Why teach literacy skills?

September 30, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Posted in Content Area Literacy | Leave a comment


(authored by Heidi King)

As a pre-service math teacher, I am currently taking my last course needed for certification, and it’s a literacy course! I have put it off until the end because I couldn’t think how it could possibly be relevant, and maybe the state of NY would change their requirements before I had to take it. No luck! Here I am, deep in my exploration of “what in the world is content area literacy and why do I have to teach reading?”

In the Book Subjects Matter, authors Daniels and Zemelman outline the Thinking Strategies of Effective Readers:

  • Visualize – mental pictures
  • Connect – to experience, events, other readings
  • Question – actively wonder
  • Infer – predict, interpret
  • Evaluate – determine importance, make judgments
  • Analyze – notice structure, vocabulary, purpose
  • Recall – summarize, remember information
  • Self-monitor – recognize and act on confusion

If you are able read for knowledge, and think critically about printed material you are a successful reader, you are literate. Many students in the US today are not literate. An article by David Rutenberg reports that about 70% of high school students graduate from high school without these skills.

This made me wonder if there exists a similar list for mathies… a “Thinking Strategies of Effective Mathematicians” list. In my search, I found a 2010 report on the latest PISA survey of education performance by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The big news was the province of Shanghai, China. Shanghai, China took part in the testing for the first time and scored higher in reading than any country. It also topped the tables in math and science. More than one-quarter of Shanghai’s 15-year-olds demonstrated advanced mathematical thinking skills to solve complex math problems. This >25% compared to an OECD average of just 3% (U.S. scored below the 3% average). As part of the report, the OECD listed the skills demonstrated by Shanghai-China’s 15-year-olds; I’ve used them to make my list…

Thinking Strategies of Effective Mathematicians:

  • Conceptualize
  • Generalize
  • Investigate
  • Apply insight and understanding
  • Creatively use information based on their own investigations
  • Model complex problem situations
  • Develop new approaches and strategies

Looks to me like successful readers have skills remarkably similar to successful mathematicians. I guess this answers the question, why do I have to teach literacy skills. This is not about teaching students to read, this is about helping students be independent effective learners. As a math teacher (or any content teacher), how can I expect my students to be successful without these skills? In fact, if students are not learning these skills in their content classes, what are they learning?


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