University of Rochester

Reading Holds a Valued Place in Teaching Math, Authors Say

May 2, 2000

When an expert in math teamed up with a specialist in reading, they discovered that an interdisciplinary approach to teaching mathematics can be proven worthwhile when reading is actively used in the math classroom.

Authors Raffaella Borasi and Marjorie Siegel of Reading Counts: Expanding the Role of Reading in Mathematics Classrooms witnessed how reading can be integrated successfully into the teaching of inquiry-oriented mathematics. Rather than pose obstacles, they found that the use of reading expands the resources and invigorates the discussion among students trying to learn math.

The scenes that Borasi, professor and senior associate dean at the Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development at the University of Rochester, and Siegel, associate professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, observed go far beyond the traditional use of reading for word problems and math textbooks. More specifically, they break down reading into three theoretical perspectives and show how each can be used in secondary school classrooms.

Borasi and Siegel developed their own project, called Reading to Learn Mathematics for Critical Thinking, to document and analyze reading experiences. Two teachers in the Rochester area, Judith M. Fonzi and Lisa Grasso Sanvidge, are featured as the classroom leaders in this inquiry-based approach to teaching math (Teachers College Press, 2000, $23.95 paperback/$50 hardcover).

Even today among educators, theories of reading are as controversial as questions about the nature of mathematics, the authors say. But they believe that encouraging students to use reading or writing to make their own sense of an assigned text and then sharing those thoughts with their peers substantiates that students who use an inquiry method gain a fuller understanding of their subject. Throughout the book, the authors encourage educators to reconsider what it means to read mathematics in order to use it more fully as a resource for teaching mathematics.

Since 1987, Borasi and Siegel have worked together to test theories against classroom practice. A grant from the National Science Foundation supported their work.

Borasi's career has been spent pioneering new methods of math instruction. She is a widely published author and a respected leader in the field of mathematics education and school mathematics reform.

She joined the faculty of the Warner School in 1985 and studies and promotes school mathematics reform and the professional development of teachers, emphasizing an approach to math through inquiry. This instructional approach stresses problem solving, students' ownership in the learning process, and the development of communities of learners trying to "make sense" of math problems and concepts.

Her research has been supported by multiple grants from the National Science Foundation and the New York State Department of Education. Most recently, Borasi has been working on a NSF-funded Local Systemic Change project to facilitate mathematics reform in middle schools in four Rochester area districts: Brighton, Hilton, Honeoye Falls, and Spencerport.

Note to editors: Raffaella Borasi lives in Brighton. The cover of her book can be found on the Web at