LIVE@CoSN2024: Exclusive Coverage

Strategies for supporting ELL students in math

From personalized lessons to manipulatives, here are some ways to get the most out of your English language learners

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)

Going beyond traditional assessments gives more ways for ELL students to demonstrate their learning in math. Balanced and dynamic assessments accommodate students in a way that reduces the language complexity without reducing the rigor of math being assessed. “If students understand the language of the exam, they will do better,” said Dawson.

Engagement and motivation are also essential for academic success. Designing learning experiences that require active involvement, increase active oral participation, and engage families in the learning process are a few ways to accomplish that. In fact, Compton Unified has digital parent nights to help familiarize families with the technology being used to support their children.

Every teacher in Compton Unified is trained in the personalized, individualized, and blended learning models that support ELL students. To keep up with their training, teachers choose from a variety of PD options including weekly online sessions and summer institutes. Teachers are also trained to analyze data to better inform their instruction and design activities. The district’s goal is to help teachers become facilitators of knowledge and use data to better reflect how to impact these students by becoming the “architect of the learning experience,” said Dawson.

About the Presenters

Michele Dawson has more than 25 years’ experience as a teacher, administrator, and technology director. She has served as educational technology supervisor in San Francisco School District and currently is senior director, instructional technology for Compton Unified in California, where she leads 21st century learning, technology integration, and organizational management. She is committed to closing the achievement gap for underserved students through the lens of equity and social justice.

Kelly Urlacher started her education career as a teacher in 2002. She taught sixth grade for 10 years and has a passion for math. Urlacher is now a senior curriculum designer for DreamBox Learning, where she has the opportunity to create lessons, develop technology-based teacher partnerships, and influence the way students learn math.

Join the Community

Leadership 3.0 is a free professional learning community where school and district leaders collaborate on innovative strategies to help teachers grow professionally, advance student learning, and improve communications with all stakeholders.

This broadcast was hosted by and sponsored by DreamBox Learning.

The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here.

[Editor’s note: This piece is original content produced by View more events here.]

Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at

eSchool News uses cookies to improve your experience. Visit our Privacy Policy for more information.