Math is a language. Let’s teach it.

Math is a language. Let’s teach it.

by Eileen Wedegartner, Blended Learning Specialist

For English Language Learners (ELL), mastering English is the key to success in all subjects. When we teach students who are struggling with math, we must take into account their skill level in English as well. This presents challenges in the blended learning classroom, because in order to benefit from individualized work in math, ELL students often need language support.

Blended learning gives us the capacity to set up individualized instruction programs that focus on subject-specific skills; but unfamiliarity with the language of the subject can undermine a student’s progress in any academic content, even if the student’s technical skills in that subject are strong.

This year at JFY, we are developing strategies to provide students with language support as an integral component of the math curriculum. This requires selecting math vocabulary that students master by reviewing the terms and working simultaneously on the math content that relates to the words. Language and computation practice are combined.

To accomplish this, we have created some new steps that give ELL students exposure to math terminology while building operational skills. The first step is to have all students work on the same assignment. On the screen, we highlight key vocabulary words. Students see the words and the graphics together. They repeat the words aloud with each other and point out the relevant parts of the graphic. After this exercise, they work through a few problems with the teacher, highlighting new language. Then they do more problems together as a class.

In the next step, students partner up and work through problems as a team. The last step is working independently but still using each other for occasional support and checking vocabulary on a reference sheet.

As students get more comfortable and confident with the language, they work more and more independently. The software adapts the level of difficulty to their skill level so that they continue to build mastery of the vocabulary while they engage with the increasing rigor of the math content.

This methodology borrows from the practice of Sheltered English Immersion. Utilizing SEI techniques in a blended learning math course helps ELL students master both content and language. It is a promising practice for other students as well, whose mastery of math vocabulary might benefit from extra attention.

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