(PDF)A position of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
Question: How can teachers ensure support for the mathematical development of all English language learners?
NCTM Position
Mathematics teachers must attend to all students, including those who speak a first language other than English or have related cultural differences, and ensure that all have access and opportunities to learn mathematics and to reveal what they know. Every student’s cultural and linguistic heritage should be respected and celebrated for the diversity that it contributes to the learning environment. Expanded learning opportunities and instructional accommodations should be available to English language learners (ELLs) who need them to develop mathematical understanding and proficiency.

The student
populations in U.S. and Canadian schools continue to become more diverse, with
the ELL population representing the fastest growing category. For example, between
the 1998–99 and 2008–2009 school years, the ELL population enrolled in U.S.
schools grew from 3.5 to 5.3 million, representing a 51 percent increase
(National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition, 2011). By contrast,
during that same time period, the general student population grew by only 7.2
percent, to 49.5 million. In sum, 10.8 percent of U.S. students are English
language learners. Similarly, approximately 15 percent of Canadian schoolaged
children are reported to have a nonofficial language as their first language
(Riel & Boudreau, 2012). These demographic shifts indicate how important it
is for teachers to ensure that all students, including ELLs, have equitable access and opportunities
to learn mathematics with understanding.
To support the
mathematical development of ELLs, teachers
must
be aware of the challenges that all students, including ELLs, may encounter as
they attempt to make sense of the language of mathematics. To ensure that all
students can gain access to, interpret, and share information fluently, teachers
must address multiple dimensions of instruction (Kersaint, Thompson, &
Petkova, 2013; Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013):
 Establish learning environments and
classroom norms that support the active engagement of all students, including ELLs.
Such classrooms honor the diverse ways in which students approach mathematics,
communicate their mathematical thinking (e.g., codeswitching [Moschkovich, 2009]), and
record their strategies and solutions to exercises and problems (e.g., using
alternate algorithms [Orey, 2013]). For
example, in some countries, one billion is written as 10^{12}
rather than as 10^{9}.
 Identify and use instructional strategies
that make content more accessible
(Kersaint,
Thompson, & Petkova, 2013; Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013), and consider how to implement culturally relevant
pedagogy in mathematics
classrooms (Aguirre & Zavala, 2013; Gay, 2000).
 Orchestrate classroom discussions in
ways that support acquisition of mathematics concepts and language development
(Smith & Stein, 2011). It is important for all students, but especially critical for ELLs,
to have
opportunities to speak, write, read,
and
listen in mathematics
classes, with teachers providing
appropriate linguistic support and encouragement.
 Assess
ELLs in ways that permit them to show what they know and are able to do (Abedi &
Sato, 2008). This requires providing test accommodations that lessen the
language complexity without reducing the rigor of the mathematics under
investigation.
In sum, to support ELLs, teachers must
understand the current expectations for all
students and ensure that ELLs are provided with equitable opportunities to
learn the same rigorous mathematics content as their Englishspeaking peers.
References
Abedi, J. & Sato, E. (2008). Linguistic modification:
Part I—Language factors in the assessment of English language learners: the
theory and principles underlying the linguistic modification approach.
Washington, DC: LEP Partnership. Retrieved from http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/files/uploads/11/abedi_sato.pdf
Aguirre, J. M., & Zavala, M. del R. (2013). Making
culturally responsive mathematics teaching explicit: A lesson analysis tool. Pedagogies: An International Journal, 8(2), 163–190.
Gay, G. (2000). Culturally
responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice. New York, NY: Teachers
College Press.
Kersaint, G., Thompson, D. R., Petkova, M. (2013). Teaching mathematics to English language
learners (2nd ed). New York, NY: Routledge.
Moschkovich, J. N. (2009). Using two languages when learning mathematics: How can research help us
understand mathematics learners who use two languages (Research Brief).
Retrieved from http://www.nctm.org/news/content.aspx?id=22838
National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition.
(2011, February). The growing number of
English learner students. Retrieved from http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/files/uploads/9/growingLEP_0809.pdf
Riel, R.
& Boudreau, R. (2012). English and French language learners account for an
important share of public school enrolments. Retrieved from http://www.ctffce.ca/Priorities/default.aspx?ArtID=1990&year=2012&index_id=56187&lang=EN
Smith, M. S., & Stein, M. K. (2011). 5 practices for orchestrating productive
mathematics discussions. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of
Mathematics.
NCTM Resources
Ellis, M. W. (Ed.). (2008). Mathematics for every student: Responding to diversity, Grades 6–8.
Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Flores, A. (Ed.). (2009). Mathematics for every student: Responding to diversity, Grades 9–12.
Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
CeledónPattichis,
S., & Ramirez,
N. G. (Eds.). (2012). Beyond good teaching:
Advancing mathematics education for ELLs. Reston, VA: National Council of
Teachers of Mathematics.
Moschkovich, J. N. (2009). Using two languages when learning mathematics: How can research help us
understand mathematics learners who use two languages (Research Brief).
Retrieved from http://www.nctm.org/news/content.aspx?id=22838
Wager, A. A., & Stinson, D. W. (Eds.). (2012). Teaching mathematics for social justice:
Conversations with educators. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of
Mathematics.
White, D. Y., &
Spitzer, J. S. (Eds.). (2009). Mathematics
for every student: Responding to diversity, Grades preK–5. Reston, VA:
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
(October 2013)
NCTM position statements define a particular problem, issue, or need and describe its relevance to mathematics education. Each statement defines the Council's position or answers a question central to the issue. The NCTM Board of Directors approves position statements.