Advocating for Literacy in my Classroom

In my math classroom I want to create a student centered environment where students are responsible for their learning and, because of that, they experience meaningful learning. Responsive teaching and transparency will be integral in creating this type of environment as I want students to feel guided in their learning and know that it has a purpose. I hope to use responsive teaching, transparency, and a focus on meaningful learning as I design inquiry, choose texts, and scaffold thinking to help students build their mathematical literacy.

Creating inquiry in the classroom allows students to engage in meaningful learning. Ramsey Musallam (2013) speaks about the benefits of inquiry based learning in his TED talk, 3 Rules to Spark Learning, when he says, “if instead we have the guts to confuse our students, perplex them, and evoke real questions, through those questions, we as teachers have information that we can use to tailor robust and informed methods of blended instruction.” It is important that students learn how to be confused and, more importantly, that they learn how to navigate their way out of confusion. When students are given a complex problem to facilitate their learning of a topic, they have to ask good questions to figure out the information they will need to solve it. They have to rely on their reasoning skills, their prior knowledge, and their discussions with classmates, with guidance from their teacher, to solve to problem. According to McTighe, Seif, and Wiggins (2004), “meaning must be made and understanding must be earned. Students are more likely to make meaning and gain understanding when they link new information to prior knowledge, relate facts to ‘big ideas,’ explore essential questions, and apply their learning to new contexts.” The goal of inquiry based learning is that students gain a deeper level of understanding through exploring a complex problem. I think it is important to be transparent with students about why I am using inquiry in my class. When they solve the problem, they have learned the material deeply and gained valuable skills that will serve them in their future careers. I want them to know we are doing it because “students, to become competent in a field of study, should develop not only a solid foundation of factual knowledge but also a conceptual framework that facilitates meaningful learning” (McTighe, Seif, & Wiggins, 2004). Most importantly, I want my students to be mathematicians. That means that they are literate in the mathematical language and are able to use their understanding to solve problems or ask questions that will allow them to solve problems, not that they memorize a bunch of facts and formulas. Inquiry based learning will allow my students to explore the discipline, develop essential problem solving skills, and experience meaningful learning.

RIT Academic Support Center’s steps to learn from a math book

In order for students to explore mathematics through inquiry and solving complex problems, they will need helpful texts and resources. It is my responsibility, as the teacher, to pick texts that students can use as resources and to teach my students how to effectively utilize those resources as well as their textbook. Learning how to truly read a math textbook is a valuable skill that will benefit students tremendously in my class and in college. I would like to spend time going over how to read a textbook using the steps from RIT’s Academic Support Center, which are shown in figure 1. In the discipline of mathematics, text can mean anything from a traditional text to diagrams, equations, graphs, and other representations of data. Fisher and Frey (2010) point out that “creativity and originality lie not in the avoidance of established forms, but in the imaginative use of them” (p. 34). I want to model how to use different mathematics texts creatively so that students will be able to do the same when they solve problems. Transparency and responsive teaching will be keys in motivating students to use the texts I choose. Hopefully showing my students how different resources can help them answer their inquiry questions and that each text has a purpose will encourage them to use the texts. Gutzmer and Wilder (2012) note that, “we as teachers don’t show students how to provide us with daily feedback that will allow us to routinely respond to what they are telling us about their literacy needs” (p. 37). I want to give the students an opportunity to give me feedback about the different texts I choose and respond if they do not understand them or if they need more or different types of resources.

While using inquiry and appropriate texts, I want to scaffold my students’ literate thinking and understanding of mathematics. The gradual release of responsibility model ensures that students have enough instruction and experience with material to be able to be responsible for the material and solve problems on their own. “When teachers guide students, they strategically balance between prompts and cues, only reverting to direct explanations when the student continues to misunderstand. This is motivating as students experience productive success” (Fisher & Frey, 2010, p. 35). Students learn much more meaningfully when teachers avoid direct instruction and, instead, guide their students. I also want to set up activities and practices in my class designed to scaffold students mathematical thinking. I particularly like Tara Davis’s (2016) approach as she “selected problems that allow various approaches and that have a high ceiling. When students wrote up their homework solutions, they were required to include a reflection on the problem solving process.” An understanding of the problem solving process is so essential to actually understanding concepts in math and such an activity will facilitate students’ mathematical literacy.

Response teaching, transparency, and a focus on meaningful learning are the heart of a student-centered classroom and should be used in every aspect of class, especially in creating inquiry, choosing text, and scaffolding literate thinking.

Davis, T. ( 2016). Using Inquiry-Based Learning To Teach Math. Retrieved from

Frey, N., & Fisher, D. (2010). Motivation Requires a Meaningful Task. English Journal, 100(1), 30–36.

Gutzmer, C., & Wilder, P. (2012). “Writing So People Can Hear Me”: Responsive Teaching in a Middle School Poetry Unit. Voices from the Middle, 19(3), 37–44.

How To Learn From A Math Book (n.d.). In RIT Academic Support Center Math Handouts. Retrieved from

McTighe, J., Seif, E., & Wiggins, G. (2004). You Can Teach for Meaning. Educational Leadership, 62(1), 26–31.

Musallam, R. (2013, April). 3 rules to spark learning [Video file]. Retrieved from