I’m Not Prepared for This (Yet): Supporting Reading in Math Class

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Jocelyn Dunnack, Columbia, CT jocelyndunnack@cpm.org

Two truths: CPM textbooks are wordy. Few of us were taught how to support reading in math.

Erin Kenney and I have supported readers and mathematicians for many years. Erin is a high school special education teacher in Louisville, KY, and I taught 6th-grade reading and math in Storrs, CT. We put our heads together and offer this advice for supporting reading in math class.

Reflect on how you read a math problem, and share that with your students.

Math problems are a genre. How is reading a math problem different from other genres? What do you pay attention to? How many times do you read it? Does your focus change when you reread it? How do you process the information? What do you do when you get confused? How is reading a problem-based learning task different from reading a word problem? Your students will appreciate knowing that you, too, have to work at reading.

Know the Task

A quick way to shift your classroom culture on reading and making sense of problems is having students discuss and jot down a “We have to…” statement. As you circulate, make sure students can articulate their task. “We have to find the length of George Washington’s nose.” “We have to figure out how the pattern grows to Figure 100.”

Three Reads Protocol

This Math Language Routine is recommended for Emerging Multilingual Learners but is powerful for everyone. It involves rereading the text multiple times but with a different focus.
First read: What is the situation or context?
Second read: What is the mathematics involved?
Third read: How might we solve the problem? What strategies might we use?

Graphic Organizers

Organizing information visually helps students make sense of problems. Combine this with the Three Reads Protocol to set students up for success. Here is a versatile example:

Tell the Story of the Problem

Sometimes when students spend so long trying to make sense of the problem, they lose time for solving it. Unfold the story of the problem and reveal information as they need it. Check out Building Thinking Classrooms for more details.

Amplify, not Simplify

Simplifying text avoids using challenging words or speech. Amplifying means anticipating where students might need support and providing ways to access the text. Amplifying could mean organizing information clearly and coherently, providing visuals or manipulatives, modeling problem-solving, engaging in think-alouds, creating analogies or context, or layering meaning. All of these techniques support students in taking an active role in their own sense-making.

Reading is Thinking

Reading is what our brains do with a text. This thinking can happen with “texts” that are audio, video, or even a picture. It is okay to read aloud the problems. As long as your students are thinking in the ways necessary to make sense of a math problem, they are reading the problem.

Your Kids Can

Guided by a knowledgeable and supportive teacher, kids can read and solve problems.

We would love to collaborate with you through the CPM Teachers Slack workspace and are excited to offer a session on reading strategies at the CPM Teacher Conference in February.

For more information, check out More Math for More People Podcast, Episode 2.8


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Algebra Tiles Session

  • Used throughout CPM middle and high school courses
  • Concrete, geometric representation of algebraic concepts.
  • Two-hour virtual session,
  •  Learn how students build their conceptual understanding of simplifying algebraic expressions
  • Solving equations using these tools.  
  • Determining perimeter,
  • Combining like terms,
  • Comparing expressions,
  • Solving equations
  • Use an area model to multiply polynomials,
  • Factor quadratics and other polynomials, and
  • Complete the square.
  • Support the transition from a concrete (manipulative) representation to an abstract model of mathematics..

Foundations for Implementation

This professional learning is designed for teachers as they begin their implementation of CPM. This series contains multiple components and is grounded in multiple active experiences delivered over the first year. This learning experience will encourage teachers to adjust their instructional practices, expand their content knowledge, and challenge their beliefs about teaching and learning. Teachers and leaders will gain first-hand experience with CPM with emphasis on what they will be teaching. Throughout this series educators will experience the mathematics, consider instructional practices, and learn about the classroom environment necessary for a successful implementation of CPM curriculum resources.

Page 2 of the Professional Learning Progression (PDF) describes all of the components of this learning event and the additional support available. Teachers new to a course, but have previously attended Foundations for Implementation, can choose to engage in the course Content Modules in the Professional Learning Portal rather than attending the entire series of learning events again.

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Building on Instructional Practice Series

The Building on Instructional Practice Series consists of three different events – Building on Discourse, Building on Assessment, Building on Equity – that are designed for teachers with a minimum of one year of experience teaching with CPM instructional materials and who have completed the Foundations for Implementation Series.

Building on Equity

In Building on Equity, participants will learn how to include equitable practices in their classroom and support traditionally underserved students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Essential questions include: How do I shift dependent learners into independent learners? How does my own math identity and cultural background impact my classroom? The focus of day one is equitable classroom culture. Participants will reflect on how their math identity and mindsets impact student learning. They will begin working on a plan for Chapter 1 that creates an equitable classroom culture. The focus of day two and three is implementing equitable tasks. Participants will develop their use of the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Meaningful Mathematical Discussions and curate strategies for supporting all students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Participants will use an equity lens to reflect on and revise their Chapter 1 lesson plans.

Building on Assessment

In Building on Assessment, participants will apply assessment research and develop methods to provide feedback to students and inform equitable assessment decisions. On day one, participants will align assessment practices with learning progressions and the principle of mastery over time as well as write assessment items. During day two, participants will develop rubrics, explore alternate types of assessment, and plan for implementation that supports student ownership. On the third day, participants will develop strategies to monitor progress and provide evidence of proficiency with identified mathematics content and practices. Participants will develop assessment action plans that will encourage continued collaboration within their learning community.

Building on Discourse

In Building on Discourse, participants will improve their ability to facilitate meaningful mathematical discourse. This learning experience will encourage participants to adjust their instructional practices in the areas of sharing math authority, developing independent learners, and the creation of equitable classroom environments. Participants will plan for student learning by using teaching practices such as posing purposeful questioning, supporting productive struggle, and facilitating meaningful mathematical discourse. In doing so, participants learn to support students collaboratively engaged with rich tasks with all elements of the Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices incorporated through intentional and reflective planning.