Problem Solving: Connecting the Math to Reading

I began teaching during a time when there wasn’t text messaging and parents didn’t shove a cell phone or iPad in their child’s hand to keep them entertained. Live streaming was a mystery and Netscape Navigator was the most popular Internet search engine.

After twenty years of teaching, textbooks have been replaced with Kindles and paperless mobile classrooms. I’m not a technology scrooge, but I often wonder if the decline in reading and the ability to problem solve is connected to this change.

When I first began teaching, there were less students who struggled with reading. There were even fewer students who struggled with comprehension. I think it was in my tenth year of teaching when I recognized the decline in just basic comprehension skills. To be quite honest, it has gotten progressively worse every year. Math teachers across the nation are struggling to teach complex math concepts to students who are struggling with the most basic comprehension skills.

For the past ten years, I’ve been doing more action research in my classroom around the relationship between students’ who struggle with problem solving and reading comprehension skills. What I found is that students who struggle with problem solving need reading comprehension strategies to be strategically taught throughout the problem-solving process.

Reading Comprehension Skills

I’m sure if you’re a secondary teacher you’re reading this blog post thinking, “But I’m not a reading teacher.” My friend you’re right! You can start breathing again. I didn’t say teach reading I said strategically teach the comprehension skills needed to master the problem-solving process.

Instead of teaching the problem solving steps, you would just teach your students how to connect what they’ve learned in your math class to a word problem using reading comprehension strategies. 

These comprehension skills include but aren’t limited to:

  • Activating and Using Background Knowledge. This strategy requires readers to activate their background knowledge and to use that knowledge to help them understand what they are reading. 
  • Generating and Asking Questions
  • Making Inferences
  • Predicting
  • Summarizing
  • Visualizing
  • Comprehension Monitoring

I know that this may seem like a lot but it’s really not; if you don’t help your students make the connection, you’ll continue to make minimum progress.

Making Connections to the Math

In my opinion, the best thing that came from implementing the Common Core Standards was the Read, Draw, Write problem solving strategy. I had been using C.U.B.E.S. but it couldn’t be used for every strand of math at the elementary level.

Read, Draw, Write in its original form is great for students who are working at or above grade level; not so much for students who struggle with reading and math.

When I introduced the Read, Draw, Write problem solving strategy to my students, I quickly realized that the students lacked the ability to connect the read portion or what the problem was asking them to do to the draw part which is actually the math they had learned.

I knew this would be either a quick or easy fix. Based on what I thought about reading, I knew this was a reading comprehension issue not math.

To address this issue, I created a bridge called Predicting with Evidence for the students. I placed the bridge in between the Read and the Draw part of the problem-solving strategy. The bridge required students to create a t-chart labeled prediction and evidence.

Adding this bridge solved so many problems because it made students predict which operation they needed to use based on the text from the problem along with evidence to support their prediction. As a result, I was able to better support/guide their thinking when moving from the Read to the Draw portion.

See, Think, Connect, and Wonder

In 2016, I stumbled upon Thinking Routines. At the time my students were struggling with drawing logical conclusions, they were dependent learners who depended on me to give them cues to the next step in the problem.

In the book, Making Thinking Visible the See, Think, Wonder Routines worked really well with my first group of students. When I left that school, I started teaching at a turnaround school where eighty percent of the students were reading below grade level.

At this school, the See, Think, Wonder Routine didn’t work that well, so I created See, Think, Connect, and Wonder to help support my students with problem solving. The reading comprehension skill portion was added so my students could connect the math. Based on their I wonder statements, they learned to wonder about patterns that they might have seen in a problem or their choice of a math strategy.

Before I added the connect to the See, Think, Wonder Routine, I’d ask my students what they wonder about the problem and their answer would always be nothing.

Strategically placing the reading comprehension skills in the problem-solving process has helped many of my students to unlock the door to problem solving.

Adding reading comprehension skills to your problem-solving strategies will increase your students’ achievement in the classroom and on standardized test. The problem-solving strategy is just the starting point but adding a reading comprehension skill will take you to the finish line.

Now that you know why you need to connect problem solving to reading, are you ready to learn how to use this in your classroom?

You are in luck! In my “Problem Solving with Read, Draw, Write” mini course I’m going to show you how to teach your students who read below grade level how to solve word problems. Click here to learn more about Problem Solving with Read, Draw, Write.

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