Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's the Literacy

A recent blog posting posed the following idea: "It can't be a good thing when your child's math homework requires more writing than use of numbers."

I'm not sure I agree.

If you have followed one of the bigger stories in reform these days - the successful turnaround of Brockton High School in Massachusetts - you might consider the impact of improved literacy on all classes. This teacher-led reform centered around the basic concept of literacy in all classrooms.

If literacy skills are low, nothing else matters. And too many teachers in the content areas simply assign reading rather than teach it. English teachers in lower grades teach how to decode, then read. After that it becomes about content. Thus, at the upper levels, they teach the kids how to read various genres. Social studies teachers should do the same. And same with math and science. Once students have memorized the times tables and the formulas for basic math, it's about problem solving. That's why story problems matter - it's application of the abstract concept.

There is much to consider in reforming schools, and no single issue or reform is the panacea. However, the importance of all teachers "teaching reading" in all classes is pretty high on my list.


Jordan Crawford said...

I fully disagree with the idea that it could be bad that your math homework is bad because it involves more writing than numbers. I do come at this from an AP calculus standpoint, which I admit will change my perception, but that doesn't change the facts of it. Math, at it's purest, is a very literary study. The real word is made up of words that have to be interpreted into number, not the other way around. Therefore it's crazy to claim that math should be exclusively about numbers. The real world asks for "If I invest $1000 at 2.5% interest per year compounded annually, how much money will I have after four years?" It never asks "Solve 1000(1+.025)^4." Math, by its very nature is a very literary thing.
I also agree with the claim that teaching literacy in all classes is a very high priority because reading is the way we interpret everything around us. In our modern setting, it's time to realize that almost all information is transmitted in the form of text. To learn, beyond the ability to speak, students need to be able decode and, to a greater degree, understand text. Without that ability, the educators will have trouble instigating learning in the minds of children. It is impossible to teach all reading comprehension in just English class, as English reading is quite different than math reading. In math you read to draw statistics from the text, while in English you have to read for details. Statistics and details are fundamentally different. I fully disagree with the quoted text and believe that the idea of "teaching reading" in every class is very important for the development of our school system.

mmazenko said...

Great points, Jordan. And well argued with extensive detailed support.