Math is more than just numbers and symbols – it is a language all on its own. This can sometimes cause complications when educators are trying to teach English-learning students the subject. However, two of our Oakland Schools’ consultants have successfully found a way help teachers bridge that gap.
Suzanne Toohey, English as a Second Language (ESL)/Title III consultant and Gerri Devine, Mathematics Education consultant, recently worked together to author chapter 10 of the book Transforming Practices for the High School Classroom. Their chapter, titled “Scaffolding the Language of Mathematics: Multiple Representations of Functions in Algebra” is a discussion on how schools can support English Learners and other diverse students by providing access to the language used in mathematics classrooms.
Toohey said she and Devine first broached this subject about six years ago when they were contacted by a local school district which stated it was having trouble effectively teaching English Learner (EL) students during math lessons. The Common Core State Standards Initiative, launched in 2010, changed what is required for students to have knowledge of in both math and language arts at the conclusion of each school year. Toohey said the language barrier is a bigger issue than most realize. For example, in the school district that contacted Oakland Schools for support, there are more than 1,000 students learning English as an additional language.
“We now provide language supports for mathematics for the Oakland County districts in grade three for Algebra 2,” she said. “That, alone, is a huge accomplishment.”
Devine and Toohey were brought in to writing a chapter for the book after meeting the author, a professor of a Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)-based online class they were taking. Realizing that Devine and Toohey were experts in a niche subject area led the author to ask them to write a chapter.
“Through our interactions with the author in the course, she got to know our work,” said Devine.
The chapter took about nine months to write and was published in January 2019. The chapter highlights strategies educators can use to help teach mathematics to English learners and other diverse students.
“It takes the tools we talk about and it puts it in to the context of the classroom,” explained Devine. “It creates a story for the tools instead of the tools living in isolation.”
“This book is about taking research that has been done and translating it into practice for teachers,” added Toohey.
Devine and Toohey also recently presented their work at the 2019 TESOL International Convention to a crowd of educators from all over the globe.
“It just feels reassuring to feel like the work we are doing is the right work to help students and to help teachers to help students,” said Toohey.
Sarah Davis is the communications specialist for Oakland Schools.