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Meredith Yakscoe-Markle, Stephanie A. Flores-Koulish, Ph.D.

The Effects of Reading Instruction on Below Grade Level Readers during Mathematical Problem-Solving

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Developing curricula that challenges students and makes them world-class citizens has always been at the forefront of educational reform. The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers implemented a national language arts and mathematics curriculum that was designed to make America’s educational system globally competitive through rigorous objectives. It is known as the Common Core Standards. The mathematics standards encourage students to persevere in problem-solving and have flexibility in mathematical strategy usage in order to find a solution through multiple avenues. Teachers observed below grade level readers struggle in mathematical problem-solving. Many had difficulty understanding how to manipulate numbers when embedded in a text, how explain their reasoning, and use the numbers effectively for a mathematical strategy.

Research shows that there is a strong correlation between reading difficulties and math difficulties. Comprehending mathematical word problems require students to not only build upon their computational skills, but also understand the context of the numbers in the text itself. Therefore, they have difficulty transferring numbers to a mathematical strategy. Developing reading comprehension skills in other subject areas outside of language arts can help students develop meaning of what they are reading and help strengthen their metacognition. These reading comprehension strategies include activating prior knowledge, developing vocabulary, rephrasing and summarizing, rereading, and questioning strategies.

This study examined how the implementation of reading strategy instruction impacted below grade level readers’ abilities to apply and justify mathematical problem-solving strategies. The setting took place in a fourth grade classroom in a suburban elementary school. There were three participants, Lauren, Jack, and Kevin. All students were below grade level in reading with Lauren and Kevin on-grade level in math and Kevin below grade level in math. There were nine total lessons where I modeled how to use a mathematical problem-solving strategy through step-by-step reading strategy instruction. Students completed their own problem-solving practice using any mathematical strategy. Four sets of field notes were gathered during lessons. Two interviews were administered at the beginning and end of the study along with a problem-solving pretest and posttest.

All participants benefitted from practicing vocabulary and main idea identification, but had not mastered this strategy by the end of the study. Kevin and Lauren showed improvement in mathematical strategy identification and utilization when their vocabulary strategy was accurate whole Jack was inconsistent in transferring vocabulary into finding a solution. Rephrasing benefitted students understanding of the author’s purpose. Rereading proved to be inconclusive due to the way data collection was recorded. Verbal discussion and verbal questioning techniques were beneficial to the students’ metacognition during problem-solving. Lauren was the only participant who showed improvement in her comprehension to written questioning techniques. The study also found that having reading strategies accessible during problem-solving might impact students’ abilities to solve with accuracy when working independently. This study supports past research that reading ability affects mathematical problem-solving comprehension.

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