“English teachers differentiate all the time. Why don’t math teachers?”
I’ve heard this more than once. It irks me for a couple of reasons.
First, I’m not convinced that most English teachers do differentiate. After all, students still read The Outsiders in English 8. I read The Outsiders in English 8. The year was 1987. Do the math. Twenty. Five. Years. Are we to believe that this same group of educators have been too busy in the last quarter of a century meeting the diverse needs of all of their learners to find time to pick a different novel? During this time, Tom Cruise, who starred in the movie adaptation, found time to get married and divorced– three times! Google outsiders essay. Three million five hundred ninety thousand results. I’m just sayin’.
Second, if differentiated instruction is more common in English class than it is in math class, it may be because it is easier. Some teachers of English 8 may simply assign an alternate book to read based on reading level. What can teachers of Math 8 simply do?
I’ve seen samples of those Outsiders essays. I’m no English teacher, but some of them wouldn’t look out of place in a Grade 3 classroom. Others could easily have been written by a first-year university student. In fact, Google search results suggest that maybe they were.
In English Language Arts, from Grade 1 to 12, students brainstorm, draft, revise, edit, and publish. In short, they write. What is the equivalent in Mathematics?¹ Complete this sentence: In Mathematics, from Kindergarten to Calculus, students…
It’s not so easy, is it? Two-thirds of the Three Rs can be verbs. English gets to read and to write. Math gets a noun. Differentiating narrow nouns–numbers to 10 000 in Grade 4, integers in Grade 8, logarithms in Grade 12–is difficult. What verb could math teachers have?
The answer, I think, is to problem-solve. The BC mathematics curriculum document supports this: “Learning through problem-solving should be the focus of mathematics at all grade levels.” However, school mathematics is often taught in such a way that students do not encounter problem-solving on a regular basis. Sadly, to practice might be more accurate of students’ math classroom experiences. This is not mathematics.
Regardless of how or if English teachers differentiate, one size fits all math instruction is not acceptable. I am in no way letting my fellow math teachers off the hook. I am, however, suggesting that questions like “Why don’t math teachers differentiate like English teachers?” are not accurate or helpful. We’re not so different after all.
Pushback, as always, is welcome but must be expressed in the form of a five-paragraph essay.
¹ I’m having a “Scrambled Eggs” moment. If you believe I have plagiarized this part, won’t you please, please help me?