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A Strategy Used in English Language Arts that Works for Mathematics, Too

Mathematics success for all students Including those who struggle

sign slow zoneBy Dianne DeMille, Ph.D. and Jennifer Munoz

Research suggests some reasons students struggle to learn mathematics include: fast pace, reading difficulty, working memory, conceptual understanding, or misunderstanding.

Word problems or problem tasks have always been considered the most difficult part of teaching and learning mathematics at any grade level.

When I taught middle and high school math, I would ask my students, “What job will you have in the future where you will be handed a page full of computations to do or equations to solve?” Sometimes, they would respond with, “Maybe, a math teacher?” Then I’d ask, “Other than being a math teacher?” They were stumped. I would explain the reason we do several problems of similar type is to understand how to get solutions. However, we need to understand how to solve problems or tasks that represent what might occur in daily situations and problems that arise in specialty areas. This is where the mathematics we’re practicing connects to the “real world.”

Reading for comprehension, productive struggle, student reasoning articulation, along with organizing information to determine solution strategies are major components of solving mathematical problems or tasks.

A district-wide Special Education program for secondary mathematics of California Common Core Standards shows success with practical strategies that also work with ALL students. One of the strategies widely used in their program is the “Close Strategy,” often seen in English Language Arts and some other content areas.

While observing a special education class in Algebra, I saw the teacher using the same strategy I had used with all my students in regular math classes. I learned this is a strategy most teachers use, especially in elementary grades, to teach reading. It is the “Close Strategy” that I had never formally learned because it was not part of my training to teach math. We have students who usually had problems in math who are now experiencing mathematics success by using this strategy. As I taught high school students, even in the Honors classes, I used the same strategy.

The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts directs teachers to have students read informational text with attention to specific detail. Math problems and ta