Can Literacy in the Maths Classroom be Taken as Read?

I posed a question, whilst sitting on the East Lothian coast line staring at the choppy waves. This was posed to fellow math and science teachers.

What Literacy do you cover, and how?

The responses were wide and varied. The responders were from wider than just Scotland too, clearly this is a topic of interest beyond CfE.

Before I do go in to the responses, I should outline some of my own experiences first.

Writing letters.

Okay, this was more of a “bolt on” and I knew it at the time. It was, however, tackling a wider point than just using words. I got my classes to choose an author and write to ask for the author’s experiences of Maths and their reflections on Maths now.

If you choose to do this sort of lesson, expect to be amazed. When I handed in my notice in Edinburgh as I had a new job in East Lothian, the order of requests were 1) Can I have your room 2)Can I have your fan 3) Can I have your arm chairs (long story) 4) Can I have your letters.

I got a letter from Harry Hill, now deceased, who was the original Goodfellas gangsta. He extolled to one of my pupils the wonders of Maths and how he loved the subject. There was another one (hand written) from David Attenbourgh explaining how the statistical research in Natural History makes Maths one on his biggest draws. Then I had authors write to say how they had to learn to fly a plane – to kill off a character in a series – and discovered the Maths involved almost blew his mind. The list went on, and on, and the office staff started to hand me the mail and stand longingly next to me as I may open it and let then read another famous person’s response. The display eventually ended up in the Holy Rood library so may still be there today.

The purpose of this was as much to do with engaging those who preferred literacy to numeracy, who did not want numbers to get in the way of words, who were going to hate Maths simply as it wasn’t English. Did it work? The parents thought it was great as their children went home talking about Maths in the wider setting. I would venture this may be classed HWB as much as literacy, all in.

However, it was a “bolt on” and bolt ons are baddies in this busy curriculum.


Maths has this section in the CfE Level 1-4 where we expect them to research and present, in various media, topics involving history or current Maths people or topics. Great chance to talk about the subject we love and the history that made it the powerful subject it is today (Helps I did History of Maths in my degree, mind, to make me love this bit)

Some people, I don’t particularly distance myself from this either, may think this topic is a bolt on by the writers of the course. Many schools, I have found, “shove” this to the end so if there is a bad winter or a problem earlier on, the course can omit this topic. Not my own school, I must say!

So, my point in asking the question was to find out what natural Literacy links are being made within the science and math section of the curriculum.

Steven Wilkinson (@S__Wilkinson)
I’ve tackled literacy using creative writing, “What would the World be like if America lost the Space Race” etc…

Blair H (@TwentySeven11)
major point for us is scientific literacy. Ability to read and understand scientific text and to use approp vocab.

Alice Clubb (@AliceClubb)
Stats investigation on variety of literature- they decide HOW to compare the word lengths etc & what this actually means 4 reading

Robert Jones (@jonesieboy)
group work and learning logs cover loads of E&Os: 3-02a, 3-09a, 3-28a, 3-29a etc etc.

There were several people kind enough to add even more comments but I think this gives a great flavour of what is happening.

The point of Literacy being an overarching term to cover all types of literacy was also discussed by some, noting that literacy is a much richer topic than Grammar and Spelling. Sure we have word banks for our subject, but Literacy is as much about the group work as it is about the words. Robert Jones’ comment above expressing this view.

In fact, we even let an English teacher join in with the discussions.

Neil Craik-Collins (@ngccollins)
Any English department should be able to show you how to teach Listening/Talk. Easy to assess if you had a framework.

When I last did my History topics, we used a basic grid of what we were assessing, (clarity, eye contact, engaging with the audience etc) and a video camera so people could self-and peer- assess their work. Never had someone sing their Maths homework to me before but if you have not heard my old S1’s song about the history of the calendar, you have not lived!

What did come out in the discussion was very positive.

We use timetables, graphs, charts (and other types of Texts) that mean we can deliver :

Before and as I read, I can apply strategies and use resources independently to help me read a wide variety of texts and/or find the information I need.
LIT 4-13a

We lead class discussions and have the following impact on their Literacy Skills :

When I engage with others I can make a relevant contribution, ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute and encourage them to take account of others’ points of view or alternative solutions.

I can respond in ways appropriate to my role, exploring and expanding on contributions to reflect on, clarify or adapt thinking.
LIT 4-02a

In fact, if you go and re-read your big green folder (or the website, probably) you will agree, as everyone above has contributed, Maths and Science are all about communication of ideas and how we learn is a further opportunity to hone the skills required in Literacy.

Indeed, another excellent point made by Robert Jones sums up the excellence of the current set up :

Robert Jones (@jonesieboy)
I don’t lose sleep over the gathering of evidence Eddie. I’m more interested in feeding the pig than weighing it.

Nothing of what we do with Literacy needs assessing, in Maths and Science, but reflecting on the Outcomes and Experiences may well help with our Learning and Teaching maybe?

The point coming across is almost “Literacy is a non-story for us, it is so well embedded (from years ago) that it is impossible for us NOT to deliver most of the Literacy Outcomes in a normal Maths course.”

As ever, Pedagoo is a great start point for sharing details and I would love to see comments or tweets to @pedagoo with your own experiences of good practice in Literacy in the Maths and Science classrooms

3 thoughts on “Can Literacy in the Maths Classroom be Taken as Read?

  1. john sexton

    Like many maths teachers I think I initially struggled with being “responsible” for literacy. However once a kindly English teacher informed that if I thought about it my students if given the chance to explain their answers then they were being very literate. A student or for that matter a teacher being able to explain some of the abstract nature of the maths effectively would be demonstrating a high level of literacy.
    Unfortunatley I did struggle to consider how many of the numeracy topics could be covered in her lessons effectively. Maybe we could consider this in a future post.

    1. eddiewhite Post author

      I thought you could come up with a God Idea there?

      I think we both agree that Maths is a lot about communicating logical and numeracy. Hence why we cover so many of the literacy outcomes “for free”

      Not sure English is about numerating words though, but a good point. Wonder if anyone on pedagoo from English background would like to?

  2. Paul Cochrane

    Scientific literacy, to me, is internal and external. Internal being the specialist language required to understand and communicate technical Science. External is the ability to communicate with non-Scientists in an engaging and understandable manner that gets to the essence of the issue. A good comparison would be one of Brian Cox’s PhD thesis and his TV script or Richard Feynman’s Laureate papers and his highly entertaining ‘Surely you’re joking Mr Feynman.’

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