## Challenges for teachers as they strive to help students understand mathematical textbooks.

Because of the unique challenges inherent in reading mathematical textbooks, it is important for teachers to provide help and guidance to students if they expect students to read textbooks. There are, however, some serious challenges for teachers as they try provide such help to students.

**Challenge #1: Teacher Knowledge**

The first challenge that high school teachers may face in trying to assist students with reading mathematical textbooks is that many teachers may, themselves, lack experience and expertise in reading textbooks. It is likely that very few of us received helpful instruction in strategies for engaging with written mathematics. It is also likely that we learned much of our own mathematics not from written texts but from classroom instruction and engagement with problem solving. Although we may feel confident enough reading high school mathematics textbooks this is more likely to be because we are already familiar with the material than because we have developed skill at reading mathematical text. Pre-service secondary teachers with whom I have worked freely admit that they do not find their mathematics textbooks helpful or comprehensible. These students have usually relied upon mathematics instructors to guide them through the material, using the textbook primarily as a source of homework problems and of worked example. When asked to read a passage from an undergraduate textbook, even one in which the mathematics content is familiar, students complain that it makes no sense to them. When teachers have not, themselves, mastered the skill of reading mathematics textbooks, it is difficult for them to guide their students in reading textbooks.

**Challenge #2: Lack of Training**

The reality is that mathematics teachers seldom have any background in how to teach students to read mathematics textbooks. It is a rare teacher preparation program that offers any assistance beyond a generic literacy-in-the-content-area course. Unfortunately, because of the unique nature of mathematics texts, mathematics teachers are likely to find it difficult to adapt generic reading strategies for mathematics textbooks.

**Challenge #3: Lack of Research-Based Strategies**

Although there are research-based strategies for many literacy challenges, there is almost no solid research about effective strategies for reading mathematics textbooks. There is a body of literature dating back at least to the late 1960’s providing evidence that mathematics texts present unique challenges. However, almost all of the proposed suggestions for how to help students learn to engage productively with mathematical texts are presented without empirical evidence of their effectiveness. Many of these strategies are adapted from literacy strategies in other content areas and may or may not be effective for the unique challenges of helping students understand mathematics texts. In fact, Siebert and Draper (2008) found that many examples of literacy strategies provided specifically for mathematics “typically exhibited one of the following problems: they included questionable texts and genres, recommended questionable instructional practices for common mathematics texts, or included samples of mathematics reading and writing that are problematic but were not recognized as such” (p. 238). Teachers trying to help students learn to read mathematics texts have very few research-based strategies to turn to.