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Coupling Math and Writing

Live from NCTE in Chicago

In a session called "A Marriage of Math and Reading," two ELA teachers and their math-teacher husbands described the beginnings of a collaborative research study on the effects of incorporating writing into math class. (Despite the title, there wasn't much talk of reading at all.) The four teachers are working with Amy and John Lannin, a husband/wife team of professors at the University of Missouri, Columbia, to conduct their research.

Over six weeks, the husbands assigned writing activities in their math classes, such as exit slips in which they asked students to write down what they learned and the questions they still have. Ryan Pingrey, who teaches at Hickman High School in Columbia, said one of the benefits he saw right away was that students who were hesitant to speak up in class were not hesitant to put their thoughts on paper. Asking students to write has given him better insight into what concepts his students are and are not grasping as well as helped him build relationships with quieter kids.

This kind of cross-curricular writing is nothing new, and the researchers were not claiming to have reached any definitive answers in the first month and a half of a year-long study. But the session did kick off an interesting discussion about whether math teachers should correct grammar in writing assignments. There's certainly a time management issue there, but the greater philosophical question is whether each (secondary school) teacher is responsible for only their content or student learning as a whole. Should students focus on expressing what they know about the math concepts without having to worry about style and grammar issues? Or should they be expected to use "college- and career-ready" writing at all times? The presenters argued for no copyediting, while at least one math teacher in the audience felt strongly that students should be held to high writing standards at all times. It's a dilemma that teachers of all subjects face. Where do you stand on the issue?

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