Promoting English Language Acquisition in Secondary Mathematics through Dialogic Integration of Instructional Technology

Promoting English Language Acquisition in Secondary Mathematics through Dialogic Integration of Instructional Technology

Bethany Reichen (State University of New York at Albany, USA), Alandeom W. Oliveira (State University of New York at Albany, USA), Gretchen Oliver (State University of New York at Albany, USA) and Autumn Joy Florencio-Wain (State University of New York at Albany, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9616-7.ch004


This chapter uses the theoretical perspective of dialogism to examine how two suburban secondary math teachers use technology in the classroom to enhance language and content knowledge development for English learner students. Data for this study includes teacher lesson plans, transcripts of recorded lessons, and teacher reflections and is analyzed using a collective case approach. Results indicate that communicative acts in the classroom fall along a communication spectrum, and uses of specific technologies to increase dialogic interaction among students and between students and teachers are discussed. Thoughtful use of certain technologies may enhance opportunities for English learner students to claim a voice in the classroom and improve their language skills.
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STEM educators have increasingly relied on learning-focused technologies as cognitive tools for the promotion of conceptual mastery in K-12 classrooms. Technologies as varied as spreadsheet programs (Moore & Huber, 2009), online simulations (Glynn, 2008; Limson, Witzlib, & Desharnais, 2007), computer-based investigations (Eslinger, White, Frederiksen, & Brobst 2008; Tabak & Baumgartner, 2004) and digital devices (Freeman, 2012; López, 2010; Morgan & Alshwaikh, 2012) have become commonplace in science and mathematics classrooms. Similarly, growing numbers of language educators have emphasized how instructional technologies can serve as linguistic tools for the promotion of language acquisition among English learners (ELs), or students for whom English is not a first language (Cummins, Sayers & Brown, 2006; Meskill et al., 1999). This growth stems partially from the potential of technology integration to provide ELs with opportunities to make more authentic use of English, and hence to acquire ability in a second language. When effectively integrated with instruction, technology can afford ELs the opportunity to practice performing a wide variety of speech acts (i.e., make purposeful discursive moves) in English such as asking for help, requesting confirmation or clarification, giving directives, posing questions, declaring their opinions, agreeing, disagreeing, thanking, apologizing, challenging others’ ideas, building on others’ ideas, acknowledging, etc. This practice can help develop ELs’ speech act ability (Cohen, 2005), that is, help them learn how to use a second language in accordance with the social conventions of the English-speaking classroom community. As emphasized in the specialized literature, acquiring a second language entails learning its social pragmatics as well as its grammatical forms and vocabulary. Speaking a language fluently involves not only skill in referring to states of affairs in the world but also ability to verbally perform a variety of social acts (i.e., do things with words).

Despite this potential, educational researchers have yet to examine the extent to which technology integration in secondary STEM classrooms does indeed provide ELs with such opportunities for acquisition of the pragmatics of English. The present study attends to this issue by examining the types of speech acts that ELs have a chance to perform as a result of their teachers’ integration of technology. More specifically, this study seeks to answer the research question: What types of speech act opportunities are English learners’ afforded by their mathematics teachers’ integration of technology? In this study, the term technology integration is used in reference to teacher pedagogical action centered on mobile network devices such as iPads and/or interactive whiteboard systems (SMART boards). Rather than serving as an immersive environment for electronically mediated instruction, digital technology is utilized in support of face-to-face teacher-student interaction, namely whole-class discussions.

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