Math in the Writing Center? How Two "Incompatable" Disciplines Can Work Together
While it's true that most math classes will not require many papers, William L. Morris talks about how his writing center was able to help math students in his article "Math in the Writing Center." Morris had little background in math, but he was able to help a number of freshmen in a difficult math course improve through simple conversation. When the students came into his center, Morris would have them explain the problems they were working on to him in English. This was the key to improving their understanding: having them verbalize the problem helped the students understand the principles behind the equations. In addition, Morris had the opportunity to visit their classroom and work with the students as a group. He showed them how they can work with each other in a classroom setting so that everyone can learn more. Morris states that "The proprietary languages of math, science, art, English, foreign language, and history are useful to people who know the subjects but a mystery to those trying to learn the discipline" (Morris, 1). Basically, he says that jargon is useful to those already familiar with a subject, but but can inhibit the learning of novices. Having students explain their math problems in English in a sense counter-acted the effect jargon had on the students' learning.
Simple conversation is an underestimated tool in the learning process. In Morris' case, it solved many issues that students were having with their math. Ironically, the best teacher was not a math expert but a writer. His ignorance about the subject turned out to be to his advantage because it enabled him to "see how students were attempting to solve [the problem]" (Morris, 1). Morris' article demonstrates a valid way Peer Writing Consultants can help math students: conversation that utilizes many of the same questions and principles as a tutoring session. The method is so effective because everything must be communicated through language; Language is our "only reliable problem solver" (Morris, 1).
The Writing Center becomes a place where these conversations can happen. Most English people are not math people, but every English person can hold a conversation. We know how to be inquisitive, how to ask questions, and, most importantly, how to listen. We can utilize the same techniques to help a math student that we use to help other students write research papers: "where they stumbled,