Mathematics is “a language that can neither be read nor understood without initiation.”

The fact that the reading ability of Indonesian children on the average of 15 years old are still in the lowest position from 41 countries is indication that there is a problem with reading. This information was gathered from the research of OECD PISA Indonesia in the year of 2003 from 7355 students from 290 Schools (SLTP/SMU/SMK). If the quality of reading ability it self still not good, what about the quality of mathematics literature reading ability?

Beside that fact, based on my experiences as a student and also as a teacher, I found many problems in reading mathematics literature. I found that my students are faced difficulties in reading mathematics text book, many concept are difficult to understand for them before the teacher explain it to them even they already read the concept from the book. The result of this condition was my students loosed their interest in reading the text book, usually the students only using the exercises pages of the books. They loosed their motivation to study the concept from the text book. Even for me, sometimes I found some obstacles when reading a mathematics literature, especially when it is contain so many symbols that are not really familiar yet with my field, for example in statistics, this condition makes me loose my interest in reading statistics literature. Some of my friends also have same condition with me. If we are, the person that always having interaction with mathematics still have problems with reading mathematics literature, how about the people that are unfamiliar with it?

Besides reading, one of the biggest problems for me and my friends in our class is how to write correctly the mathematics idea/concept from our mind into paper. This is happened in some mathematics class like, Abstract Algebra, Analysis Real, discrete etc. We often said like this, “actually I understand the concept but I don’t know ho to write it?” this problem is related with the context of mathematics communication. Two indication of mathematics communication aspects are students can express their mathematics ideas orally and writing, and also can read mathematics literature with good comprehending. The ability of writing actually related to the ability of reading, logically some one can have a good writing ability if he/she has a good ability in reading too.

Writing in mathematics has crucial role in the context of mathematics communication, which is to express the process that has been happened in the mind. The writing is the result of the abstract process such as reasoning, connecting, problem solving or representing. It is one of the ways to know the mental activity during the learning process. That is very important to build a good mathematics writing ability. But building writing ability can’t independently ignore the reading ability. That’s way these ability should be build together.

Mathematics has special characteristics, the object of mathematics are abstract, it is has their own structure and logic, it is also contain so many symbols. That’s why needed a special strategy to reading mathematics literature. This time I try to discuss about the technique of reading mathematics literature first and I will discuss the writing mathematics technique.

Based on my experiences, some mistakes happened when reading mathematics literature such as; only focus on the example of problems or the exercise in the text and skip the basic concept it self. Or maybe you are skipping the paragraph detail that’s explaining the detail concept. Remember that mathematics sentences are not only contains symbols but also word that explains some context which can not expressed by symbols.

These are some techniques in reading mathematics texts;

1. Set the goals first,

Ask yourself what are the goals in reading this chapter or section. You maybe try to get an overview of a subject, or to understand something that confused you during the lecture or to learn the example for solving a particular problem, or looking sparkling idea to get a topic of your paper or project.

2. Doing scanning and catch the big idea

Based on the goals that are set before, then do small chunk to check whether it is make sense or not. Read a small section of the text therefore confirm the result with the goals that we wanted. Try to ask your self whether you can describe the main idea of the text with your own word. Remember, for the first you don’t have to read everything but you have to mark the part that you skip because later you will back to read this again to get the complete understanding. So if it is related to something that you are needed go on but if it not stops right here.

3. Focus on the concept not the exercises or example only

The most commonly mistake in reading mathematics text is focusing in reading the example or exercises only and ignoring the basic concept that is usually writing in the paragraph form to explain the concept that is used by the writer. Actually, there are infinite types of mathematics problems, so there is no way to learn every single of problem solving technique. Mathematics is about ideas. The ideas can be seen from the result of the problem solving in mathematics. If the basic point can be reach so any kind of problems that related to that concept can be solved.

4. Read carefully

Reading mathematics are no same with reading novel or newspaper. A half hours in reading novel probably reader can get 20-60 pages in average with full comprehension but in reading mathematics probably reader can only get 10 lines in average with full comprehension depend on the article and how experiences the reader are related to the topic. So read the text carefully, one by one step by step or repeat until get the full comprehension of the text especially when meet with the definition or many symbols. Convince yourself that you already familiar with the meaning of the symbol. If you are not, try to find the meaning of the symbols using appendix or index. Don’t forget to try to understand the word of the language of the text in their context. Sometime some word has different meaning when it is used in mathematics language. Just like the word “power” in mathematics means as a indices but in the original meaning in English is ability to do or act.

5. Prepare yourself with paper, pencil and calculator

Reading mathematics text is involved doing the process in doing math. There’re will be many mathematics sentences in the form of conceptual explanation or in form of example. The writing is “something” that has been produced by the process in the writer’s mind so reader should understand the way that the writer did in doing the process. It is can be done by verify the writing directly by doing what the writer did. Check the calculation, check the equation and write the definition by your own word. Beside for verifying, the pencil and the paper also needed for writing some question related to the topics and some problem that you faced during the reading.

6. Ask for help when faced hard obstacles

Sometimes, readers get stuck on the hard concept and can’t solve by them self, if it is happened try to find expert for getting help. Cause loose even one concept can bring trouble in understanding the whole text. Just like Indonesian aphorism, “shame to ask is equal to lose the way”

7. Solve some problem and write with your own word

For checking the understanding of the text can be done by try to solve some problems and write with your own word. Give the completed explanation in every step that you made. This is can help you strength your building concept.

That’s some techniques that probably can help to improve the ability of reading mathematics text. It is hope by improving the ability of reading mathematics text can lead to improve the motivation to read the mathematics literature. However, it is can improve the ability of writing mathematics too. It is clear enough that reading and writing ability is two-in-one ability that is related each other.


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