TEQ #11: Can Math Students Write about a Difficult Problem? – Mario Kersey

As an English teacher and parent of two, I am constantly thinking about the right words to say to unlock the door for my students (and kids) to understand a concept or skill.  Recently a question formed about another subject that proved to be my nemesis for nearly all of my high school years: MATH! Keeping with the antagonist theme, many of my students viewed their math teachers as villains.  I never felt that way about my math teachers, I simply thought I was too stupid to understand the concepts.  Was/is there another way to help the math stricken? It’s a question I have never asked to a math teacher now that I am a teacher. I hope this missive spark a conversation between the two often portrayed oppositional subjects.

Math, if you’ll pardon the pun, didn’t cause any problems until seventh grade.  Ms. McQueen like every other teacher I would have from that point on explained all concepts nearly the same: solve what you see.  Now, my time as an official middle and high school student is fast approaching three decades ago, so I am certain there has been changed.  My query for all math teachers would be how to you reach the students like I was? (By the way, I eventually taught math in a GED course.)

What I did as a GED instructor was the same as my math teachers did.  I can understand if some math teachers still teach that way.  But, as stated earlier, I have begun thinking about the kids with the linguistic intelligence.  Would a verbal or written interaction with the math provide a way for those students to conceptualize the how and why of an equation?

When the topic of writing across the curriculum comes up, the sound of retching, shifting in seats, and groaning occurs.  I have my theories why that is but that’s a topic for another day.  When dealing with novels of complexity, say 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I assign the students to create a dialectical journal.  With this journal the students are essentially have a conversation with text by commenting on the rhetorical and literary devices the author uses.

They can also possibly make connection on a personal level by noticing similarities between them and some of the characters within the text.  When done, the students are able to provide a more authentic discussion beyond a quick search in Cliff or Sparknotes.

Have any math teachers thought of doing or are doing a dialectical journal for the struggling students who want to do well, but it’s all Greek to them?  I have not asked this question to any Math teacher yet.  I will ask my math colleagues if the thought ever crossed their minds in about a month.  I do find interaction with math teachers on a cross curricular level to be a rare event.  In fact, I don’t recall ever discussing pedagogy in any capacity to math teacher in my career.  With my own children eventually taking the more difficult math once they enter high school, I want to be better equipped to help. Hopefully, I can begin to learn from my what I gain from those who respond to this writing and my own colleagues.


Mario Kersey teaches or has taught AP Language and Composition,  AP Literature and Composition,  AP Seminar, English 1-4, and creative writing (He prefers calling the latter CREATING LITERATURE.). Baking and cooking is his escape into physics and chemistry that is quite tasty to friend and foe alike.  When he is not engage in the art and craft of teaching and writing, he reads from his massive comic book collection.  He has his own dynamic duo of two boys with assistance from his lovely wife, Ella.

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