Planning for English Language Learners

Every year, I teach a 10th grade class on graphing parabolas. All of my students are English Language Learners with vastly differing English proficiency, and speak Mandarin. Most of them have been in the class for a trimester, but students enroll at all time so some may have just joined. I will use the examples of four students at different proficiency levels describe some of the strategies I use for ELL students in the Mathematics classroom.

Amy is a new students. She transferred in this week and is in the early pre-production stage of English language acquisition. At this point, she cannot understand instruction in English and should focus  on learning basic English, rather than math vocabulary. To make sure she still receives the math instruction, I asked Camille to sit next to her and assist her throughout the lesson. Camille studied in Canada for a year before joining the program and is at the intermediate fluency stage of language acquisition. She has agreed to translate instructions for Amy. John, my teaching assistant, will also be there to translate explanations and answer questions in Chinese.

David is also new. He is at the speech emergent stage of English acquisition and understands most of the general English instructions. However, he has never attended an English math class and doesn’t know the specific vocabulary. John and I prepared a vocabulary list with Chinese translations for him. Other students are supposed to prepare their own translations based on their preview and are assisted by teaching assistants during independent study hours. John and I will make sure to check that he understands the instructions by asking him to explain what he needs to do and how he will do it, in English or in Chinese. He is also paired with a more proficient partner.

Jerry is at the beginning fluency stage and has been in the class since the beginning. He needs to ask and answer questions in English, but sometimes he doesn’t know how to say a word. He then asks for the translation, before saying the full answer or question in English. His classmates are encouraged to provide the translation. If they don’t know, John or I will answer. Any word that he asks a translation for is added to his logbooks. Other students need to add the word too, if they don’t know it.

At this stage, I start pointing out grammatical mistakes and eliciting the correct sentence. Before that, I focus on encouraging students’ participation in whatever form they choose: Chinese for the pre-production students, a mix of Chinese and English, or broken English.

As this is an ELL class, several procedures are in place for all students and incorporated in the lesson design. I act out instructions a lot, showing the textbook and opening it as I say “open your textbook”, writing the page number on the white board, providing detailed, written instructions for each task… Time for translations in Chinese is also included for lessons that are difficult and include a lot of new vocabulary, though this is phased out throughout the year as there are no teaching assistants in grade 11 and 12.

Students are required to preview the lessons and look up any word they don’t know. Vocabulary lists are also provided and included in the morning preview, a one hour class each day, where the teaching assistants can check the translations and help the students prepare. The review hour, each day, is also a time where students can check their understanding and ask questions about the content of the daily lessons.

These are just a few of the strategies used for ELL instruction in my math class.

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