Teaching Mathematics to Elementary ELL Students

Teaching Mathematics to Elementary ELL Students

Ozgul Kartal (University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, USA), Nilufer Guler (Avila University, USA) and Dincer Guler (Park University, USA)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3123-4.ch008
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The number of English language learners (ELLs) is increasing rapidly at U.S. schools. Mainstream teachers have an important role in the academic success of these students because ELLs spend most of their school time in mainstream classes. They are pulled out a few hours in a school day for ELL services. Therefore, it is crucial to educate mainstream teachers in how to teach ELL students. Mathematics is one of the hardest topics for ELLs. This chapter aims to uncover some of the challenges that elementary ELLs have in math classes and provide some implications on how to better teach math to ELL students.
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Issues In Teaching Mathematics To Ells

Academic Success of ELLs

Many teachers have a misconception that mathematical skills do not depend on language skills (Breeser, Melanese, & Sphar, 2008); or they confuse restricted language skills with mathematics learning disabilities, and refer ELLs to special education services or lower level math classes (Abedi, 2009, Chu, 2011). As a matter of fact, mathematics require proficiency in language skills since students need to understand the problem that is being asked to them, and they need to be able to express their reasoning. Moschkovich (2015) states that “mathematical discourse” (p. 43) is part of mathematics literacy, and students need to be able to discuss mathematical problems. However, it takes 5-7 years for ELLs to acquire proficiency in academic English (Abedi & Herman, 2010). ELLs learn English at the same time that they learn new concepts in mathematics, which is taught in English, as well as academic language of mathematics. Therefore, language needs of the ELLs should be considered when designing mathematics instruction for all.

Nationwide test results indicate that ELLs struggle in mathematics, and they continuously lag behind their peers in standardized mathematics assessments (See Figure 1). The achievement gap between non-ELL and ELL students was around 25 points at fourth grade mathematics test in 2015 (NCES, 2016).

Figure 1.

Grade-four mathematics scores for ELLs and non-ELLs: 2000 to 2015

Retrieved from: http://www.ncela.us/files/fast_facts/OELA_FF_NAEP_LineTrends.pdf

Henry, Baltes, and Nistor (2014) found that mathematics scores increase simultaneously with English proficiency in standardized tests. Abedi (2009) suggests that ELLs often misunderstand or do not understand the wording of the problem statements which results in low test performance. Since language proficiency is crucial for the academic success of ELLs, mathematics teachers should pay special attention to make sure they teach both mathematical concepts and mathematical language to ELLs. Elementary teachers should make sure that students use language to discuss and understand mathematical concepts and problems in mathematics classrooms. Mochkovich (2013) claims that oversimplified views of language as vocabulary, words, phrases, list of definitions, and formal language limits the linguistic resources that teachers and students can use in the classroom to learn mathematics with understanding, which results in low performance in mathematics. Therefore, Mochkovich suggests a complex view of mathematical language as not only specialized vocabulary, new words, and new meanings for familiar words, but also as extended mathematical discourse that address mathematical practices.

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