Ok, so why should we include language arts (english, literature, etc.) in math classes?
If I told you to just trust me, you may not believe me…just like how our students/children may not believe us when we tell them learning math is good for them.
But, first, what does it mean to integrate language arts?
Integrating can include a variety of things: speaking, reading, and writing, etc.
So here are some reasons for why integrating language arts into math classes can be beneficial.
Why You Should Add Language Arts to Your Math Curriculum
1. Correlation between language processing and exact math calculations
MIT researchers made an interesting discovery about the similarities between how the brain processes language arts and mathematics.
Exact arithmetic calculations are determined by using the same area of the brain as language processing. This means that we can leverage this correlation to potentially improve middle school math students’ understanding of math concepts by providing writing opportunities in conjunction with math instruction.
2. Multifaceted Problems
School schedules are structured around subject areas, which conveys the idea that they are not interdependent. However, we all recognize that is not how real life operates.
By incorporating multiple subjects into a single session (in this case, math and language arts), students can begin applying cross-curricular knowledge. This, in turn, can help reinforce the primary–in this case, math–subject area.
Hands-on, Embedded Learning
Research, such as that conducted by Vygotsky, support the idea of “providing students with an active, hands‐on role by embedding learning in authentic experiences within a social setting”.
4. Student-Centered Learning
Integrating language arts into mathematics classes can shift the focus to the student, and away from the teacher and/or tests. The incorporation of writing (as well as speaking, listening, etc.) can turn any math class into a student-centered classroom with a focus on reflection and open-ended questions (e.g., how would you approach this problem?).
Suggestions for How You Can Integrate Language Arts in Math Classes
1. Mathematical Autobiographies
All the way back in 2007, Deborah Feldman recommended this activity as a way to have students engage with math by writing about their personal experiences with math (games they play, how they use math, feelings about the subject, etc.).
I could see expanding this to include setting goals for what they hope to accomplish in class. Also, incorporating personal reflection personal reflection following exams would allow students to take pause and consider how they performed and map out their own improvement plan.
In this Edutopia article, Alessandra King highlights how having students create a magazine comprised of articles from various sources that incorporate mathematical concepts. Some examples from an issue include use of machine learning to predict March Madness winners, use of computers for gerrymandering, and adults’ difficulty with fractions.
Each student must write a summary for their article, which includes engaging with the the mathematical concepts discussed. Creating and reading the final magazine can help students see real-world applications of the concepts they are being asked to learn.
I recall my days in math classes where teachers would either select someone or ask for a volunteer to answer a math problem. This often involved certain levels of anxiety, and could potentially neglect certain students who may not understand a concept.
Think-Write-Share exercises can offer students time to reflect on their knowledge of a specific concept. Teachers can then ask students to share either with a partner or with the class. For the teacher, this can be a quick way to determine just how well the class as a whole understands that day’s topic. For students, being able to explain a concept in words can help reinforce the concept.
4. Reader’s Theater
Reader’s theater is when participants read from a script adapted from literature, and the audience imagines the action from the script being read aloud; no props are used.
For math classes, reader’s theater can be a good way to have learners orally describe mathematical concepts. In turn, the audience hears the concepts real aloud by their peers, and the concepts are incorporated into a real world setting. The example provided by Emilee Blake is of two students sharing a pizza, and describing what fraction of the pizza remains after slices are eaten.
Marilyn Burns believes storybooks can be a way to build on the confidence some students have with reading, but may lack with math.
My favorite example she provides used the book Inch by Inch, which follows an inchworm as escapes being eaten by agreeing to measure a bird’s tail. It then moves on to measuring other animals
Ms. Burns then has the students conduct activities (e.g., trying to find items in the classroom that measure one inch) that relate back to the story.
What excellent ways to create engagement with math!
Revoicing is not a novel concept: lots of teachers will repeat what a students says in order to provide room for a student to clarify his/her statement.
In my experience, math classes traditionally feature less revoicing than other areas. This article presents a revoicing scenario. But, it also suggests using revoicing between students as well!
Inter-student revoicing accomplishes the same goal of ensuring the teacher understands what students are thinking. It adds the extra benefit of increasing participation among the entire class.
7. Learning Logs / Math Journals
Returning to the idea of student reflection, learning logs and math journals both encourage students to reflect on the state of their mathematical knowledge and communicate via writing.
Either of these could be used as a class opening prompt, or as a post-test writing assignment. As with other language arts integration examples on this page, the intent is to help learners transform factual information into constructed meaning.
Bring Stories to Life: Integrating Literature and Math Manipulatives
Unfortunately many of you may not be able to access this article, but the article primarily covers:
During a shared reading experience, students used manipulatives to represent plot and characters while demonstrating mathematical reasoning
The study focused on second graders, but could be applicable to other grades as well. The key is selecting stories that have scenarios that can be represented through a mathematical expression, or could otherwise be mathematically represented.