As my educational consultancy is growing, I am looking to partner with schools for the 23-24 school year. Are you a school that wants to get real about linguistic equity? Are you a school who loves, values, and cares for your multilingual students and wants to serve their needs in an inclusive way that honors their whole selves? I offer a wide range of consultant services. My favorite work with schools is sustained partnerships, that employ strategic design with leadership, interactive workshops, and ongoing coaching with teams and individuals. Interested? Let's set up an exploratory call.
Thanks for sticking me this far in this series of blog post. In case you missed it, Part 1 and Part 2 can be found here. If you have made it this far, you are probably here for the strategies. You want to actually see it; what does co-teaching or collaborative content and language integrated learning look like in a multilingual math classroom?
To begin, the goal of a language in a math classroom has to be building students to the discourse of mathematics. Discourse is about sharing their thinking, findings, critiques, and analysis. The discourse is about thinking flexibly and making meaning together as a community of young mathematicians. This means that as an MLL specialist in the math classroom I am creating the conditions for sharing, in writing or speaking.
However, we don't start at discourse right away within a unit. When I am co-designing at the curricular level, I am always thinking of the vocabulary and grammar that are the brick and mortar to building discourse. Furthermore, I design for oracy and written practice. Finally, I think about progressively using different strategies with exposure and practice in mind, as we move towards mastery; which is of course-the mathmatical discourse.
A straight forward vocabulary strategy I often begin with is the KRS chart, or the knowledge rating scale. In the past, I have had large class KRS charts, or personal copies for each student. It can be a straight forward table with color coding, or it can be layered with visual scaffolding to make it more accessible to a range of language proficiencies. An early goal of this strategy is to expose students to prioritized vocabulary in the content area and activate background knowledge. It also serves as a formative assessment tool for teachers. Additionally this vocabulary strategy is builds students self-assessment literacy. It is a reflection tool. It can be revisited throughout the course of a unit in math. We take it out every time we engage in language work together in class. The students begin to see their vocabulary knowledge grow, sometimes from direct instruction from me and sometimes from their conceptual/skill development with their math teachers.
Of course we can't stop there. By activating prior knowledge and engaging in regular reflection we have created the conditions for interdependence. Initially students have different degrees of understanding of the vocabulary. This offers an authentic opportunity for oracy work and to get kids talking. This is an early level of mathmatical discourse. It also offers an authentic opportunity for translanguaging. Students that understand a vocabulary word or concept in another language, can teach their peers that way too. Creating the conditions for interdependence, helps build our class as a community of learners, develop collaboration skills, and facilitates talking to each other. Recently, I find myself folding in our schools' different dispositions/ competencies /learner attributes as a reflection tool after kids have collaborated to make meaning.
Another goal of mathmatical discourse is to help students engage in mathmatical problem solving together. One speaking/listening/problem solving strategy that kids have enjoyed is the information gap. I learned about this one in a course I took with Jeff Zwiers. To summarize it briefly, one partner has a numberless word problem on a card. The other partner has the numbers with labels needed to solve the word problem. Partner A (who has the word problem) has to ask a question that asks for the number of something that will enable them to begin solving the problem. Partner B has to ask "why do you need to know that?" Partner A then has to justify their reasoning based on the problem. Not only is this strategy is promoting speaking and listening for our learners, it is nurturing mathmatical reasoning and justification. Justification of course offers an opportunity to push into the language function and grammatical features. The mortar of our language.
There are a lot of great vocabulary strategies out there to help students make meaning of a word. I regularly use variations of a bilingual frayer square or Quizlet. Yet, I don't want to stay at the "define and understand" level of vocabulary. I want them to continue to build connections and work in the justification space. One strategy I return to again and again, is the concept circle. Bonus-it's extremely low prep. Don't let that screenshot of a slide above fool you, sometimes I draw a circle in quadrants with four words in each section on the white board. I select 4 words. I ask a question: how are these words related? Students then have to make a claim and justify. Once again, it is a vocabulary strategy, a language function opportunity, and a discourse strategy. Sometimes I will select 4 words and pose the question: which word does not belong? And again students will have to justify their claim. Oftentimes students have widely different thoughts and answers. Once again, we have created the conditions for interdependence, where we can learn from each other and grow our flexibility as mathematicians. I then partner the concept circle with a verbal interaction strategy (an example like the Kagen engagement strategies like Mix-Pair-Discuss) to get the kids talking, sharing, and learning from each other.
Another low prep strategy I love is the concept sort. I print out our vocabulary words on a sheet. I make the kids cut them out. I form groups of 2-3. And I pose the question: how are these words connected? That's it. Sometimes we use yarn to make the connections. Sometimes we use anchor chart paper, glue, and markers. Next I essentially, sit back and listen. Kids will argue, make claims, rework
their claims. Kids might get stuck and then with the right coaching question, the will get unstuck. This is language discourse at its finest, using mathmatical vocabulary. Finally, we will do a Gallery Walk and see the different ways groups organized their connections. Kids will be invited to ask questions or revise their thinking. It is always noisy. It is always fascinating.
Finally as we move through the unit, and have learned different vocabulary words while my co-teachers have taught the different concepts, I like to bring out the above chart. I have populated it with mathmatical words we have learned about and different connector words. After that we
examine a math problem the students have recently solved with my coteacher. From there, we begin to co-construct a list of everyday words (Tier 2 vocabulary) that has multiple meanings, that we would need to explain our recently solved math problem. We are putting it all together.
These are just some of my favorite language strategies I employ in my co-taught classrooms from my instructional toolbox. I love trying out new ones or iterating on familiar ones. It's never about which kids are on my "caseload" or which kids are "struggling". It's about the joy of making meaning with language together-for all students. As an MLL teacher and someone who is in recovery from math anxiety, I have found my voice and my place in the mathematics classroom. And in all honesty, I've not just found my place, I've learned to love math.
