April 04, 2007

If We Taught English the Way We Teach Mathematics... Excuse me, but I think that foreign-language teaching often takes the form described.

My experience is somewhat better. What's your experience, with maths and foreign languages?

  • I always found math classes in school to be shit, so I took them at the friendly neighborhood college instead. I hardly found them interesting there either. To this day, most of my mathematics knowledge is self-taught. As for English, my teachers had the extraordinary ability to suck the life right out of the classics of the Western literary canon, so I took the bare minimum required to graduate. I didn't have an enjoyable English class until my third year at university, where I lucked into a graduate seminar on grammar, and 90% of the time was spent methodically bitchslapping various authors of English grammar texts. Maybe I went to a rubbish school, but I have come to think that one cannot make subjects interesting to others. One must discover the joy of learning oneself. (The article is interesting, though.)
  • There is a great focus on the minutiae of the subject, and almost no effort to help students grasp the bigger picture of why the subject might be interesting, and what it can say about us, and about the world. Was most definitely my experience, until I landed into my most-feared course of my final year in undergrad: calculus. Although the professor could hardly speak a lick of English, he approached it in a manner that was both enlightening and insightful. Something "clicked" in my head and suddenly it all made sense. I nearly cried for joy, having been tormented and abused by the countless math instructors years prior. This is also a reason why I'm happy to let my toddler watch Cyber Chase (which he seems to enjoy greatly).
  • Why can't the Yankees teach their children how to add? If the Finns can do it, it cannot be so bad. For me, the approach to math varied wildly with the individual teachers. In my experience, the worst math teacher (at the elementary or high school level, anyway) is a natural math whiz. It's hard for that person to put himself in his students' shoes. And yes, it's only been since I've been out of school that I've appreciated hoiw much of the stuff I learned in math class I use every single day. One of the best things my fourth-grade teacher did was to teach us the multiplication tables subliminally. He had them set to music (on 45's, no less) and played them in the background whenever we were doing quiet work or recreation. By mid-year we all had them stone-cold memorized without spending a bit of effort or anxiety on them. (Although the 5's record tended to skip, and I still get "5 times 12 is 60... 5 times 12 is 60... 5 times 12 is 60... stuck in my head from time to time.) I agree with what the article said about finding a happy medium between common methods for teaching math and for teaching one's native language.
  • I just could get math. Right from the beginning. I remember never learning how to properly "show my work" in long subtraction. I could just do it. I didn't understand how to show the work, and I didn't care. I knew the answer, and I knew it quickly. I zipped through math courses until I took Linear Algebra and Calculus III in college. At that point, it suddenly became difficult. To pass, I was going to need to go to class and to do homework. Being the person I was at the time, I suddenly decided that math wasn't for me and I ditched it entirely. Up to that point, I had been a math major because I enjoyed it so much. What I really enjoyed was getting A's without doing much work. There is something different about math that allows for some people to "get it" before they are even taught it. This has to make teaching math that much more difficult. I don't think this happens as much with other subjects.
  • I was a finicky student in grade school, so I did well in whatever appealed to me at the time. My grades would swing wildly, depending on what was being taught that semester. That being said, I never much cared for when math was taken out of the abstract. Problems with trains going this way and that -- I found it all ridiculous. I preferred abstract thinking. The times tables bored me to death (to the point where I still have trouble today, especially with the six-sevens-eights), but the more abstract and reasoned, the better. Geometry was probably my best area in math. I could always do math -- it was just a question of if I could be interested enough to actually bother. As for languages, our French and Latin classes were shite, with just rote repetition of words and phrases, and no attempt made to get us to actually understand what we were saying or doing beyond whatever funny sounds we were making. English classes were fairly dull (and mostly spelling and handwriting exercises) until grade seven, when we got a Grammar Drill Instructor. We all hated her at the time, but she proved the most useful in the end. What this tells you, other than I was a difficult kid to teach, I have no idea.
  • pHU(|< 3|\|9L1$|-|
  • Math?!? *chk-chk* You just get the hell off my porch, mister.
  • MonkeyFilter: methodically bitchslapping various authors of English grammar texts As an English major, I can relate. *picks up pitchfork Math teacher? Let's go get'em, boys.
  • My father-in-law is a much better maths teacher than website designer