A few comments extending Martha's posting on numeracy/literacy...
Yesterday I immersed my basic math students in working through verbal (story, word, etc.) problems (that we call them that to begin with is intriguing).
I teach 3 sections and in each section, at least one student commented on the complexity of being able to see the math hidden in the words, even though the numbers are obvious. Most students see verbal problems as containing "tricks". We talked about this and agreed that it's very hard to tease out the math relationships that are embedded in the language. So we devised a general principle of a broad strategy for working on these kinds of problems. There are 3 keys to look for in verbal problems: (1) information, (2) relationships, and (3) what's the question. The issue is which words identify, or go with, each of these 3 parts. What I found amazing was how well the students could parse the sentences given these 3 broad categories but at the same time I noticed that their command of the language kept them from seeing some of the words as "connectors", or those words describing relationships.
It seems that math, in general, has been sterilized by removing it from real context and oversimplified it's significance. It has been seen as something independent of the ordinary and common daily actions, and thus it has been made mystical, magical, and not available to the general public. But, this is exactly what happens with language as well, if it's not taught in context.
I agree with Martha that perhaps the reluctance has to do with some language instructors feeling uncomfortable with math, but at the same time we might reassure them that we are sometimes uncomfortable with language. The key point however, is neither math or language instructors but rather the students. As long as ABE systems are exclusionary, then students will continue to see it as we see it - non-integratable, specialized, and each area containing its' uniqueness when indeed there is considerable overlap if we choose to see it that way ... later ... mark
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