The Gift of Gab for Literacy in Secondary Math Classrooms

The Secondary Literacy Partnership offers professional development webinars in order to offer quick impact takeaways for classroom teachers. The professional development presentation “The Gift of Gab for Literacy in Secondary Math Classrooms” intrigued many imgres-1of my colleagues who are struggling to teach mathematical literacy. How are our schools preparing our students? How are math teachers facilitating problem solving, procedures, and concepts through collaborative communication?

The Common Core State Standards is the opportunity for a shift in the teaching of mathematics from “calculating” to incorporating methods of “disciplinary literacy,” and allow students to take a leading role in the discovery.

With a rubric for the levels of math classroom discourse, and the importance of reasoning and explaining, students learn by communicating their oral math language. Students need to make sense of the word problems instead of just blindly going into procedures of problem solving. “True learning depends on an understanding of how ideas fit together”images-1 (Piaget). What does “productive struggle” look like in the classroom? Productive struggle is necessary for students to begin communicating their ideas with their classmates. Math teachers can begin by teaching students the importance of asking questions instead of the teacher asking the leading questions and offering feedback. Monitoring students during “number talk” allows the teacher to work the room facilitating the thought process of students.

With a list of web links for math literacy resources, teachers can begin the process of this new framework for teaching mathematics.

L2 in the Classroom: Input, Interaction & Output


Collaborative tasks give language learners what they ultimately need (input, feedback, output). One essential question to ask is, “are there better language-learning tasks than others?” The Grammar-Translation Method and the Direct Method are frequent methods in language-learning classrooms, but linguists agree that these methods are outdated and do not lead to necessary language acquisition. Professor Ineke Vedder of the University of Amsterdam points to the Communicative Approach and the Task-based Learning and Teaching (TBLT). One teaching and learning strategy that couples the Communicative Approach and TBLT is the Dictogloss activity. Dictogloss has long been considered an approach in which students “make meaning” with a clearly defined communicative outcome.

Dictogloss Activity

Step 1: Text read by teacher – the text is read twice by the teacher, at normal speed. The first time the students just listen.

Step 2: Listening and taking notes – second time the text is read by the teacher the students take notes.

Step 3: Text reconstruction in small collaborative groups – in groups of 3 or 4 students the text is reconstructed. Together they first compare their notes and then decide who of them will have the role of ‘secretary’, the one who has to do the writing. The condition is, however, that all students are responsible, not only the one that does the writing. The imagesteacher is present in the classroom (‘silent spectator’), but doesn’t intervene.

Step 4: Analysis and correction – students go once more through the written reconstruction of the text and correct errors, or add or omit text elements, if necessary. The text is then copied/handed in to the teacher/sent by email, etc.). Students then receive the original version of the text and compare the original version with the text they have just produced.

Step 5: Feedback – feedback or follow-up activities by the teacher, on the basis of both the oral reports of the groups (‘what difficulties did you encounter’) and on the basis of first impressions by the teacher.

Studies prove that during the collaborative activity all language skills are involved in the dictogloss procedure: listening, reading, speaking and writing. The role of interaction and output are crucial for language learning as are the episodes of ‘noticing’ during the activity (the episodes where learners’ attention is focused on form), while they are engaged in a communicative activity and are negotiating meaning.

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