Sometimes having a blog pays off and you get advance copies of upcoming publications. This is one of those times…
The good people at Heinemann sent me a book entitled, Mathematical Thinking and Communication: Access for English Learners by Mark Driscoll, Johannah Nikula, and Jill Neumayer Depiper. If you are regular reader of this blog (and why wouldn’t you be?) you may be thinking, “English learners? I thought this blog was about students with disabilities, why are we talking about English learners?” That is a good question, faithful blog reader, so I’ll address it first.
There is a well documented disproportionate representation of English language learners in special education. Amanda Sullivan notes this may happen because”both underreferral and overdiagnosis occur because of misunderstanding of the educational needs of students identified as ELLs (Case & Taylor, 2005), poorly designed language assessments (MacSwan & Rolstad, 2006), and weak psychoeducational assessment practices (Figueroa & Newsome, 2006).”
Taking this into consideration, the following review is going to focus on the pedagogical framework highlighted in Mathematical Thinking and Communication: Access for English Learners. Even though most English learners do not share the same cognitive challenges that some students with disabilities do, they do share challenges relating to expressive and receptive language and communication. Thus the strategies to create access for communication of mathematical thinking can be shared by teachers of all learners.
The book highlights a four-prong design framework for creating access for English learners:
- Challenging mathematical tasks
- Multimodal representation
- Development of mathematical communication
- Repeated structured practices
Challenging mathematical tasks refers to instruction that allows students to engage in the strands of mathematical proficiency (adaptive reasoning, strategic competence, conceptual understanding, productive disposition, and procedural fluency). Multimodal representations refers to the use of not only auditory modes of communication, but also visual and kinesthetic modes as well. Development of mathematical communication highlights the need to scaffold communication for students who struggle with language, whether through learning a second language or cognitive challenges. This can be done through sentence frames or graphic organizers. Finally, repeated structured practices is the idea that routinizing the classroom environment can allow students to focus more on communicating their mathematical thinking rather than social-emotional considerations.
Unlike most professional development, Mathematical Thinking and Communication does practice what it preaches. It uses visual and structured methods for helping teachers create access for English learners throughout the book. This is a great resource not only for teachers of students learning a second language, but also special educators working with students with communication challenges.
Check it out and then come back here and let me know what you think!