Letter: ‘Understanding of how language relates to arithmetic’

Taking for granted basic foundations.

(THE NEWS/files) Kohila Sivas tutors students in Maple Ridge.

Editor, The News:

Re: The debate over teaching math in B.C.

This is a very interesting and sad article.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t address much of what happens up to Grade 4, when standardized tests begin to be given.

As a primary teacher for 30 years, and as someone who has tutored people from Grade 4 through adult education, there are some very basic foundations that need to be taught and taught well in the primary years, and these deficiencies are not always understood by the struggling student.

Most of us take for granted that ‘everyone knows’ these basic foundations, but I have found that children, who want to please their teachers, may look like they are developing an understanding, when, in fact, they haven’t.

At some point, they hit a wall and frustration takes over.

We should remember that for a six- or eight-year-old to tell a teacher that they don’t understand something requires a relatively sophisticated ability to communicate. How many adults will expose themselves and ask a question in a group, or even individually, when they don’t understand something?

Besides having a basic understanding of numbers and place value in our number system, children need to develop an understanding of the English words related to arithmetic operations (+, -, x, ÷, =): addition, plus, subtraction, minus, regrouping, borrowing, multiplication, times, dividing by, equals.

As well, understanding that the fractions “one half” (1/2) could be stated “one out of two” or “three quarters” (3/4) could be stated “three out of four” make working with fractions much easier.

After children have developed an understanding of how our language relates to arithmetic, their progress becomes much smoother and more successful.

As Kohila Sivas said: “It just made sense. And I started looking at it as if I were solving a puzzle …”

Not until children look at arithmetic/math this way, is it time to start memorizing – otherwise, they are memorizing nonsense, something that is meaningless and will create frustration in the future.

Finally, one of the saddest results of young children having trouble with math (or anything else) is what it does to their sense of capability or self-esteem. I think that all too often, although not always, what appears as a learning disability is the result of a teaching disability.

Sheila Pratt

Maple Ridge

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