• Math is a language that all students need to learn to speak fluently.  If only life's problems were all organized so that we could solve them easily, like adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing.  When the problem is all set up for us, it's generally easy to solve as long as we know our math facts.  But life doesn't work that way, and neither does math.  Simple computation is a repetitive process that creates the muscle-memory in our brain for those times when we need to apply a process to solve a bigger problem.  WORD PROBLEMS!  Sometimes we need to wade through the directions or a math prompt so that we can get to the computation.  That's where being able to apply reading comprehension strategies AND math vocabulary are of the essence. 
    Marilyn Burns' article in Education Week entitled "To Teach Math, Study Reading Instruction" is worth a read for teachers and for parents because math literacy goes hand-in-hand with reading literacy. Teachers and parents should probe students' thinking  "so that the goal is not only getting correct answers, but also explaining why answers make sense." Learning and understanding math vocabulary helps students articulate their ideas.
    In pre-algebra, we spend a lot of time deconstructing definitions, directions, and prompts.  Why?  Simply put, if a student cannot decode and comprehend any of these, they may not be able to successful arrive at a reasonable or correct solution.  Their answer might not be the answer for the question that was asked.
    I've learned a lot since I began teaching pre-algebra--the words are often more important that the numbers.