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Literacy for Mathematics


The Importance of Math Literacy

Math Literacy is defined as the ability to problem-solve, reason, and analyze information.  This is the second key step for all students, beyond language literacy. Students gain the ability to use numbers to help solve real-world problems. Additionally, math literacy is the ability to understand the "language" of math as mathematics contains a healthy library of unique vocabulary terms. Math literacy helps students decipher what a question is actually asking by being able to understand the terminology. As math concepts continue to increase in difficulty for students, the need to be literate in math is of upmost importance for Georgia students. 

Below are five key literacy strategies designed especially for math. You will find an explanation of each strategy along with directions for implementation and an example for reference. 


Strategy #1: K-N-W-S

This strategy allows students to use word problems to determine what facts they know (K), what information is not relevant (N), what the problem wants them to find out (W), and what strategy can be used to solve the problem (S). The K-N-W-S strategy helps students to plan, organize, and analyze how to solve word problems which teachers can evaluate students' understanding and possible misconceptions about word problems. 

Guidelines for Use of K-N-W-S

  • Draw a four-column chart on the board or chart paper. Hand out individual charts to students or have them construct their own.
  • Using a word problem, model how the columns are used. Explain how you know which pieces of information belong in each are of the chart.
  • Students can work in groups or individually, and can be asked to write their reasoning for the placement of items in each column.



Strategy #2: ?SQRQCQ

This six-step strategy (survey, question, read, question, compute (construct), question) is intended to assist students in reading and learning mathematica, in particular, solving word problems in mathematics. It allows students to organize in a logical order the steps necessary to solve a word problem. SQRQCQ can help students focus on a process to decide what a problem is asking, what information is needed, and what approach to use to solve the problem while also having students reflect on what they are doing throughout the process.

Guidelines for Use of SQRQCQ

  1. Survey. Skim the problem to get an idea or general understanding of the nature of the problem.
  2. Question. Ask what the problem is about; what information does it require? Change the wording of the problem into a question, or restate the problem.
  3. Read. Read the problem carefully (may read aloud) to identify important information, facts, relationships, and details needed to solve the problem. Highlight important information.
  4. Question. Ask what must be done to solve the problem; for example, "What operations need to be performed, with what numbers, and in what order?" Or "What strategies are needed? What is given, and what is unknown? What are the units?"
  5. Compute (or construct). Do the computation to solve the problem, or construct a solution by drawing a diagram, making a table, or setting up and solving and equation. 
  6. Question. ?Ask if the method of solution seems to be correct and the answer reasonable. For example, "Were the calculations done correctly? Were the facts in the problem used correctly? Does the solution make sense? Are the units correct?"


Strategy #3: Three-Level Guide

A three-level guide is a teacher-constructed graphic organizer that serves as the basis of a strategy that students can use to solve and get deeper understanding of the word problem-solving process. Students must evaluate facts, concepts, rules, mathematical ideas, and possible approaches to solving a given word problem. 

Teachers must first do a process and content analysis to construct the three-level guide. They think through their objectives for the problem, namely, what students should learn from the problem and what students should know and be able to do. Then they identify in the problem the essential information, the mathematical concepts and relationships, inferences from the relationships, and potential student difficulties. The questions or statements in the guide should help students to develop and appreciate three levels of understanding: the given and relevant information identified explicitly in the problem, the relationships and inferences implicit in solving the problem, and the conclusions or applications involved in solving the problem. 

Guidelines for Use of the Three-Level Guide

  1. Construct guides for problems with three parts/levels. Part I includes a set of true/false facts suggested by the information given in the problem. Part II has mathematical concepts, ideas, or rules that might apply to the problem. Part III includes possible methods to use to find a solution to the problem (calculations, creating a table or graph, etc.).
    1. Part I: Students analyze each fact to decide if it is true or false given the information in the problem, and they decide whether this fact can help them to solve the problem.
    2. Part II: Students indicate which statements apply to solving the problem, that is, identify concepts or rules that are useful for this problem.
    3. Part III: Students decide which calculations/methods might help them in solving the problem.
  2. Model for students the use of a three-level guide in solving a problem.
  3. Present students with a three-level guide for another problem, and direct them to complete the guide on their own or with a partner. In this step, students analyze information you have included in the guide to determine both its validity and its usefulness in solving the problem.
  4. With advanced students, you might select word problems for which the students write three-level guides to share with the class or to exchange with a partner.


Strategy #4: Word Problem Roulette

Word Problem Roulette is designed to give students an opportunity to collaborate on solving a word problem and then to communicate as a group the thought processes that went into finding a solution to the problem. The group presents a solution to the problem both orally and in writing. 

Guidelines for Use of Word Problem Roulette

  1. Organize the class into cooperative groups of 3-4 students each. Provide each group member with a copy of the word problem for the group. Explain to students that they are to solve this problem as a group.
  2. First the group discusses how to solve the word problem. The group members talk to one another about what the problem is asking and their ideas for solving the problem, but they do this without writing or drawing on paper. During this step, the members of the group agree on a solution method and the steps for how they will solve the problem.
  3. When the group members have agreed on a solution to the problem, they take turns writing the steps to the solution in words rather than mathematical symbols. Each group members writes one step or sentence and then passes the group solution paper to the next group member to add to the next step or sentence. Group members may confer on what individual members write, but the solution paper should have contributions from everyone in the group.
  4. After all the groups have finished writing their solution papers, choose one group at a time to present its solution to the class. One member of a group reads the solution steps as they are written on the paper, and another group member writes the symbolic representation of this solution on the board.
  5. After all the groups who have the same problem have presented their solutions, compare the methods and results of the different groups. If groups have different problems, volunteers from other groups may give an immediate review of a group's solution. 


Strategy #5: Process Log

This strategy uses a writing-math worksheet in which students explain the word problem and the steps they will take to solve the problem. The worksheet guides students with question prompts that lead them through the problem-solving process without dictating a method or the steps students use to solve the problem. Students write about their thinking during the problem-solving process. The questions they answer create a dialogue between what they know and what they are learning about the problem. In this way, they clarify their thinking about the problem and the mathematics involved, they translate mathematical ideas and procedures into ordinary language, and they practice communicating about mathematics and reasoning in problem solving. 

Guidelines for Use of Process Logs
Prepare a writing-math worksheet for students with a word problem activity and an extra challenge. You can include additional question prompts as you consider other idea you would like in a student's log. You might give students these directions on how to use this worksheet:

  1. Use the writing-math worksheet as you think about and solve the problem. That is, "think aloud" on paper about the problem activity.
  2. Try to personalize your explanations by writing in the first person; use I, my, me, etc.
  3. Use ordinary language as well as mathematical language.
  4. Explain the problem itself as you write the steps involved.
  5. Be sure to describe any special difficulties with the problem.
  6. Explain your problem-solving process step by step.


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