Teaching math in another language.

One of the things I tell pre-service teachers is that the students in your class must consider math as a second (or in my case third) language.

Cognitively we develop our talents in math the same way we develop those for language acquisition. This concept is easy to understand, but like most research in education needs anecdotal evidence and methods before it can be put into practice. It has taken me several years of teaching, but I finally have the evidence I need to incorporate mathematical literacy in my classroom.

During my day, I teach a course dedicated to a group of students have been identified as having particular needs in both behavioral and cognitive development.

This group is one of my most focused and learning centered classes. They are often not as jaded against the establishment mostly because they have been in a different establishment than most kids.

Last week, I decided to learn Spanish. It was a big step for me. I have the added benefit of being around the language since I was very young and now I have realized its potential. Add this to a classroom environment, and things get very interesting very fast.

My students are brilliant. They often surprise me by allowing me to share in their knowledge as I teach. The lesson that I am going to highlight comes in a unit about measurement and simple geometry (area/volume etc.) In my class, I decided to teach the lesson entirely in Spanish. This was only after a few days of studying the language.

What I learned blew me away! The majority of my students are bi-lingual and for this one lesson, they had the opportunity to become the teachers (Mi estudientes es mi maestros!). What resulted is a lesson that surpassed my wildest dreams. The students began teaching me numbers in Spanish. At the same time, I was teaching them basic operations.

As the lesson went on, I could really see the frustration in some of my students as they were confusing multiplication and addition. This is something that I never would have learned if I had not taken the chance to meet them at their level, and place myself in the position as learner.

More educators should do this! It is a way to get to the heart of literacy education. We can never help students unless we allow them to use their talents to support the lessons and materials we teach.

Learning the vocabulary to teach addition (mas e minos) and multiplication (por e divididado) paid out in gold for my students. Now I can continue to support them as they really learn the vocabulary both in their native Spanish and in English. I cannot wait until I can do this in all of my classes!


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