Tuesday, 14 August 2012

"Whatever method worked..."

From Ira Lightman on my facebook page:

Michael, I heartily agree with you about challenging Gove on high pressured "only criterion of success" immediate necessity times tables learning. The pressure is horrible. I do visiting artist / poet work in schools to improve maths learning. I enthuse so much, and am quite effective, that teachers themselves start to try liking maths again and, in that conversation with me, routinely confess to some humiliation in their own childhood where some maths skill (considered "easy" by one method only of doing it) had humiliated them in class or in front of a parent. I myself never scored less than 90% at maths, and have natural recall (I have been diagnosed as "verging on the autistic spectrum") but my eldest son, now 10, had great troubles with maths, especially rote learning. What maths spods who dislike language don't get is, as you say when you blog about sudoku, all maths operations are abstraction piled on abstraction. The student needs to feel safe. It's like classical music. One needs to HEAR all the lines before one can appreciate harmony and counterpoint. My son disliked turning quantities into symbols for numbers. He likes reality, chunky knobbly reality. That's why he loves words. Words feel unique one from the other to him, in each context of each story. Conventional maths teaching loves to categorize and affix an absolute value to each of the symbols 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,0. That's why spods (like me) who disliked confusing social interaction at school leap on it (and, later in life, need poetry to broaden them). I taught my son every Saturday morning by WHATEVER METHOD WORKED, visualizing, using analogy, rhythm, a little dance, and NO MATTER HOW SLOW. This teaches mathematical thinking, and has been an education for me. I held his hand through every spaghetti junction of abstraction until he perceived it. My son is now in the top five of mathematicians in his class, yet still gets punished for being too slow at it. But he is slowly recognizing times tables because he has encountered them manipulating them so often. Like learning a second language. The problem with maths learning is the culture around it, adults who failed with jealousy, adults who succeeded but whom nobody integrated back into the social world and feel like the Master Race of the Misunderstood. As with your work on books, the key is immersion, play, and questions.