Education Week - April 1, 2015 - (Page 32)

COMMENTARY What Reading Instruction Can Teach Us About Math Instruction By Marilyn Burns F rom more than 50 years of teaching experience, I've learned that elementary school teachers are typically more comfortable teaching reading. They delight in watching students become readers. They enjoy students' rapt attention when they read books aloud to them. They love discussing the ideas that books inspire. They have a variety of teaching strategies and ways to organize students for reading instruction. I've also learned, sadly, that when it comes to math, the same qualities don't always exist. Teachers often tell me that they come to math with a combination of trepidation, fear of the subject matter, and a general "uncomfortableness." A sense of confidence is often missing from teaching math, as are feelings of joy and delight. Math time is often serious and tense. Rigor and seriousness are essential, but so are the excitement and creativity that teachers generate when teaching language arts. Of course, in some important ways, learning to read and learning math are different. One disparity became clear to me while reading a novel on an airplane. Several times I came upon words that were unfamiliar. Still, I kept on reading and didn't get lost. Even if I had been home, I doubt that I would have checked a dictionary. Most likely, I would have continued reading and still made sense of what was going on. But in math, if you miss one blip in class, you fall off the learning ladder. You have to back up and start again to pick up the piece you missed. That's the way math is-you can't skip a step and stay with it-whereas in reading, it's possible to continue and let the context of what you're reading carry you. Similarities do exist between learning to read and learning math. For example, both involve skills. But this similarity also leads to another difference: For reading, there's one gatekeeper skill, decoding. While decoding alone isn't sufficient for reading proficiency, it's the essential skill that gives readers access to the entire world of printed matter. Unfortunately, this isn't the case for math. As early learners, children learn to count and add and subtract small numbers; next, they learn about place value and working with greater numbers; then they move on to multiply and divide. They do all of this first with whole numbers, and then face fractions and decimals and how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide them as well. In math, there's no one gatekeeper skill that students can practice and perfect: The concepts and skills build and build. It can be daunting. But other similarities exist. For example, when a child is learning to read, everybody knows that reading proficiency is all about bringing meaning to the printed page. I can "read" anything in Spanish, since " The standard for math should be the same as the standard for reading: bringing meaning to the printed symbols." I've studied some Spanish, yet still not understand much of what I'm reading. I can "read" about string theory, yet not fully grasp the concepts. No one finds it acceptable to think of a child as a proficient reader if he or she can pronounce the words but doesn't understand the material. Comprehension is the key to being a successful reader. The same standard should hold true for math. If children have memorized the math facts and can perform computational procedures, teachers often think of them as proficient. But we've seen over and over again how children can borrow, carry, bring down, or invert and multiply without understanding why the procedures work or how to apply them to problem-solving situations. The standard for math should be the same as the standard for reading: bringing meaning to the printed symbols. In both situations, skills and understanding must go hand in hand. The challenge is: How do we help students develop meaning and make sense of what they do? A few years ago, when I was leading a professional-learning session at a school, I asked the teachers to list what they thought was important in their instructional program for reading and language arts. I had them do this first in small groups, and then we went around the room and I recorded as each group reported something from list. Here are some examples of what they said: *We want our students to love reading. *We want them to develop good wordattack skills. *We want them to read fluently. * We use a variety of teaching strategies-shared reading, guided reading, independent reading, read-alouds. *We include comprehension from the very start. * We ask children to make predictions about what might come next in a story. *We do a lot of making inferences. *We want students to decipher meaning from contexts. *We ask them to pose questions about what they're reading. * We want them to identify what's important and what's not as important in what they read. After we had gone around the room several times, and I had filled two sheets of chart paper with their ideas, the teachers were still excited. They had a lot to say, and they radiated enthusiasm. I then said, "Let's review each statement, change the reference from reading to math, and see what we discover." Doing this made some of the teachers uncomfortable. Some admitted that the focus on comprehension and thinking skills that was so prevalent in their language arts instruction was missing from their math instruction. Others noticed that the confidence they felt in articulating PAGE 27 > MARILYN BURNS is a teacher, provider of in-service training and professional development, conference speaker, and writer. The author of more than a dozen books for children, she has created more than 20 professional-development resources for teachers and administrators, including Math Solutions. Her widely read book About Teaching Mathematics was released in its fourth edition last month. Steve Braden for Education Week | INSIDE | 24 DECRIMINALIZING SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: WHY BLACK MALES MATTER 24 THE ESEA AT 50: PERSPECTIVES FROM THE ARCHIVES " 32 | EDUCATION WEEK | April 1, 2015 | 25 THE TICKING CLOCK OF AMERICAN EDUCATION 26 LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - April 1, 2015

K-12 Law’s Legacy Blend of Idealism, Policy Tensions
Testing Security Prompts Scrutiny Of Social Media
Virtual Spec. Ed. Is Evolving Option
Turnover at Top Can Leave Funders Wary
Education Week - April 1, 2015
News in Brief
Report Roundup
New Studies Affirm Impact of Board-Certified Teachers
Blogs of the Week
Honored Educator Decries Current Climate for Teaching
‘Opt-Out’ Push Sparks Queries For Guidance
Texas Lawmakers Wrangle A Herd of Education Measures
A View From the Top As the Policy Clock Ticks
Blogs of the Week
TYRONE HOWARD: Decriminalizing School Discipline: Why Black Males Matter
THE ESEA AT 50: Perspectives From the Archives
REBECCA GIVENS ROLLAND: The Ticking Clock of American Education
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
MARILYN BURNS: What Reading Instruction Can Teach Us About Math Instruction

Education Week - April 1, 2015