What I’ve Learned About Teaching Literacy From Teaching Math (Part 2)

We are teaching in a pandemic.  I am teaching first graders who are learning from home. I have decided to use the SOLC as a place to reflect on this experience.  I hope this reflection will help me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person.  Maybe it will help others too.

31 Things I’ve Learned from Being a Remote Grade 1 Teacher

As you probably know, I’m a literacy person.  You may also know that I’ve been teaching a first grade class (remotely) this year.  That means that I’ve had to teach all subjects, including math.  At first I was worried.  I don’t know much about how children develop as mathemeticians.  I don’t have knowledge of the content or the progression or the approach to teaching math in our district.  And so I learned, with the help of many.  I began to study the teaching of math.  I asked questions of our amazing math coach. I read some of the research. I had a chance to hear Marilyn Burns speak twice (once with Jen Serravallo and once with Lucy Calkins).  I’ve learned some things while teaching math that I want to think more about in my literacy work.  Here are some of them:

Inquiry:  I think kids would benefit from more inquiry in their literacy work.  I remember years ago we used to show a piece of writing or read a section of text and simply ask, “What do you notice?” The high engagement and level of thinking from students was pretty remarkable. I think we can do more of this.  I heard Paul Anderson talk about science instruction last week and he talked about how this kind of inquiry provides access for all, full inclusion.  This seems worth some exploration (an inquiry, perhaps).

Give the the Answer: Marilyn Burns talks about the importance of focusing on process in mathematics.  She encourages teachers to give kids the answer to problems and then push students to show their process.  How did they get to the answer? I’m wondering if we could do this in literacy too.  What if, when we were studying character traits, we said, “Here’s the character trait.  Now….How can you figure that out?  What are the clues that got you there?” or, in writing, “Here’s how you would punctuate that sentence.  Why is this so?”  I’m just starting to think about how we might try some of this out in our literacy classrooms.

More Manipulatives: For many children the math and literacy concepts we are teaching are quite abstract.  In teaching math, I’ve seen how helpful manipulatives can be in helping students really understand a concept.  Is there a place for some of this in literacy?  

More Games: Saying this makes me a little nervous.  What I don’t want is for literacy work to become silly.  I don’t want a bunch of literacy games taking the place of independent reading and writing, and the authentic work of the reading and writing workshop.  But I have seen how engaged children are in the math games and activities.  They are learning math concepts, and having fun (often with other children) learning them. I wonder if there is a place for some game-like work in literacy.  

So now I’m embracing the work I was pushed to do in math this year.  It’s helping me do some new thinking that might make our literacy work stronger.  

5 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned About Teaching Literacy From Teaching Math (Part 2)”

  1. Great wonders. I think Patterns of Power addresses the inquiry with conventions you mention here. Teachers at our school have come back to it recently and always comment on how engaged the kids are. Always more to learn and think about!

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