Reading vs Math

I teach 8th grade math, and on the side I spend two periods a week doing phonics with  6th grader. Moved here from the Dominican Republic less than a year ago. Doesn’t speak much English, struggles to pronounce English words. Very literate in Spanish though, bright kid. My district is a full immersion district for ELLs, and our one-on-one time is one of several supports he’s getting as we try to get him to pass regular 6th grade classes.

Got me thinking about a big, unstated difference between the way we teach reading and the way we teach math. In reading, we don’t pretend to teach a certain number of specific words each day, such that students come in not knowing any of the words, and leave knowing all of them. Teaching vocabulary exists, obviously, but the number of words students see in weekly vocab quizzes is dwarfed by the number they learn elsewhere. Reading in general is immersive–students are confronted with texts, ideally texts with words and ideas they can understand a majority of. Some students learn the rest on their own, some need lots of support, most are in between.

Math is different. There’s a spectrum, definitely, but we spend a lot more time teaching specific skills that students come in unable to do, and walk out able to do. For some teachers, it’s broken down into very specific, day-by-day objectives, others teach more from a unit perspective, some have projects that span a whole year.

There are obviously exceptions on both sides here, but I think on average I’m on target. Question is, what would an immersive mathematics curriculum look like? One where students are doing math for long periods of time, with fewer concentrated units, and more projects, challenging tasks, and problem solving. Would this be better than the current approach to mathematics instruction?

Advantages I can think of:

Could be used to teach growth mindset, letting kids work at their own pace
More spiraled review
Rigorous work could create more opportunities for interventions with low-skilled students
Lets students work on bigger questions than a single day
Fewer kids stuck outside their ZPD

Disadvantages I can think of: 

Kids giving up on math
Kids goofing off
Where do all the tasks come from?
Kids don’t challenge themselves
Difficult to assess
Could reduce conceptual understanding as students aren’t immersed in units

What am I missing? There’s definitely more to literacy than reading, and I could be missing some subtleties of how objectives are grouped in reading classes. Are some teachers doing this? How could it be aligned with standards? Or is this just a pipe dream?

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