Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Math and English Learners

This past weekend I gave a presentation on teaching math to English Learners at the NNETESOL conference at the University of Southern Maine campus in Gorham, Maine. Titled My Math Counts Too, the presentation focused on selected issues related to teaching math to students who are English language learners or English Learners (ELS) as they are now referred to. I have made several presentations at this conference over the years and they are always well attended. I have the sense that there is a great need for more research/information/support and so on for teaching math to students who are English learners. Quite often the math ELs have learned is quite different from that in the US classroom which can present quite a challenge. For example, the new CCMSs require that all students be taught the standard algorithms. Many EL student will, however, have spent many years learning algorithms
that are quite different from those defined as 'standard' in US classrooms!   

I always begin these presentations by addressing some of the assumptions we tend to make when teaching math to English learners. For example, we tend to think that math is the same the world over but there are so many differences between the math of different cultures that we really cannot make this assumption. The procedures and strategies students are taught as well as the mathematics of the culture can all be significantly different. It can also be assumed that a student's difficulty in math can be attributed to a lack of English competency but if the student has never had the opportunity to learn math no amount of instruction in English is going to make any difference to the student's math skills and understanding.

Next fall I will be offering a course titled Math and Diversity which will include a section on teaching math to English learners. Offered through the Graduate Education Program at St. Michael's College the course will focus on this and three other strands; teaching math to students with special needs, students in poverty and students with math disabilities.    

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