Mathematics and ESL Students sample essay
With the changing demographic in schools and cities, there should be a growing focus on the method of teaching to be sensitive to the needs of ESL learners. In the article Supporting ESL Students among the key insights was the need to build foundations. As in any curriculum or area of learning, it is necessary to build on a strong base and establish fundamental concepts for learning to be fluid as knowledge areas expand. Consider how mathematics was first introduced or taught to students. To be able to fully grasp mathematics, one must first learn addition and subtraction.
From there one can learn multiplication and division then fractions. This method of teaching and learning emphasizes the need to build on a strong base. For ESL students the case is similar, in that first they must build a strong foundation of language, meaning develop a knowledge of basic or fundamental words, and from there move on to abstractions and conjugations. By first understanding root words and key structural and grammatical rules, they are able to build on a solid foundation and thus better understand more complicated concepts.
A sensitivity to language, grammatical structure and word usage is necessary because for ESL learners, understanding of mathematical concepts only come after successful communication. In Reforming Mathematics Instruction for ESL Literacy Students, authors Buchanan and Helman (1997) concur with the initiative to engage learners in collaborative learning. In this case, students are challenged cognitively by encouraging them to investigate, formulate and comprehend mathematical concepts through classroom activities.
By engaging learners in activities that will require them to formulate their own questions, engage in classroom discussion or interact with others in an attempt to communicate their learning, then students are stirred clear of becoming passive learners. By engaging their understanding, then learners have a better chance of fully grasping concepts as well as remembering them. As the old adage goes, “Practice makes perfect,” in the case of mathematics and the English language, nothing can be more appropriate.
By encouraging students to practice their language skills as well as their understanding of the mathematics, they hone their knowledge and skills set. Encouraging and helping develop fluency helps students in many different ways. First they are better able to understand instruction later on, second they are better to communicate their own thoughts and insights and third, they build a knowledge foundation of which they can build upon later on. Learning mathematics is often like building a pyramid.
For one to be able to successfully learn mathematics, one must begin with a strong foundation of basic mathematics concepts and only from there can one progress. In teaching mathematics, strong foundations should always be the point of reference. As such, linking mathematical concepts with prior knowledge and experiences make it easier for the student to relate the topics and then connect it to their own lives. In this sense, learning becomes more of a personal and integral experience rather than a passive encounter.
By being able to successfully relate mathematical concepts to more familiar terms and experiences the fatigue or fear associated with the technical aspects of mathematics can be reduced as well. Learning mathematics in itself is a challenging task on its own. For ESL learners the challenge of learning mathematics is only compounded by the task of having to negotiate an unfamiliar language. As such in the instruction of mathematics to ESL students it becomes necessary for the instructor to be sensitive to these needs.
A focus on providing instructions that would build good foundations in language, grammar and understanding of mathematics is integral. Similarly, positive reinforcement of learning through the encouragement of continued communication between students and classroom activities that promote practical utilization of concepts learned, promotes the better understanding of math as well as language.
Buchanan, K. and Helman, M. (1997). Reforming Mathematics Instruction for ESL Literacy Students. Center for Applied Linguistics. Retrieved 10 March 2009 from http://www. cal. org/resources/digest/buchan01. html
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