Bringing the Real World to the Classroom

June 1, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 3 Comments

(By Greg Pfeil)

The integration of literacy within different content areas is a technique in education that has become increasingly popular in recent years.  This is caused by the fact that people are beginning to notice that literacy is a vital aspect of education, no matter what subject content is being taught.  This is especially true in mathematics classes, where the traditional viewpoint has always been that literacy is not related.  In order for students to truly gain an understanding of new content material, they must be able to understand what is being taught and make a connection to the material.  Making this connection with the new material must occur if the students are going to remember the content in a useful manner.  This is where traditional teachers have often struggled.  Many teachers are not able to help their students create a connection with the class material, and therefore their students are not able to transfer this knowledge to other school or real life situations in the future.  Just about all of us have taken math classes in which the teachers have the students read from a textbook and then perform practice problems based on this information, but are the students truly understanding the material?  What use does a textbook have if the students are unable to read it?

In her article “What is mathematical literacy”, math teacher, writer, and teacher trainer Erlina Ronda explains the importance of helping her students create a connection to the course material.  She writes:

“To be able to use mathematics to make well-founded judgment demands learning experiences that would engage students in problem solving and investigation as these would equip them to use mathematics to represent, communicate, and reason, to make decisions and to participate creatively and productively in the functioning of society.”

Shouldn’t this be the goal of education for teachers?  Every student within the classroom should be taught the information they need to become productive members of society once they have graduated.  Math has traditionally been a subject in which the textbook is followed very closely and the students are not presented with problems that are related to their lives.  I beleive this is a major issue with math classes and is something that needs to be changed throughout our country.  The material that is taught in math classes, or any other subjects, must be directed towards the student’s lives in order to ensure they gain a complete understanding.  One of the major issues I have seen in my own personal classroom experiences and observations is that some teachers do not take the time to understand their students, which means they will never be able to present the content in a way that will relate it to their student’s lives.

In her article “Math and Literacy: Not-So-Strange Bedfellows” Francesca Duffy explains a research project that was being conducted in Columbia, MO regarding literacy integration in two mathematics classrooms.  Duffy explains how literacy can help teachers understand their students when she writes:

 She also notes that the benefits of including writing in math classes can be “bigger than learning.”  For instance, the written work can help to build better relationships between the teacher and student, she says.  Her husband Ryan’s students sometimes used their writing to bring up situations they were struggling with in their personal lives.  This was a notable result, Jayme says since “math is usually a little less personal area of a curriculum.

So why is it that many teachers still tend to stick to the traditional style of teaching math and have not integrated literacy into their curriculum?  What processes or techniques should teachers use to ensure that we understand our student’s lives and help them create a useful connection to the material?  How can teachers implement these techniquest within the classroom while still ensuring that the subject material being taught is not hindered?



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  1. I apologize in advance if I misinterpret your post, Greg. Please correct me if I’m wrong but what I think you’re trying to say is that teachers cannot relate to students (possibly visa verse) and as a result can’t get students to properly learn/comprehend the subject at hand. Also because of this, literacy cannot be properly or “effectively” incorporated into the classroom. If not, I’m sorry for going on a tangent…but hopefully I can take a stab at this issue.

    In his book, Responsible Classroom Discipline (, Vernon Jones said,
    “Therefore, those teachers who demonstrate respect towards their students, automatically win favor by having active learners in their classroom. The arrogant or offensive teacher will lack these positive qualities due to his or her lack of control over the children. Teachers should assert that they should also be treated with respect and their responsibilities to ensure that students treat each other with kindness.”

    He also mentioned this, “Teachers are encouraged to blend their warmth and firmness towards the students in their classroom, but with realistic limits”

    In theory all that sounds nice and dandy, but in practice its difficult…same idea with integration. As Greg brought up, we as teachers have to spend a little extra effort in getting to know our students and building that relationship. As Jones stated, a little respect goes a long way. If we have our students respect, we can have more give when trying to incorporate things that don’t necessarily fit into the curriculum. I think that’s also why teachers are reluctant to integrate in the first place, simply because they just don’t have enough time.

    Bringing real world topics to the classroom is synonymous with the previously mentioned student teacher relationship. By bringing these topics to the students, the students can relate more, and the teacher can see things from the perspective of the students. This would allow for a more positive learning/teaching experience for both the teacher and the students.

    I’ll close this comment with this quote from Albert Einstein (

    “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”

    I know it’s kind of cheesy but it’s true. With the responsibility that we have as educators we need to allow for those things to happen, and by getting to know our students and relating to them more can help accomplish that.

  2. For many teachers, the way they were once taught is the way they teach now. Many teachers use skill and drill, many homework problems, and standard test and quizzes because this is how they were taught; if it could work for them it could work for anyone, right? In my opinion this is why teachers are stuck in the traditional way of teaching any content area. In a chapter from Teaching Science to Every Child, a story is told of a white, female, highly educated teacher, whom accepts a job in a rural Mississippi school. She begins her class teaching the students just like she had been taught. She uses inquiry and many different engaging projects. However, her intended engaging discussions do not go as planned. The students are not interested and are confused throughout most of her class. This is because the teacher and her students are not coming from the same background. The teacher is trying to teacher her students like she was once taught. I believe this is why literacy is not a focus in classrooms like mathematics and science, because our teachers are teaching the way they have always known. This never included literacy. (
    In order for teachers to make changes from the traditional ways of teaching content, I believe they need to see the value and the enrichment literacy can add to their classrooms. Many teachers struggle with the idea of making math part of the real world. They have to often deal with student complaints of when are we ever going to use this? Where will I use graphing outside of the classroom? In an article from Education World, Get Real: Math in Everyday Life, Linda Starr out lines different ideas of using math in the real world. This is a great example of an article where students can not only read about math in the real world, but also gain insight to exactly where the information they are learning can be applied in their lives. (
    By exploring the content area literacy options that teacher have, teachers can realize students can gain insightful information from reading about the content area. Students can make connections between what they are learning in class and their own lives through reading. Literacy allows for students to explore more than the text book. Through curriculum centers, that specializes in content area literacy, from picture books to chapter books to more text books, students can explore the math or science they are learning, while connecting it to a topic that they love. A final example is the book Tiger Math. Found in the curriculum center, Tiger Math combines graphing and tigers. Students that love animals and like tigers are able to connect their own interests to learn about graphing. They are able to learn what graphs look like, what they can be useful for, and what information they can tell researchers. Even though this book is interesting and engaging in terms of tigers it is still teaching the students about graphing. (

  3. Adem, I did not see your comment before I posted mine, but I think I know what your getting at and I think it works well with what I am saying also. I think it is both that teachers are not making a good effort to know their students and that they are afraid to abandon the traditional techniques that have worked for them as students. Also in the article in Teaching Science to Every Child, the teacher does not know how to relate to her students because she does not know them. This is why she remained in her comfort zone and taught the only way she knew how: the way she was taught. By teachers making an effort to know their students and stepping away from traditional teaching, teachers may be able to see the value and enrichment in adding literacy to their classrooms, which leads in to the rest of my post.

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