8 September 2008 09:56 AM

Teaching Math continued...

by Dr. Rick

We owe a great debt of gratitude to the researchers and educators who, in the past generation, have pointed out that children learn in many different ways, at vastly different speeds, and at varying times in their development. Learning is not even and incremental.  Hills and valleys. The works of ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Howard Gardner, for instance, have been enormously helpful to students and teachers alike. 


These researchers and educators have unlocked ways to reach all students. But while improving teaching and schooling, they have arguably also complicated them. Trying to find the math textbook, the way to teach all kids, the way to train all teachers, the lock-step sequence for all children to learn math (or reading, or writing, or tuba-playing) is an exercise in futility if one-size-fits-all instruction is inherently ineffective, wasteful of many students’ talents, and dangerously out-of-date.


So why do we insist on doing it?


de Vise does us a service by pointing out the situation. Schools that have many different ways to teach math to their students and math-teaching techniques to their teachers are taking the right steps. The next steps, of course, are to make sure that students are getting the right method: discovery, textbook-structured, or, probably for most kids, a balance?  Algebra in eighth, seventh, or even sixth grade? Ten focal points this year or sixty-seven, or somewhere in the middle?


This poses more challenges for adults, but isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing – looking out for the best interests of each and every child?


Instead of arguing about the one text, the one method, the one philosophy of teaching math to all students, let’s instead ensure that our teachers are able to provide the right text, the right method, the right philosophy for each individual child. It’s only then that children will be able to see math for what it is, solving problems, each with many ways of getting to the solution. Choosing the best way depends on how well you’ve been taught math.


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