Where is the intersection of the Mathematical Practices and Strategies for ELLs?March 21, 2013 Jennifer Bay-Williams
I have heard many conversations recently focused on the question, “How will English language learners be successful with the increased language demands in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematical Practice?” Certainly this is an important question and there is much we can do to make high quality mathematics instruction more accessible to students who are also learning English. But, rather than focus on the challenge that the CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practice might pose, I suggest we focus on the opportunities they provide for ELLs.
Let’s have a look at three of the Mathematical Practices and how the ideas of that practice coincide with what we know about supporting ELLs:
Math Practice 1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. This Practice centers on students selecting strategies that make sense to them (which means that teachers can press for a variety of solutions and honor strategies from different cultures. In addition, this Practice includes an emphasis on illustrating (as well as explaining) how a problem is solved. ELLs need the opportunity for productive language (saying and writing), and in Math Practice 1 we see the press to engage all students in productive language (and visuals) to say and write what they know.
Math Practice 5: Use appropriate tools strategically. To be mathematically proficient students need to be able to select tools that help them think about a problem. Tools include, but are not limited to, calculators, manipulatives, rulers, and visuals. The value of this Math Practice for ELLs lies in two key features. First, tools provide visuals and concrete connections for learners to help in both language learning and mathematical understanding. Second, like with Math Practice 1, the student chooses tools that make sense. This varies by learner and may vary based on a student’s cultural background.
Math Practice 6: Attend to precision. All students benefit from explicit attention to vocabulary! After increasing her focus on mathematics vocabulary in her Algebra I class, one of my graduate students reported that for the first time ever her students were using appropriate mathematical language in sharing their mathematical thinking. When the teacher attends to appropriate terminology, students use the appropriate terminology. For ELLs, increased attention is needed for using vocabulary and the extent of this depends on whether the student has an understanding of the term in their native language or not. Visuals and translations can aid in developing vocabulary (Math Practice 5).
The Mathematical Practices, posted on EVERY grade level of the Common Core State Standards provide an extraordinary opportunity to increase access and opportunity to ELLs. Take a look at the other 8 Math Practices. What connections do you see in what is recommended for developing mathematical proficiency and what is recommended as effective strategies for ELLs?