Learning to Think through Reading and Mathematics

By Miller, Elizabeth D. | Teaching Children Mathematics, January 1996 | Go to article overview

Learning to Think through Reading and Mathematics


Miller, Elizabeth D., Teaching Children Mathematics


During my many years of teaching primary students, I have come to realize that children do not do enough problem solving. Although they can perform mathematical operations, many do not really understand what they are doing. Too often we "train" our students in specific strategies involving particular problems. When confronted with a situation for which they have not been trained, they do not know how to proceed. This scenario was made clear to me when a regional mathematics consultant came to our school to help us with our curriculum. He showed me that although my students were getting the right answers to problems involving simple equations, they had little or no understanding of the concept of equality.

To increase students' understanding of mathematics, I created a program called "Learning to Think through Reading and Math." It includes for each day one or two problems written to incorporate current vocabulary words and decoding skills from our reading program. For the student, these problems couple practice in problem solving with reading for understanding. For the teacher, they are a way to assess a student's comprehension and problem-solving ability.

The program, designed for grades 1 to 3, encourages students to think for themselves by requiring them to illustrate every problem and then to use the illustration to help solve it. Some problems also require the students to write an explanation of their solution. These problems cover all mathematical concepts and integrate mathematics with other subject areas as well. Students read the daily problems, consider what is involved, and then make appropriate illustrations before producing answers. They learn that if the illustration does not fit the problem, the answer will probably be incorrect.

Students enjoy mathematics while expressing themselves artistically. This activity is a celebration of creativity, as no two pictures are ever alike. An answer is justified by the drawing, which must accurately represent the given problem. After the program has been in place for a while, I often hear students exclaim, "I get it!" This exclamation means that instead of trying to recall a memorized strategy, students have figured out for themselves what it will take to solve a particular problem. …

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