Wednesday, July 20, 2011

English Language Learners

One of the ways the Teacher Education programs at St. Mike's have changed during the past five years has been the inclusion in almost every course of information for helping teachers teach English Language Learners (ELLs). This has happened at both the graduate and undergraduate levels and is a direct result of the increasing numbers of ELL students in US classrooms.

Both the Burlington and Winooski school districts have large numbers of K-12 students who have been resettled, along with their families, in these two Vermont towns. Since both are right next to St. Mike's it is relatively easy for us to place students in these schools so that they can gain practical experiences learning how to teach English Language Learners. This gives St. Mike's graduates a significant competitive advantage in the job market when they are looking for education related employment upon graduation.

It is an exciting time in my own field, math education, as we begin to realize that ELL students face significant challenges in learning math in US classrooms while at the same time learning the English language. Contrary to common belief math is not the same the world over. There are significant differences in the math students learn as well as the way they learn it in different countries around the world. For example, some countries don't use base ten while others have completely different ways of solving simple problems. In many countries, boys and girls are educated in different schools while in some countries girls may receive no formal education at all.

I gave a presentation to a group of teachers in a local middle school this morning in which I shared my research findings and introduced them to my website My Math Counts Too. I always begin such presentation by challenging the assumptions that many of us hold regarding math education. For example it's easy to attribute a student's lack of math skills on the fact that they have very limited English. This is not always true. I once worked with a third grade student who could not count past 8 in English. When we interviewed her in French, her first language, she could not count past huit. It turned out she had received no formal math education in her native Congo.

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