Promoting mathematics and language learning in interaction

Dolly van Eerde, Maaike Hajer

Freudenthal Institute, Utrecht University, The Netherlands

WS172: Discourse in the multicultural school

Mathematics is often considered to be a school subject which is 'language independent'. Explanations for the poor results in math of pupils of ethnic minority groups in the Netherlands have been sought in the increased linguistic demands placed on learners with the implementation of 'Realistic Mathematics Education' (RME) during the last decade.

The aim of the study presented is to deepen our understanding of the role of language in learning mathematics in the classroom in connection to the active role of teachers and their didactical choices

It seems that theories on Realistic Mathematics Education and second language teaching can be mutually symbiotic since they have some common characteristics: a focus on active participation in classroom interaction as a means of learning through language and reasoning. The challenge of this study became whether we can we observe this theoretically presupposed symbiosis between teaching and learning mathematics and language in our research data. Our main research question is: how do the teachers create opportunities to learn (the language of) mathematics in (whole group) classroom interaction?

Mathematics lessons at two secondary schools were video-recorded and were transcribed and analysed by a mathematics education specialist as well as a second language education specialist from the research team. The math teachers were interviewed.

The first analyses of participation and interaction patterns, showed significant differences in participation and negotiation of meaning. Further analyses focussed on the lessons of one teacher for 'good practice' examples of teacher strategies that can promote a desirable type of pupil participation.

The analysis of this long discourse shows that the teacher has at his disposal a wide variety of strategies to stimulate participation and interaction. The teacher gives the pupils much opportunity for language production by asking them to tell their strategies, by rephrasing these, by labelling them, and delaying feedback to give everybody the opportunity to tell their their mathematical solutions.

Different pupils tell their solutions and if requested clarify their own thinking. The pupils seem to listen to each other, there are not many interruptions and occasionally they react on each other. In this way the teacher stimulates negotiation and construction of meaning takes place. Pupils contribute with relatively long utterances which show their own production and are not merely reproductions of language from the textbook.

However, the challenging way of teaching also has some drawbacks. The teacher does not check the comprehensibility of contexts and the written texts. And feedback is often limited to accepting pupils input with 'Okay', 'yeah' or repetitions by the teacher. Pupils do not know whether their contribution is adequate, correct, mathematically nor in its linguistic formulation. Moreover, some observations seem to indicate the inclusion and exclusion of some pupils.

Relating data from the classroom observations to the interviews we concluded that the views of both teachers on learning and teaching mathematics are consistent with their observed classroom behaviour.

Session: Workshop (part 1)
Discourse in the multicultural school
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 09:00-10:30
room: 16