Education Week - November 12, 2014 - Special Report - S15
EDUCATION WEEK n
November 12, 2014
Making Sense of the Math: The Common Core in Practice > www.edweek.org/go/math-report
CONTINUED FROM PAGE S12
ing of math teachers," said Mark Driscoll, a managing project director
with the Education Development Center, a Waltham, Mass.based
nonprofit that provides professional development and other
services to help schools support diverse-needs learners. "In my experience,
many teachers lack the guidance and tools to foster communication
of mathematical reasoning [with] English-learners."
Despite the growing enrollment of non-native English speakers
in U.S. schools, "many math teachers have had limited professional
development in what they might do to tailor instruction to
ells," said Ms. Bright.
Under the common core, they will need "better access to supportive
structures so that they are well-equipped to meet the
needs of these and other marginalized students," she said.
Opportunities for Expression
If math teachers need to become more attuned to students' language
needs, however, they also have to be careful not to regard
their struggles with English as a "sign of deficiency," said Ms.
"Deficit models are really easy to fall into," particularly for inexperienced
teachers, she said. "Just because a student has an
accent or uses imperfect language doesn't mean he doesn't or can't
understand the mathematics."
Rather than being discounted or assigned remedial computation
worksheets, she said, English-learners should be given a range of
opportunities to use their own words to delve into mathematical
problems and concepts, including in peer-to-peer and whole-class
discussions and writing activities. The teacher's job, she said, is to
"look for the mathematical sense" in the students' verbal expressions
and then "build on that."
As Ms. Moschkovich puts it in a published paper on language
and the common core in math, "By learning to recognize how
[English-learners] express mathematical ideas as they are learning
English, teachers can maintain a focus on mathematical reasoning
as well as on language development."
Ms. Moschkovich said that many teachers make the mistake
of thinking that language instruction merely means preteaching
vocabulary words. Instead, word meanings should be explored
in the context of students' work on solving problems, she said.
Experts also stress the importance of using diagrams or illustrations
together with linguistic prompts as a way of drawing out
English-learners' verbal understanding of math problems.
Such visual elements can go well beyond bar graphs and number
In providing coaching to math teachers who work with Englishlearners,
for example, Mr. Driscoll of the Education Development
Center said that his organization has had success in using sequences
of diagrams showing the steps that fictional characters named Mario
and Estella take as they work through solutions to math problems.
The idea is for teachers to prompt students to try to explain the math
strategies used by the characters in each frame, with the help of
simple sentence starters. (For example, "In step one, Mario _____.")
Throughout the process, Mr. Driscoll said, teachers are guided to bring
in a variety of other common language-instruction strategies, such as
revoicing terms and clarifying key vocabulary.
"We believe you can use visual representation as a bridge to
academic vocabulary," Mr. Driscoll said. "It can act as a mediator
between the words in a problem and the symbolic solution."
Scaffolds and Support
In a similar vein, as part of a U.S. Department of Educationfunded
study, the Washington-based American Institutes of Research
is building "scaffolds," or instructional supports, for 6th
grade Spanish-speaking English-learners to supplement an iPadbased
math curriculum created by Pearson Inc.
For a lesson on fuel-efficiency rates, draft screenshots from the
enhanced curriculum feature numerous visual elements. They
include a "picture card" comparing the gas intake of a truck and
a solar-powered car, a graphic organizer showing the relationship
between rates of measurement and fuel efficiency, and a Venn diagram
to sort out the key components of a word problem.
At the same time, a Teacher Notes panel provides specific activities
teachers can use to help English-learners engage with the
language of the lesson. One such exercise says: "Have students
work with partners to discuss the graphic organizer and fill in the
sentence frames [provided]. Then have them use the word bank
[provided] to fill in the summary frame." The lesson also includes
Spanish translations of key terms.
The goal is to "make the content comprehensible [to ells] and
develop language proficiency in the context of learning," said
Diane August, a managing researcher at the air who heads the
project, which is slated to be tested in four Los Angeles schools
starting in January.
"The biggest challenge for teachers is that these types of scaffolds
aren't [typically] part of the curriculum," added Ms. August,
a former English-as-a-second-language teacher. "If teachers had a
curriculum like this, it would be a lot less challenging."
Beyond specific instructional strategies and curriculum supports,
experts say the new math standards may require stronger
ties between math teachers and schools' esl specialists. "Ell
supports tend to be more concentrated in language arts," said
Gabriela Uro, the manager for English-language-learner policy
and research for the Washington-based Council of the Great City
Schools. "That's where the challenge is. In the common core, the
language demands are heightened [in math], so ell supports
have to go across content areas."
For Ms. Uro, that means math teachers and esl teachers alike
have to learn more about each other's craft. "Content-area folks
have to take on more with regard to language development. But
[esl] teachers have to delve more into math," she said. "You might
have good techniques in language arts for reading complex texts.
Now that has to happen in math."
Luciana de Oliveira, an associate professor of teaching English to
speakers of other languages at Teachers College, Columbia University,
said she is already seeing esl teachers take on a greater role
in math classes. "I see more [esl] teachers going into classrooms
working along the mainstream math teacher, so it's co-teaching
versus pulling kids out of the classroom for separate language instruction,"
Ms. de Oliveira, who is on the board of directors of the tesol
International Association, said teacher educators like herself are
increasingly aiming to prepare esl teachers for that kind of collaborative
work with their content-area counterparts. "There's more
of a focus on both language and content" in preparation programs
for esl specialists, she said. "It's a major change in the past five
years-certainly attributable to the common core."
But Ms. de Oliveira acknowledged that, in practice, the melding
of schools' math and esl resources is a work in progress. "I think
we're all still kind of establishing what is really needed," she said.
Making Language Visible
For his part, New York City math teacher Mr. Arcos said that his
efforts to revamp his lessons to focus more on his English-learners'
language needs helped improve the students' understanding as he
transitioned to the common core. "As their language development
improved, so did their math scores," he said.
What's more, Mr. Arcos noted, the scaffolding techniques he used
to boost his English-learners' verbal and conceptual understanding
of problems also proved beneficial to other students in the class,
particularly those who were below grade level in reading.
Indeed, Ms. Moschkovich of uc-Santa Cruz suggests that math
teachers' work with English-language learners can be an opportunity
to gain a better sense of the strategies expected of them under
the common core.
"What English-learners do in a math class is make language
visible-that's a gift, not a disadvantage," she said. "English-learners
are a window into language." n
Coverage of the implementation of college- and career-ready standards is
supported by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Education
Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
Mr. Arcos' students at KIPP
Washington Heights work in
pairs at a whiteboard to solve
a math problem. "As their
improved, so did their
math scores," Mr. Arcos said.
Education Week - November 12, 2014 - Special Report
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