Just sayin’ (literacy and numeracy)

It now seems to be widely accepted in literacy circles that kids should be encouraged to read. And that it does not matter very much what they read, they should be encouraged to read. Fiction, non-fiction, classics, graphic novels. It doesn’t matter as long as they’re encountering new vocabulary, important narrative structures, etc. They just need to read. In school or out of school, they just need to read.

We’re not there yet in mathematics.

In math, we think they need to work on these number facts at this grade level, and those number facts at that grade level. Identify this shape at this grade and sort those shapes at that grade.

We have free reading time in class every day in elementary school. But free math time?

I’m just sayin’.

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11 responses to “Just sayin’ (literacy and numeracy)

  1. Yep. Playing with math is the key to liking it, which is the key to learning more of it..

  2. “Yep. Playing with math is the key to liking it, which is the key to learning more of it..”

    I think you could easily reason this exactly backwards “Learning more of it is the key to liking it.” We tend to enjoy things we are successful. We should help students become good at math so that they can enjoy it. Competence first, enjoyment second.

    Of course in reality these ideas enjoyment/competence are linked in a complex way. Where most of us derive our success and enjoyment at the same time.

    Also the English/reading teachers are wrong. There are good/better things to read for learning and bad/worse things to read. And given freedom many students will choose things that don’t stretch their learning. Teachers need to guide students to more valuable reading materials.

    • As a college math teacher, I have to say — I see plenty of students who are “competent at math” (as if mathematics were a skill!), but far too few who are interested or creative. In my experience, when people speak of “success” or “competence” in math, they usually mean an aptitude for following directions. By college, most of my students have quite enough of that, thank you.

      If you aren’t already familiar with it, search for “Lockhart’s Lament” (a PDF file) and read at least the very first page. I think he makes a pretty good analogy to what you’re saying.

  3. Whenever I have “free” time with my middle school advisory, I take out the puzzles (soma cube, various knot puzzles, wooden animals, tangrams, etc.)

    I sit down and start to work a puzzle. It’s like bees to honey.

    I’m with you, Christopher.

  4. “Competence first, enjoyment second” sounds a lot like the prevailing theory of music instruction.

    There’s something to be said for the mastery of fundamental skills, but I’ve known a lot of competent musicians who never really learned how to enjoy playing music.

  5. Mimi at http://untilnextstop.blogspot.com had an interesting post a few weeks back about assigning for homework to do any 10 problems out of the book (so students choose what they want to/need to work on, and Mathy McMatherson’s most recent post (http://mathymcmatherson.wordpress.com) was about making a wall of remediation helps and worksheets for students to choose from. It’s not the same as doing math for fun, but it’s interesting that just by letting students pick what to work on, they are getting a positive response.

  6. Christopher…

    I’m with you on this one but I want to extend the argument even further. Illiteracy is viewed as the biggest crime in a modern intellectual society yet people viewed as “intellectuals” are often guilty of speaking freely about their own lack of numeracy. Literacy is clearly valued over numeracy.

    • Biggest annoyance, meyerbryan, when I hear people make this claim. I do my small part by asking parents at back to school night to NOT say this to their kids. (It’s the last slide on my presentation – I want them to leave my room with that.)
      I think we as teachers have a lot to do with whether kids enjoy math or not. Unfortunately many elementary teachers having to teach multiple subjects that it’s unlikely that math is their favorite, therefore kids at a young age regard math only as a subject at school. I want to believe that a teacher’s math passion and enjoyment are contagious. But good lesson delivery is everything too. I’ve had math professors who were so boring they made me want to stick needles in my eyes.

  7. (madteacher15 is me, Fawn.) I was using my iPad to comment and guess it defaulted to my school WordPress account.

  8. Pingback: Place value and language | Overthinking my teaching

  9. Pingback: Help! My parent and my teacher are both apps | Overthinking my teaching

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