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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Secondary Math Teachers’ Implementation of Language Supports for English Learners

  • Author(s): Apostolakis, Christina Euridici
  • Advisor(s): Hansen, Mark
  • et al.

The academic language in mathematics classes is challenging, and teachers need to actively support students’ acquisition of the language of the discipline (Cirillo, Bruna, & Herbel-Eisenmann, 2010; Moschkovich, 2012, May 2015; Schleppegrell, 2007; Usiskin, 1996; Zweirs, 2017). The difficulty of math language affects English Learners (ELs) students in many ways, including performing lower than their non-linguistically diverse peers on high-stakes exams in math (Abedi & Gandara, 2006; Abedi & Lord, 2001; Clark-Gareca, 2016). This mixed-methods study investigated the language strategies secondary math teachers employed to support the ELs in their classroom and explored possible influences on the implementation of these strategies. Thirty-nine teachers completed a questionnaire about their attitudes, beliefs, and practices. Seven of those teachers were subsequently observed teaching and participated in a follow-up interview. The frequency of five EL strategies (Sentence Starters, Structured Engagement, Think Aloud, Reciprocal Teaching, Vocabulary Instruction) were investigated. The Precede-Proceed Planning Model was adapted in order to generate hypotheses about possible predisposing, reinforcement, and enabling factors affecting the use of these strategies (Crosby & Noar, 2011). I investigated associations between the hypothesized factors and implementation. I also obtained teacher perspectives on possible barriers.

Through the analysis of the questionnaire, observation, and interview data, it was found which strategies teachers said they used the most, what strategies teachers said were important to support ELs, and obtained a glimpse into possible factors that may influence math teachers’ implementation of EL strategies. The teachers said they used Think Aloud, Structured Engagement, and Sentence Starters most frequently. Reciprocal Teaching and Vocabulary Instruction were used least frequently. The interviewed teachers shared that they also found planning with language in mind and creating a positive classroom culture was important to helping them support their ELs. There was a positive association between feeling unprepared and the frequency of use of Vocabulary Instruction, which helps provide insight into how Professional Development can be used to help teachers feel more prepared. Teachers asked for on-going Professional Development on EL strategies, with clear examples of how to implement the strategies and time to work on getting better at them. This study provided insights into how Professional Development efforts could be formulated to help teachers feel more prepared to support their ELs.

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