Sunday, March 11, 2012

"new" Math, "new" Reading

One of Jason's co-workers was struggling to help his son in school. Apparently there is yet another "New Math".

The son does not understand how to do it. The dad has read the textbooks, met with the teacher, googled the subject, and watched YouTube videos explaining the new "easier" method. He still struggles to explain it to his son.

Finally, frustrated with yet another bad grade, he scheduled a conference with his son's teacher and informed her that he would be teaching his son "Old Math" - in other words, the basic arithmetic behind the math, what the math means - instead of this "New Math". And he fully expected that as long as the answer was correct, she would not mark his son down for it.

His son is doing much better now.


My niece was in first grade, and was struggling to learn to read, really struggling. This puzzled my sister, as my niece is very bright, and had been doing very well during her preschool-aged years while they were teaching her at home.

When they finally met with the teacher about it, they discovered the school only taught sight-reading, not phonics. In other words, children are taught to read by learning to identify what words look like, but are not taught what sounds letters make, how to sound words out, etc.

This explained why my niece knew words like "lady", but could not for the life of her figure out what the word "ladybug" was. It looked different.

My sister started working on her phonics skills at home - as well as my mom & I when we would see her - within a couple of months she not only caught up to the reading level of her fellow students, she surpassed it.

Now, more than five years later, she continues to be an avid reader, reading well above her grade level.


Stories like these make me very nervous about sending Jena to school in a few years.

I mean no offense if you are a fan of "New Math" or "Sight Reading", but hear me out, 'kay?

There is nothing wrong with learning new ways of doing things, or new ways of teaching things. None at all. Not everyone learns in the same way, so it is important for teachers to be able to adapt.

I have no problem with the concept of these ideas as tools, or options, to learning. Alternatives to help someone struggling, or shortcuts to be taught after the basics have been mastered.

The problem I have, is the way I have seen them implemented in the classroom, teaching them as alternatives to learning the basics.

If a child never learns the basics of math, of what addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division actually mean... then what have you really taught them?

If a child never learns what letters sound like in our language, how to sound words out... then how will they progress to more difficult words in the future? how will they learn other languages as they get older?

New concepts on teaching are fine... for the exception that is having difficulty grasping the traditional methods. But using them as shortcuts instead of teaching the mass of students the very basics of what they are actually doing, the root of their education... not okay in my book.

And lest we think this is a new problem, an example from my childhood....

I was in 2nd grade, and we were learning multiplication. I received my first bad grade, and the teacher called a conference with my parents. I don't remember the entire thing, but I do remember that somewhere during that meeting, they realized that I was struggling with memorization. So right there, during the conference, my teacher taught me that 2 x 3 is the same as 2 + 2 + 2. She taught me what multiplication was.

My grades went back up immediately. I was slower than my classmates for sure, but now I got it, now I could do the work because I knew what I was doing.

Ends up, I don't memorize things well. Didn't then, don't now. I struggled in high school, remembering formulas for chemistry & physics. I struggled in college, memorizin dates for history. For me, rote memorization of facts does not work. My brain does not work that way.

I struggled in pretty much any class that required me to memorize a list of anything.

And... now this took me till my late 20s to realize... there's nothing wrong with that.

What is wrong is our educational system thinking that if a child who is otherwise doing very well cannot memorize a list of facts, they must not be working hard enough, or must not be "getting it".

Getting what? You didn't teach me anything. You asked me to memorize a list. That isn't teaching.

On the occasions that I had a teacher gifted and patient and understanding enough to sit down with me and explain what I was actually supposed to be doing, instead of asking me to memorize lists? My grades improved every time. Every. Single. Time.

I still don't have my times tables memorized. But I can do multiplication in my head faster than most people who did.

I still don't know the years of the Civil War. But I can put it in context of what happened in our country, and abroad, before, during, and after the War.

In the end, which is more important for a student? Understanding their world, understanding what they are actually doing? or learning to take shortcuts so they can spit out the right answer?

As for me and my child... there will be no "New Math" in our house. No "Sight Reading". I will be that parent if need be, but my child will learn the basics of her world, she will learn the basics before she moves on to the shortcuts, and she will do the work before she learns to skip the work.


aside - Jena could recognize the word "stop" (from stop signs) at about 18 months. But no, I didn't tell people she could read. Soon though, as we're working on our phonics and at 3 yrs old she's learning to sound words out.


I am so that parent. Her teachers are either gonna love me or hate me. I don't see much of a middle ground here, do you?

this post inspired by this post


Amber said...

I think there might be a little bit of confusion with the teachers implementing those methods.

Reading instruction is sooooo much more complicated than simply phonics - of course I didn't know this until I went to school for teaching....

Dolch sight words are a list of the 220 most commonly used words in the english language and are taught by sight (memorization) for two purposes: fluency (aka speed the eyes tract across the page and USUALLY can't be sounded out easily.) For example, see, said, the, one yellow etc. The speed part isn't because we want every reader to fly across the page- its because children tire out doing the s u n for every single word. And by third grade they have to be able to read for information, which they can't do if they are still struggling with the basics.

Anywho, Dolch words are supposed to rolled out in tiny little chunks per grade level and used IN CONJUNCTION with phonics and phonemic awareness. If they aren't, then something is wrong with that teacher!

I know exactly what new math you are talking about - specifically with multiplication. What I like to do in my classroom is teach all three methods of multiplication then let the child decide which method makes the most sense to them and use it. They do have to show me the work - no matter what method they use- but I've gotten much much much better results across he board then by forcing them all to do the old method we grew up with.

There are so many dynamics in a classroom now that the old one size fits all approach doesn't work. Especially with inclusion and mainstreaming and having to "differentiate" the class. In fact, most of what we had as teaching - is pretty much obsolete. Part of it is teaching to a test. Teacher's jobs are on the line so they NEED results, by whatever method they come...Not the right reason, but a reason none the less.

These methods DO teach the basics - just in a way that you aren't familiar with and trust me - I had to rewire my thinking to learn these methods to teach them. We teach from more of a real world perspective then concept based like you and I grew up with. You'll see a whole lot more physical manipulatives (blocks, fraction, etc) used than we ever used as kids.

It is unfortunate that so much of elementary school is based on memorization....I feel for ya. As a teacher, I have about a thousand ways to help children memorize chunks of information - things our teachers never did....

In theory, children should be taught with a physical representation first (blocks etc) then with 2D pictures on a paper (pic of blocks next to problem) to reinforce that learning, then finally concept based (just problems).

LOL sorry I ranted on, and on! But I hope that helps you understand the purpose of these things a little bit better. And as a consequence, feel a little less trepidation about Firegirl going to school!

ChristineMM said...

I had the same concerns as you. I read about preschool methods and alternative schools such as Montessori and Waldorf and saw all the thought put into it. Then I asked what did American public schools believe? There is on one big educational pedagogy used to explain what they do and why. There is a lot of fad teaching. What happens in one school is not what happens in antoher school in the same town. What one town does is not what the other does. It varies by state to state.

That was it. We chose to homeschool. I started thinking of it when my kids were really little but over time the number of reasons to actually do it stacked up. First we started by home preschool and it was like life as normal for us. Then Kindergarten at home started, and on and on.

My kids are in grades 9 and 6 now and are still homeschooled.

We are a normal family with high education standards but I'm open to alternative methods. In these high school years we're getting more traditional as we are following NCAA rules in case my son wants to do his sport in college and also making sure he can get into college with the right pre-requisites (engineering school or science major, the younger wants to be an orthodontist, lawyer or an entrepreneur self-employed business owner after college).

Please look into homeschooling.

I will even talk to you about it if you want.

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