Techniques for teaching spelling can be used for teaching math [Letter]

March 15, 2013

After reading Pete Pichaske's article ("A new way to teach spelling," March 7), I felt spurred on to reframe the issue of mathematical literacy. Ineffective teaching strategies for spelling have also been used for mathematics (ex. memorization). Teaching students merely the operations of math, without discussing what it is that makes math interesting (patterns, both shape and number), will only serve to demoralize students and destroy their intellectual curiosity about the beautiful subject that I have studied for over 20 years and hold so dear to my heart.

While it is true that children need to learn simple arithmetic, it needs to be taught in a way that the child understands, concretely, and at home, prior to formal schooling. Help your children out by teaching them to count, using rocks, coins or other counters.  None of this needs to involve writing numbers (the abstract concept) at least until they can understand how five counters is represented by 5.  For many children, the disconnect starts here; they are taught that "1+5=6" without understanding what these symbols mean. This disconnect carries all the way through high school (and shows in their generally inadequate MSA scores) and college, where students (and I know this from first-hand experience teaching them) cannot add, subtract, multiply or divide simple numbers without reaching for a calculator.

Additionally, by using the spelling techniques recently employed by the public school teachers, elementary school teachers may help students "chunk" numbers into different categories (even and odd, square, triangular, et al.). They can give students enriching mathematical education that will inspire students to continue in math beyond what is merely required. By teaching them how to learn math, rather than making them memorize tables, facts and figures, students will be better critical thinkers, better problem-solvers, better overall students, and yes, even better test-takers.

Andrew L. Brown


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