As a child, I remember participating in read-a-thons and reading days at my elementary school. At least once a year, we would all be encouraged to bring our favorite comfy blanket, snacks, and of course a great book to settle down with. There were no assignments or evaluations, just teachers and their students exploring how reading could take them any place they could imagine…
While skill building and reading proficiency are important aspects of improving literacy, some of the literacy movement’s biggest successes have come through efforts to change attitudes and beliefs about reading, leading to fundamental changes in the relationship children have with all types of literacy. Through a variety of approaches including school and community events like read-a-thons and family literacy nights, and in-class activities like Reader’s Theater and writing original stories, children are exposed to a wide range of ways to engage with literacy. Equally as important, there is an acknowledgement of the ability of every child to be literate, regardless of the form that literacy takes and the way each child choses to use that skill.
Unfortunately, our schools tend to avoid this type of holistic approach to other key subjects. As Lisa Delpit, an education scholar, states in her book Multiplication Is for White People: Raising Expectations for Other People’s Children, “The reality is that all children have much greater potential than we ever imagine, but our rigid educational system assumes that some children are incapable of achieving academically and that one model of instruction fits all.” Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the essential subject of Math. Too often we see children struggling to connect to mathematics at an early age, and assume the problem lies in that particular child’s ability to understand the subject. However, if we turn our focus to the way math is being taught, it becomes increasingly clear that we are failing to provide many children with an approach to math that fits their learning styles.
We need to expand our approach to math just as the literacy movement has done with reading. This requires placing an emphasis on ensuring that every child believes in their ability to understand and use math and has opportunities to engage with math in a variety of settings. This can be accomplished both inside and outside of the classroom. In the classroom, math games and activities integrating math into other subject areas like art and reading allow children to access key math concepts and build skills in a variety of creative ways. Beyond the classroom, a family math night can provide a space for the entire school community – kids, teachers, families, and other community members – to explore the role of math in their everyday lives and celebrate every child’s math accomplishments.
Changing our approach to math goes beyond skill building and proficiency. With a more inclusive approach to math, we can emphasize each child’s ability to define their own success. By placing our confidence in the agency and self-efficacy of every child, we can empower them to rise above the rigid parameters of the one size fits all approach to learning that dominants our current educational landscape.
Kate Sedney-Read is working at Zeno as a part of the MLK Americorp VISTA team, a program of Solid Ground focusing on anti-racism work in the non-profit setting. She grew up in Seattle, attending Montlake Elementary School, Hamilton Middle School, and Ingraham High School. Kate has a B.A. in Political Science from Knox College and previously worked in classrooms and other educational settings with the Washington Reading Corp.