Theresa Gorey


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

I love the math t-shirts Doug McKenzie and my brother Pat wear. They’re printed with images of kooky Far Side mathematicians, puns about pi, and rocket science formulas about launch trajectories. In college I discovered the elegance of mathematics and suddenly, math wasn’t hard to understand. I felt newly fluent in this language of relationship, recognizing that math and language have major overlaps, sharing patterns and complexities of sequencing in both numeric and lexical form.  

Most young children learn to speak English easily yet bright, capable children may struggle with reading, spelling, and composition. On cognitive and structural levels, academic literacy for these learners is as rigorously challenging as the blend of trigonometry, calculus, and Newtonian mechanics is for grad students in astrophysics.

Children must synthesize then apply a vast array of complex cognitive and fine motor skills for successful development of English reading and writing ability to occur. I was lucky to have early facility with language. However, decades of witnessing learners attempt to navigate English grammar, phonology, and orthography taught me that while learning to read, spell, and write is fun and easy for some, for others it’s neither fun nor easy. This lack of facility, by the way, has no link to intelligence level so it’s especially discouraging to experience. Einstein was reported to have an IQ of 160. He wrote his sister that he could not learn English due “… to the treacherous spelling”. What if he was right about English?

In early math, 1+1 always equals 2. You learn that fact in First Grade. It remains consistent. Yet the phonogram ea in English has three pronunciations: long “ee” as in eat, short “e” as in head, and long “a” as in steakTreesmice, and tomatoes are all plural nouns, yet they shift from singular to plural via three separate endings. The digraph /-gh-/ can sound like a “g” in ghost but “f” in enough, and “y” in light. Holy moly! If your youngster feels insecure in their literacy skills, they have good reason to be: English is linguistic rocket science.

Theresa Gorey
Lower School Learning Specialist