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FREE Resources  //  Raising Writing Standards by appealing to pupils with mathematical learning preferences in literacy lessons

Since the 1980s various new definitions of the concept of intelligence have been formulated. Many of these stand in direct opposition to the psychometric tradition of a fixed intelligence. The dominant figures in this revolution in thinking about intelligence include, Sternberg, Goleman and Howard Gardener.

Gardener postulates, in his theory of Multiple Intelligence, that people have nine different kinds of intelligence all of which can be enhanced. M.I. (Multiple Intelligence Theory) has been readily embraced by large numbers of educators, although there is great academic debate as to the scientific validity of the theory. With regard to classroom practice the academic debate does not negate the fact that pupils have different learning preferences and that appealing to these preferences is an obvious way of stimulating pupils interest.

One of Gardener's intelligences is 'Logical-mathematical': in this article practical ways of appealing to logical-mathematically inclined learners (in the context of literacy lessons) will be considered.

Strategy one: numeric challenge

The most obvious facet of 'logical-mathematical' learners is their interest in numbers. Harnessing this interest in literacy lessons can prove to be a powerful motivator for pupils who prefer numeracy. Numeric challenge can be related to a broad range of literacy objectives and, basically, takes five forms,

  1. Beating a defined number:
    'Can you think of more than ten different adjectives we could use to describe the character?'
  2. Open ended:
    'How many synonyms can you find for the word big?'
  3. Time deadlines:
    ' You have five minutes to continue this first sentence of a novel in the style of a Science-Fiction writer. How exciting can you make the start of your novel before the five minutes is over?'
  4. 'Beat the Teach':
    The teacher pretends to only be able to think of a low specified number of things. (such as 'ways to end a story') The pupils then have to beat the number which the teacher has 'achieved'.
  5. Beat a personal best:
    Pupils compete with their previous 'best' performance e.g. one more adverb of manner than their previous piece of work. (Although there are flaws in this particular approach - e.g. using more adverbs does not necessarily make a piece of writing better - if it encourages a reluctant writer to develop the 'writing habit' it is worth using!)

The advantage of the third of these strategies is that it creates a sense of pace which appeals to a broad range of learners.

Strategy Two: Number-based writing activities

The number based writing activity which most readily comes to mind is the Haiku, a three line poem with five syllables on the first line, seven syllables on the second line and five syllables on the third and final line. There are, however, many other number-based writing activities which will appeal to 'logical-mathematical' learners. With younger pupils 'Getting bigger poems' are popular. They have one word on the first line, two words on the second line, three on the third etc. as shown in the example below,

It grows,
It gets bigger,
It becomes a tree

The 'Getting Bigger' poem could, of course, be combined with a numeric challenge such as making it more than six lines long. It could also be turned into a 'Getting smaller' poem with, say, ten word on the first line, nine words on the second line etc.

With older pupils syllabic forms have a useful mathematical element and appeal to the organisational tendencies of 'logical-mathematical' learners. There are numerous well-known syllabic forms so two less well known examples will be detailed,

  1. Hendecasyllabics
    The Hendecasyllabic is an eleven syllable line. Early Roman writers often used Hendecayllabic lines as a way of organising their poems. A good way to introduce Hendecasyllabics is to play 'Hendecasyllabic sentences'. Without considering eleven syllables pupils have to write down a sentence on a given theme,
    FOOD. I like chips (3 syllables)
    This is then expanded (or contracted) until the target of eleven syllables is reached
    FOOD. I really like salty chips and sausages ( 11 syllables)
    Once grasped, pupils can write poems in the style of a Roman, each line being 11 syllables long.
  2. Tanka
    An extension of the Haiku, now a popular form internationally, the Tanka is 5 lines long with a syllable count of,
    5 syllables - line 1
    7 syllables - line 2
    5 syllables - line 3
    7 syllables - line 4
    7 syllables - line 5
    Pupils can either write their own Tanka or expand a previously written Haiku by adding the two final seven syllable lines

Strategy Three: Shape
An aspect of mathematics that shouldn't be ignored is 'shape'. Two basic shape-related literacy activities can be used,

  1. Calligrams: To produce a Calligram the teacher, using a thick felt marker, produces an outline drawing of, for example, a plate of food. Pupils are then asked to name all the things they can see. Finally they are given another piece of paper to trace through but instead of drawing they write the name of the object repeatedly around the outer edge of the drawing of the object so that, for example, the word 'knife' repeated over and over forms the shape of a knife. (This activity is also useful for developing vocabulary through whole word recognition and can easily be assimilated into classroom display)
  2. Shape Poems: Shape poems (otherwise known as 'concrete poems') differ from Calligrams as writing about an object fills the inside of an outline of that object. When producing a shape poem pupils write a poem as they normally would but write it within the borders of the given shape so that the poem itself 'fills up' the space.

Strategy Four: Graph based work
Graph based work can provide a useful alternative to the production of prose text.
My personal favourite is the 'Use of Language' graph. This can be used to assess how effective an author's use of language is. The teacher, firstly, reads a given text with the pupils. This is followed by giving out an A3 sheet of paper marked in the following way


Pupils then have to analyse the author's use of language and produce a line graph with explanations for why they thought the author's use of language was effective, or wasn't, added to the various peaks and troughs in the graph. This is best demonstrated in the completed example given below.


Strategy Five: emulating the games-based approaches of numeracy lessons

The structure of numeracy lessons can often be more dynamic than literacy lessons. Opportunities to emulate games based approaches (as evidenced in numeracy) in literacy lessons should, therefore, be explored by staff. Five minutes spent on a literacy-based game at the start of a lesson is five minutes well-spent. Fostering 'Learning readiness' is the essential first step in any effective lesson and developing a bank of literacy games to be used in this way will help to create a start to a literacy lessons which mimics the effective start of a numeracy lesson. This familiarity acts as a trigger (In Neuro-Linguistic Programming an 'Anchor') which elicits a positive response in the pupil. For the pupil who enjoys mathematics it recreates the 'feel' of the opening of a maths lesson thereby triggering an emotional state (enjoyment) which is the same as that felt in the mathematics lesson.

In conclusion a raise in writing standards will not be achieved by merely writing more. The consideration of pupils learning preferences and the application of a pedagogy which appeals to these varied learning preferences is a stimulating way of breaking the somewhat artificial boundaries which separate lessons so that titles like 'Numeracy' and 'Literacy' begin to blur and the focus of our teaching fixes firmly on the stimulation of curiosity, excitement and enjoyment.