Saturday, December 10, 2011

Numeracy drives literacy

It has been asserted that literacy initiatives can assist in developing numeracy in schools.  In disadvantaged schools it is common to place high levels of effort into literacy programmes (often aspirational programmes with few measures attached and responsibility for results thinly spread throughout all staff).  I can't count the amount of times I have been shown how to draw a mind map or a jigsaw in PD and then told that I need to implement them in my classrooms.

It's not that I haven't tried, it's just that there is little measurable improvement afterward.  I think secondary teachers roll their eyes and think 'here is some more primary junk' (I'm censoring here) that doesn't apply well in upper secondary classes.

That's not to say that numeracy based subjects (particularly maths) do not have a part in driving literacy - especially at the pointy end of students heading towards university.  In fact I would say that mathematics has a higher impact on the motivation of students to do well in English than English itself does.

For students in disadvantaged areas, the vast majority of students get to university through math/science pathways rather than humanities pathways.  This is 'generally' due to the raft of reasons  students fail to enjoy reading at an early age.  (I say generally as this is not a simple topic and has been the subject of a lot of angst amongst teachers.  I do not claim to have the answer for this other than to continuing to encourage parents to read to kids and then continue to investigate ESL pathways, bridging courses and technological innovations for avenues to develop reading and writing).

For math/science kids, their fundamental barrier to university entry is in English as English in some form is compulsory.  Math and Science teachers are cognisant of this and draw attention to comprehension and literacy at every opportunity.  We teach explicitly the meaning of words and how to construct strictly logical arguments through proof.  Students learn method and can apply the method with the reasonable understanding that the endpoint is a correct answer (which can be abstracted into other subjects).  We teach students to identify teaching moments, take and make effective notes and prepare effectively for examinations.  These are tangible and measurable improvements to their English language usage/literacy!

We emphasize to students to work hard in English - often to the detriment of our own subjects.  Students have motivation to work in English because it is a necessary evil.  Without success in mathematics and science, they would not even try to succeed in English, what would be the point?  They cannot in most cases succeed in a purely humanities pathway.  They would be relegated to non university pathways as quick as you can say.. well.. Ingrish.

I think in our school I can say that in upper school Numeracy drives Literacy.  Without Maths and science, our stage 2 and 3 English classes would be considerably smaller and we would have far less students with the motivation to even try.

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