2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Expanding the Role of Reading in Math Class

Does reading count in mathematics?

Yes, it does, said TC Associate Professor of Education Marjorie Siegel. Reading isn't only for word problems. Math, like other subjects, has history and new areas yet to be discovered.

Through reading, students learn the history of how certain formulas came to be and alternate forms of math. One class learned taxi geometry that takes into account the grid street system of New York City, she said. In other forms of geometry, mathematical constraints can make a sphere look like a square.

In Reading Counts (TC Press), Siegel and Raffaella Borasi, Professor of Education at University of Rochester, presented the key findings of the Reading to Learn Mathematics for Critical Thinking (RLM) project and two other follow-up studies to show that reading does count in mathematics.

As a collaboration with researchers, teachers and teacher educators, Reading Counts crosses the boundaries between math education and reading education by using inquiry-oriented mathematics, a type of thinking and learning that encourages students to ask questions.

Inquiry-orientation suggests that knowledge is dynamic and there are more interesting ideas to come from it than what is written already, Siegel said. Many times math teachers don't lead students to make inquiries to history or other types of related math.

The project and studies in the book are designed to help mathematics and reading educators expand their views of what may "count" as "reading mathematics" and see how this affects inquiry-oriented mathematics. Math does not have to be purely procedural.

"Math isn't just word problems, it's about literacy," Siegel said.

Some children's books, including Flatland, How Much is a Million and The Phantom Tollbooth, show another side of math. Just as reading is an active project, or generative, where one generates ideas, math can be, too.

As teachers, teacher educators and researchers reassess how mathematics is being taught, they are finding that inquiry-oriented math is one way of "opening and broadening the concept of math," Siegel said.

Through Reading Counts, Siegel and Borasi want to continue to open a dialogue with teachers, teacher educators and researchers.

"Our work fits into a larger conversation of the awareness of possibility of cross-disciplinary classes and the expanded view of reading in mathematics classrooms," said Siegel. "I am hoping teachers will be interested in the narratives and vignettes in Reading Counts and find the ideas useful."

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