He was not in a place, mentally, socially, or emotionally, where he could speak to his peers or to me. But he could write. And, since writing was part of my class, I was able to involve him as an active participant. Without this, Terrence would have become virtually invisible, despite my best efforts to include him.

Looking for Strategies?

We don’t have to be literacy experts to incorporate reading and writing into math classes. And doing so can make a huge difference in our students’ engagement and achievement. Plus, it can improve our teaching practice. I know it did for me!

For concrete strategies for incorporating more reading and writing into your math class, watch our webinar, “**Utilizing Literacy Strategies to Build Equitable Access in Math Class**,” in which I talk with other math educators about how to teach literacy alongside math!

- Sarah Galasso
- Director of Instructional Design, Math (6-12)
- Carnegie Learning, Inc.
- sarahgmath

Sarah Galasso began her career teaching secondary mathematics in Anaheim, CA. Sarah’s passion for math education and supporting diverse learners led her to the University of CA, Irvine, where she worked to provide professional development for southern California school districts as they developed K–12 standards-aligned math curricula. She also partnered with Student Achievement Partners writing a series of blog posts on the Standards for Mathematical Practice for AchievetheCore.org. As the Director of Instructional Design, Math (6-12), Sarah applies her knowledge to help produce high quality instructional resources and tools to support student growth.

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Teaching literacy as a math teacher will help your students become more competent mathematicians, stronger critical thinkers, and more successful learners.

Sarah Galasso