Language and Mathematics

Since joining SPELTAC, I have been reflecting upon my practices as a teacher of language across the curriculum, as well as the language policy of my current school. Are we doing what is best for students’ English, Mongolian, and home language development? What are we currently doing that helps students reach their fullest potentials? How aware are we of the words we use with students–do our choices encourage students to engage more confidently and authentically with language?

To this end, as I read Emily Vand’s posts from earlier this academic year, I thought what an interesting idea to invite students to discuss literature in languages other than English. As we have been implementing a full on inquiry approach into mathematics this year, I decided to ask my students their thoughts on this (and then try it!), to enhance their understanding of cognitive academic language (Jim Cummins) in the mother tongues within our class-Mongolian, English, German, Japanese, Afrikaans, Korean, Russian, and French.

Our grade 5 class is currently inquiring into circles’ measurements and other attributes, including proving Pi. More to follow on how these explanations go in languages apart from our common language of instruction, English.

Using the deBono Thinking Hats as a thinking strategy, students commented on the positives and possible downsides of conducting mathematics instruction in languages other than English.

Anu suggested, with several classmates agreeing, that the specific vocabulary would be “easier” when the student’s native language is used in instruction.

Similarly, Laurenz implied that it is just easier with a common language most people understand.

Tushig stated that “it would be hard for teachers because they do not know ‘all those languages’ listed”. Another peer was in agreement.

Anu also offered the idea that many countries have different strategies and systems for teaching mathematics–different from a PYP international school model. This would thereby make it hard for students to manage learning mathematically specific terminology  in a language other than their native tongue. She was hinting at the idea that cultural practices and language are connected to one another.

After trying this approach in class with volunteers using their home languages, we will re-visit their initial feelings and discuss how their thoughts either stayed the same or changed.

Possible questions could be:

How did knowing the terminology about circles in English help you when ___ was teaching us, speaking _____?

How did visuals and body language assist your understanding?

How did you feel as you were listening to  _____ speaking______?

How does knowing this in English, in _______, and _______ (and _____) help you have a deeper understanding of circles and their characteristics?

Excited to do this!

2 thoughts on “Language and Mathematics”

    1. Hi Anita,
      I have even more diversity this year in my class. They are quite an enthusiastic bunch and are eager to share their learning in their home languages.Great for teaching appreciation. Have a great year with your kiddos!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *