For many of the 4.5 million English language learners (ELLs) in elementary and middle school classrooms, learning and understanding the language of mathematics can be a challenge. Supporting ELLs requires a commitment to a shift in practices that involves the entire school and also branches out to the community. Michele Dawson, senior director of instructional technology in Compton Unified School District in Calif., and Kelly Urlacher, senior curriculum designer at DreamBox Learning, had a conversation of essential approaches for supporting these students in “Key Strategies to Making Access and Equity a Reality for ELL Students.”

According to nprEd, in 2016 32 states reported not having enough teachers for ELL students. At Compton Unified, ELL students receive differentiated instruction with a teacher and language development through blended learning activities, explained Dawson. The district is also focusing on moving students into a 21st century learning model consisting of the four Cs, inquiry-based learning, the SAMR model, and technology that helps teachers differentiate, individualize, and redefine learning.

Urlacher and Dawson discussed key instructional strategies that can support ELL students in achieving higher in math. These strategies include:

• Using bilingual faculty, support staff, aides, or tutors to provide structured support students need to build their math skills.
• Individualized instruction or flexibility during lessons to ensure that students are getting a learning experience out of lessons.
• Using visual contexts and manipulatives to help with language barriers while building conceptual understanding in mathematics; these tools can also help students develop problem-solving skills without needing direct instruction.

(Next page: Additional ways to support ELL students in math)

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