Upcoming Workshops with KSI
Spring 2023 is bringing some exciting upcoming collaborations and projects. There are so many projects in the works that I can't wait to share with you all. For now, I want to take a moment to share my continued partnership with Knowledge Source Institute this spring.
In April, I'm thrilled to share my newest workshop offering below. It is an expansion of my presentation at the World Inquiry Summit last year and my keynote at the FOBISIA EAL Conference in January. As an educator committed to student centered classrooms, this workshop brings together my two loves; discourse rich classrooms for multilingual students and honoring the strengths, curiosities, and passions of our learners.
Next up is an in person workshop in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It is a two day deep dive into key concepts and practices for serving multilingual learners. We will build community, dream big, and design for linguistic equity.
Whether it be online or in Chiang Mai- I hope to see you soon!
In my last blogpost, I shared my emotionally not so unique early relationship with math and teaching.
To pick up where the story left off, I had just moved to my new school. I was back in elementary and had 9 co-teachers. During this time my division was going through a math curriculum review. As a school, we were reexamining the "how" we did math, inspired by a new curriculum and Jo Boaler's work. I could get behind the shift to a more conceptual approach. However, to be honest, as much as I was a cheerleader for my colleagues, I opted out of any extra math professional development. I had specialized, it wasn't my wheelhouse. I was responsible for teaching the language of mathematics. That was content and language integrated learning and co-teaching was all about.
And then a funny thing happened. As my co-teachers worked to shift their math practice to a more conceptual approach that emphasized number sense, flexibility, thinking, and justification- the opportunities for authentic language in math increased. Students needed to be able to problem solve and share their thinking.
In co-planning, we started designing lessons that utilized parallel or station teaching models. Students rotated through stations of number talks, mathmatical games, and language learning. Students were working with claims, sharing during number talks, defending their strategies, and analyzing peers work for misconceptions and miscalculations. There was so much language to be used while we were meaning making. Students' language learning was in service of the discourse to express their mathmatical thinking.
As the MLL specialist in the classroom, my collaboration and teaching during math was no longer limited to simply helping multilingual students read word problems. My instruction was no longer limited to an occasional vocab lesson. For my co-teachers this was not only an instructional shift in their mathmatical practice, but in their understanding of what true collaborative content area literacy could be. From a deficit, medical model of support ("they need help reading the math problems") to an ecological approach to authentic language development alongside content ("how do we communicate our thinking in math?")
Personally, I had unlocked a love for math that I didn't know existed. Mathmatical language became authentic. Co-planning and co-designing for a math block became strategic. Co-teaching during math became joyful.
I'll share my favorite discourse and vocabulary driven strategies in Part 3.
Can I tell you something, that I am not particularly proud of?
I used to really not love math. I was no good at it. No really.
Now as an adult, I know I am not supposed to say that, because it reinforces misconceptions and mindsets, that reinforces certain teaching methods, that reinforces mindsets and so on and so on. But as a child who went to school in the 90s, I can honestly trace my first panic attacks to a subtraction lesson, a fraction test, and later a timed multiplication test. (Also, I know I am dating myself here: is going to school in the 90s make me old or young? I'm not sure.)
When I first started my career as an elementary school teacher, I mostly just turned a page of a workbook to keep up with my school's pacing calendar. I knew I was supposed to have students use manipulatives a lot, but I didn't really know how to do so in an impactful way.
When I became a middle school humanities teacher, I was off the hook for a while. Until one year, through some unknown celestial event of higher enrollment and decreased staffing I had to teach a section of Grade 6 mathematics. I knew a little more by then about teaching and project based learning, but I still was very dependent on the adopted textbook. Oddly enough, after the first quarter benchmark testing (yes, it was one of those situations) my sixth grade math students had demonstrated the highest growth of any of their peers in our very large urban district. District officials came in to observe and ask me questions. Meanwhile, I was terrified that they would find out that I didn't actually know what I was doing or even deeply understand math the way I was supposed to. In retrospect, I do believe that my students' growth was due to my robust conferring practices, differentiated strategy group lessons, and mindset work that I had transferred from my Humanities workshop and elementary days. However, as sixth grade math went on- my own conceptual understandings certainly hit a wall. Knowing how to solve an algorithm only gets you so far. I was relieved when the year was over.
When I moved overseas, post graduate degree, I started specializing as an English as an Additional Language teacher. At my school, an immersion school for multilingual students with an American high school curriculum, co-teaching was the expectation. This school had deeply invested in content and language integrated learning. Students were learning the English language alongside grade level expectations across the subjects. The stakes felt high. Many of our students were emergent bilinguals in 9th grade, with a curriculum gearing them for AP classes. I was the EAL specialist for the English, Social Studies, and Art Departments. Again, I was off the hook for a while, besides an occasional collaboration with a math teacher. At this point I had a fairly large toolbox for teaching vocabulary, but the upper level concepts of math that my co-teachers tried to explain to me gave me the sweats. As a co-planner my go to line was "I'm excited you love your content. I want to understand the gist, but what does a successful answer sound like? That will help me target the language our students need."
At my next school. I was the EAL teacher in Grades 1-5, with 9 different co-teachers. Here I was, back in elementary school. It is through some of those co-teaching partnerships that I began to fall in love with math. For that I am grateful!
I'll share more in my upcoming Part 2. Lots of strategies forthcoming!
I am an MLL specialist, coach, and educational consultant that is dedicated to building a more transformative educational landscape that honors linguistic diversity and challenges societal paradigms.