In Common Core Math I have seen my students struggle many times through story problems in class and on testing. I realized that most of my students were having a difficult time understanding what they are being asked. The “mathematics genre” with word organization, choice, higher level of thinking, and above level content was throwing them off and confusing at best. Knowing that students must be able to answer to a higher level of depth of knowledge questions, understanding these questions are a problem for students reading at or below grade level, ELL’s, and special needs students.

“Mathematics is particularly difficult content to read, presenting demands in higher-level thinking and comprehension skills. Many students may not easily comprehend mathematics texts, even when they are able to decode print materials (Cantrell, Burns, and Callaway 2009). Mathematics texts make heavy use of precise symbols and unfamiliar vocabulary; use longer and more complex sentence structure; contain more words, symbols, and concepts per paragraph than other texts; and have little redundancy to help with interpretation (Schell 1982). Further, mathematics texts are often written above the grade level of intended students (Barton and Heidema 2002; Reehm and Long 1996). Concepts critical for understanding may be hidden, implied, or left unstated. In reading mathematics text, readers need to analyze and expand meaning rather than condense ideas (Fuentes 1998; Shanahan and Shanahan 2008).”

**Why do we need to teach math literacy?**

- Students need to learn comprehension of mathematical language and how it relates to operations.
- Mathematics uses different sentence structure than English Language Arts.
- Math doesn’t have a one to one correspondence with math symbols and words.
- Math uses highly technical vocabulary, symbols, and multiple meaning words.
- Distractors or unnecessary information is included in math questions.

Looking for a way to help my students better understand, I came across Reciprocal Teaching through my literacy teammate. (It is also listed #11 on Hattie’s list of student achievement indicators.)

**What is Reciprocal Teaching?**

Reciprocal teaching is an interactive strategy and a collaborative learning method. This strategy is used mainly for literacy development to promote reading comprehension skills. But it can be adapted to students’ comprehension of mathematical word problems.

**What Reciprocal teaching can do for students?**

- It helps students understand the meaning of phrases, symbols, and vocabulary.
- It provides structure for problem solving.
- It helps students identify important and unimportant information in a question.
- It teaches students critical thinking in predicting, clarifying, questioning, and summarizing is essential in all content areas.
- Encourages students to talk about the math and how they solved a problem.
- Helps students see multiple ways to solve a problem.

**5 parts of Reciprocal Teaching in Mathematics**

** 1.Questioning is used to identify key parts of the problem.**

- What do we notice?
- What do we wonder?
- What is this problem asking us to do?
- What should we do first, second…?
- Does anyone have questions about this problem?

**2.Clarifying**

- Are there any words, phrases, or symbols we are unfamiliar with?
- What information is needed to solve this problem?
- What are the facts we know?
- What information can we eliminate?

I see this step as so important. There are usually just one or two words in a problem that will through off a student. This can totally turn around the intended meaning of a problem, cause confusion and misunderstandings for students.

** 3.Predicting**

- What type of mathematical questions are we being asked?
- What mathematical operations may be required to use?
- What do we think this problem is about?
- What do we estimate the answer to be?

**Devise a Plan to solve the problem.**

- What are your strategies/plan to solve this problem?
- Can we use pictures, diagrams, numbers or words to solve this problem?
- Have we had a problem like this before?

**Summarize the purpose of the problem.**

- Did we draw a diagram or a picture to solve this problem?
- How do we justify our answer?
**What did it ask us and how did we solve it? Give evidence for your thinking.**- How did we check this problem?
- How would we approach this problem if we were presented with a similar one?
- Were there any misconceptions about this problem?

**How to implement reciprocal teaching in your classroom?**

- Use role cards for each student that gives sentence stems and steps.
- Explicitly teach the stages whole group with a problem, and then have groups model the process while the rest of the class watches, notices, and comments.
- Guide students through each step in small groups.
- Gradually release responsibility to students.
- Bookmarks can be given with roles for quick reference after students have the process down.

**Results of Reciprocal teaching in my classroom**

- Lower math anxiety for students
- Students have more confidence in solving a problem.
- Students work together at higher levels.
- Students are gaining abilities to complete complex tasks.
- It is providing support and a framework for ELL’s, special needs students and struggling readers.

**Math Reciprocal Teaching Resources:**

**RECIPROCAL TEACHING IN MATHEMATICS**

**Making meaning in mathematics problem-solving using the Reciprocal Teaching approach**

**Video demonstration**

### Patty Reed

#### Latest posts by Patty Reed (see all)

- What Do You Notice? What Do You Wonder? - December 5, 2016
- Reciprocal Math Teaching - November 26, 2016
- 5 Steps Toward Equity - October 30, 2016

Patricia Gustin says

Awesome post! I am teaching math for the first time in over 20 years and my students really need support reading & interpreting problems. Thanks!

Douglas Ferguson says

Patty, thanks for sharing. I like the idea of treating math text as its own genre type. Shared this with some others!

Carina Stillman says

Hi Patti, thanks for the resource–I find myself helping my AVID group with Geometry each time we do Tutorials. While I am a huge fan of the tutorial process, I think the process and questions you have provided here might be even more helpful for my groups who have no idea where to begin.

I also followed your Hattie link and got lost in his research–my school is grappling with how to incorporate and/or address growth mindset. Many of the strategies with the highest effect size relate to teacher as well as student perceptions of student abilities–very timely and useful!

Thanks!

Scott Cleary says

There is often skill related vocabulary involved in my subject area of language arts such as refutation or inference. I like this strategy for authentic vocabulary acquisition. I will definitely incorporate this into my next unit! Thanks for the insight. Even though the videos related to reciprocal teaching in math, they helped me adapt the method for use in my classroom.

Aaron Brecek says

We have been annotating story problems for about 2 years as a department. Underline key information, circle directional verbs, and box the question. This has helped students hone in on the key information and understand what they are really being asked to do. It has helped greatly.

Patty Reed says

Wow, that is great your school does that. I think that could be a next step for me. Thanks.

Brooke Perry says

Patty, this is super helpful to me. I am a literacy specialist who often talks about the importance of teaching literacy skills through content, but I’ll admit that I usually just have subjects like Social Studies and Science in mind. It’s eye-opening to recognize that math text has specific structures and doesn’t align with what students might be more familiar and comfortable with in their reading classes. Thank you!

Tom White says

Thanks for the tips, Patty; I’ll definitely be incorporating this in my work with my fourth graders!