The K5 Learning Blog urges parents to be pro-active in helping their children reach their full academic potential.

K5 Learning
provides an online reading and math program for kindergarten to grade 5 students.

14 Day Free Trial

• Full access
• Free lessons
• Free assessments
• No credit card required

Explore K5 Video

Take a video tour and see how parents
and students use K5.

# Why is my child having difficulty with reading math texts?

By Dr. Patricia Deubel

Parents might say that their children are reading very well and developing a good vocabulary, yet when it comes to reading a math text their children are having comprehension problems.  What parents might not realize is that reading a math text is different from reading texts in other subjects.  Having taught math for 30 years, I know  that students often don’t read the text because they have never learned how.  They jump right in to doing homework problems because they rely greatly on explanations from their teachers for how to do those.

What parents and their children need to know is that math texts contain a greater number of concepts per sentence and paragraph than in texts for other subjects. Reading is complicated by the use of numeric and non-numeric symbols, specialized vocabulary, graphics which must be understood, page layouts that are different from other texts, and topic sentences that often occur at the end of paragraphs instead of at the beginning. The text is often written above the reading level of the intended learner. Some small words when used in a math problem make a big difference in students' understanding of a problem and how it is solved (Metsisto, 2005).

Many math terms are rarely used outside of the math classroom. Some words have multiple meanings, or their meaning in math is different than their meaning in Standard English (e.g., borrow, carry, degree, translation, order, property, foil as in “FOIL” method), which is not just an issue for English language learners.

Consider an ambiguity (numeral vs. number) in statements: Which numeral is larger: 62 or 6? Which number is larger: 62 or 6

So, what can you do?  The following tips gleaned from Cynthia Arem (2010) might be helpful.  When reading math text, encourage your children to:

•        Slow down, as every word counts
•        Do not skim illustrative material
•        Use a glossary to clarify terms (e.g., Math.com Glossary or A Maths Dictionary for Kids)
•        Write as you read—take notes, work out examples, compare.  If a paragraph or part is confusing, write down why.  Think about who can help or what you might do.
•        Use 3 x 5 cards with formulas, key vocabulary, properties, examples, and facts
•        Test yourself, write or say aloud important points
•        Use other math books as reference