Much of the mathematical knowledge of our society is preserved and conveyed in mathematical textbooks. However, few students read mathematical textbooks or have the necessary skills or disposition to engage with these texts. In this module we will look at some of the challenges in using mathematical textbooks and some strategies to help students engage more productively with mathematical textbooks.
The Unique Nature of Mathematical Textbooks
"Textbooks have the potential to be powerful tools to help students develop an understanding of mathematics" (Weinberg & Wiesner, 2011, p. 49).
“All mathematics textbooks are written in more than one language” (Kane, 1970, p. 579)
“Research indicates that math is the most difficult content area material to read, with more concepts per word, per sentence, and per paragraph than any other area” (Schell, 1982, p. 544).
“Reading mathematics is a multifaceted task because the reader is challenged to acquire comprehension and mathematical understanding with fluency and proficiency through the reading of numerals and symbols, in addition to words” (Adams, 2003, p. 786).
Mathematical textbooks are fundamentally different than most other genres of literature. They are not a story that can be read smoothly from start to finish or an expository text that makes an overall argument. Mathematical textbooks meld everyday language with specialized vocabulary, symbolic representations, graphical representations, and specialized content language.
In this module, we will examine the challenges for students as they engage with mathematical textbooks, the challenges for teachers as they try to assist students with these challenges, and some strategies that help in addressing these challenges. Please begin by clicking the "Challenges for students" link below.