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Wisdom from an English Syllabus

August 24, 2011

It’s getting harder and harder to find time to update this. Week 2 is in progress – I’m attempting to re-teach solving linear equations without actually explicitly reteaching it. Think along the lines of “these two segments are congruent – one is 2x + 5, the other is 17. How long are both segments?” Then play that game with angles and bisectors, and be sure to bring in enough real-world examples to keep it relevant (such as street layouts from google maps, which turn into distance problems; or pool shot/light reflection problems with some Donald Duck in Mathmagicland action), and make sure your kids are working in groups enough that the ones who remember this can help those that forgot over summer. My goal is to, by the end of the week, have every student (1) capable of solving a linear equation & (2) know the basic definitions and notations of geometry, without them realizing that (1) is one of my major goals this week. We’ll see how I do.

Anyway – that’s not why I decided to venture into the blogosphere. The above paragraph has nothing to do with an English Syllabus. The one below does.

I’ve always been fascinated by the overlap between Analyzing a Literary Text and Solving a Mathematical Problem (closely related educational buzzword: Content Literacy). I think the two processes are related. You can even apply the Exploratory Problem Model to analyzing a literary text: predict what you think will happen in a text/analyze your mood towards a particular topic as a result of reading the text (inductive step), then go back and figure out why you’re having the thoughts you’re having (deductive step). In any case, an amazing teacher in the world of undergraduate composition sent me her syllabus and a few choice lines caught my eye, which I feel cross some disciplinary boundaries (the bolded sections are my emphasis, not hers):

  • Ask questions – we have been subtly trained to believe questions reflect a lack of intelligence, or that if one has questions about a text or idea, then the questioner does not or cannot comprehend the material. Conversely, true learning and understanding begins with questions, rather than statements about an idea. Much of our discussions and activities are built through investigation of a text or idea through questions, so create questions about the readings, the material, and the concepts at hand, and share them in class: it will make you a stronger thinker and writer.
  • Speak up in class: interrogate the readings and material as a detective would a suspect. Investigate concepts rigorously, and from as many viewpoints as you can
  • Utilize your instructor – … (the rest of this sentence is unimportant – I just really like the phrasing of this first clause. utilize. Good word – MathyMc)

Back to the grind – see you next time I surface for air

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