Why is it Important to Teach Disciplinary Literacy in Math? – Loyola News

a plus sign with a red background, a minus sign with a green background, a times sign with a yellow background, and a divided-by sign with a blue backgroundWhen we think about literacy instruction, many of us may envision teaching reading and writing skills within Language Arts only. It may even be hard to picture ourselves teaching reading skills within the math classroom. Specifically, we might have the mindset that literacy instruction does not belong within the math classroom or that you just don’t have the time to teach students how to read when you have to teach them how to do math! This begs the question, “why is it important to teach literacy skills in math?”
One way to reflect and broaden our thinking is to ask ourselves: What are the literacy demands associated with reading and understanding the range of texts students are likely to encounter in the math classroom? Once we have identified these demands, it will likely shed some light on the broad range of literacy skills students need to demonstrate their understanding of math concepts. From there, we can explore how to incorporate these literacy practices into our math instruction, relating them to the skills used by experts in the field and aligning them with Common Core State Standards.
Literacy skills + disciiplinary literacy practices + expert practices + Common Core State Standards = Why Teach Disciplanry Literacy in Math?
Areas that support teaching disciplinary literacy in math (Colwell, Hutchison, & Woodward, 2020)
Considering the demands placed on students to read and understand the different ways math problems are represented can help shape your understanding of why teaching literacy within math is important to overall student progress. These demands might include:
While this is not an exhaustive list, we can begin to comprehend the broad range of literacy skills students need before they can even begin to solve the math. It also underscores why literacy instruction in math is so important. Can you think of any other reading skills students might need that are specific to the grade level you teach?
With a broader view of the literacy needs specific to math, we can now explore how they relate to the skills used by experts in the field. What skills do students need to read, think, and write like math experts? The list below reflects the practices outlined by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (2013) that align with those used by math experts in the field. They underscore the skills required to read and comprehend the range of texts mathematicians encounter in the classroom and their professions.
Disciplinary literacy instruction occurs when students engage in math by actively reading, comprehending, and engaging with problems, both numerical and word-based, develop solutions, and communicate these solutions using mathematical language (Lent, 2017). To support lesson planning that promotes the inclusion of these skills, Colwell, Hutchinson, & Woodward (2020) developed four core disciplinary practices for the elementary grades. The following table breaks down these practices and ties them to those used by experts in the field.
A chart connecting mathematics expert practices to core disciplinary practices
Connections between Expert and Core Mathematics Practice (Colwell, Hutchison, & Woodward, 2020)
According to the Common Core State Standards Initiative (2019) “the knowledge and skills students need to be prepared for mathematics in college, career, and life are woven throughout the mathematics standards” (as cited in Colwell, Hutchinson, & Woodward, 2020). Therefore, if disciplinary literacy is defined as the specialized ways of reading and thinking used by experts in their discipline (e.g. math) and is grounded in how experts approach and use texts within their fields, it would follow that there is an inextricable connection between the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and teaching disciplinary literacy within each content area (Colwell, Hutchison, & Woodward, 2020).
Now that we have a broader understanding of the literacy demands associated with reading and understand the range of texts students are likely to encounter in the math classroom, we can think about ways to incorporate disciplinary literacy practices in the math classroom. These include a consideration of state standards, identifying appropriate disciplinary literacy practices, selecting and considering multiple text types, selecting and including digital tools to support learning and making the concept accessible to all learners, and teaching vocabulary specific to the discipline.
Additional resources for teaching disciplinary literacy in Mathematics:
Annenberg Learner. (2015). Reading and Writing in the Disciplines. Reading in Mathematics. [Online course]. WBH Educational Foundation. https://test-learnermedia.pantheonsite.io/series/reading-writing-in-the-disciplines/readi ng-in-mathematics/
Colwell, J., Hutchison, A., & Woodward, L. (2020). Digitally Supported Disciplinary Literacy for Diverse K-5 Classrooms. Teachers College Press: New York, NY.
Lent, R. (2017). Disciplinary literacy: A shift that makes sense. ASCD Express. 12(12). https://www.ascd.org/el/articles/disciplinary-literacy-a-shift-that-makes-sense
Jane Viojan is a special education teacher at Clemens Crossing Elementary School and and currently working towards a master’s in teaching literacy to culturally and linguistically diverse populations at Loyola University Maryland. Click to find out more information about the Literacy Program at Loyola University Maryland.
Published: November 21, 2022
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