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Mathematics and Multilingual Learners: Transformative Learning through In-Service Teacher Professional Development

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Title:Mathematics and Multilingual Learners: Transformative Learning through In-Service Teacher Professional Development
Authors:Holdway, Jennifer
Keywords:multilingual learners
teacher education
professional development
transformative learning
show 1 moremathematics
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Date Issued:Dec 2016
Publisher:[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [December 2016]
Abstract:In response to the increasing linguistic and cultural diversity in US schools, in-service teachers are faced with the significant challenge of addressing both the linguistic and instructional needs of their multilingual learners (MLLs). This study explores the transformative learning experiences and raised ideological awareness of K-12 in-service teachers during a 15-week, online, asynchonous, professional development (PD) course. Theories and methodologies simultaneously focused on English language development and academic mathematics content instruction for MLLs. As one of the most linguistically and culturally diverse states in the country, Hawaiʻi is an ideal context in which to counter the assumption that mathematics is independent of language but is instead highly dependent on it and must be directly addressed and learned concurrent to academic content. This study provides evidence of the linguistic obstacles faced in the academic mathematics classroom (e.g., “mathematical register,” Halliday, 1978; Schleppegrell, 2007) and how “language is implicated in the teaching of mathematics” (Schleppegrell, 2007, p. 139; Carter & Quinnell, 2012; Garrison & Mora, 1999; Rubenstein & Thompson, 2002).
This qualitative study is informed by transformative learning theory (Cranton, 1994; Mezirow, 1991, 2000), which involves “an enhanced [awareness] level of the context of one’s beliefs and feelings, a critique of their assumptions and particularly premises, an assessment of alternative perspectives, a decision to negate an old perspective in favor of a new one or to make a synthesis of old and new, an ability to take action based upon the new perspective, and a desire to fit the new perspective into the broader context of one’s life” (Mezirow, 1991, p. 161).
In-service teachers (also referred to here as participants) taught general and/or academic math classes, math courses specifically for MLLs, or, particularly in the elementary years, were educators of all subjects with MLLs in their classes. Individual teachers taught between three to 80 MLLs on a regular basis.
Data collection focused on written reflections through weekly discussions, posted in an online group forum, which allowed the teachers to read and comment on each other’s understandings of the required article readings and related discussion questions. These online forums allowed the teachers to share new ideas, personal perspectives, ask follow-on questions, or in any other way “relate the [weekly] course content to [their] real-world teaching experiences” (syllabus). Weekly summaries were also required, submitted directly to the instructors and not made available to other participants. Each of these submissions addressed the general topic of the week, but could also include any perspectives on the course content, classroom observations, and reflections on discussions (syllabus). Participants’ personal, increased ideological awareness and transformative learning experiences from these written sources reflect their unique classroom situations and beliefs across a number of relevant themes, though due to limited space, only two will be presented: the academic language of math, and first language use in the classroom.
Data analysis demonstrates how participants came to recognize that math is not a “universal language” and instead that the academic linguistic complexity is highly contextualized and requires specific pedagogical strategies to support the simultaneous acquisition of language and academic content. In doing so, participants commented on the importance of having this realization and the positive impact it has on their understanding of their MLLs. Consequently, they realized that teaching practices would be improved by including a focus on language as well as content.
Participants also gained awareness of the importance of respecting all students’ prior knowledge, which in every classroom must be shown as a beneficial contribution to learning. In particular, the equitable pedagogical practice of encouraging and supporting their students’ first language use in the classroom provided the teachers with opportunities to confront the prevalent ideology of English monolingualism; that is, in the US context, there is the common misconception that when learning English it should be in an English-only context and where any language other than English should be excluded to the point of banning other languages. By confronting this ideology and recognizing the significant diversity in their classrooms, teachers discovered that all students’ languages must be considered as valuable resources and included in learning (García, 2005; González, Moll, & Amanti, 2005).
Awareness was also raised about the reality of academic language requiring four to seven years to be acquired (Cummins, 1984). This was cited by the teachers as a critical piece of knowledge they needed. They also recognized that expectations must be kept high because, regardless of current English language proficiency, students are capable of thinking critically and engaging in high-order thinking with the appropriate scaffolds. When both the language complexity and support from the teachers mirror students’ language proficiency levels (Gibbons, 2002, 2009), then the students’ ability to engage in critical discussions will be greatly improved. As a result, participants developed a new commitment to support the long-term language learning of their students and provide opportunities for extensive language practice in the mathematics classroom.
Areas suggested by the study for future research and action include the following: (a) using math as exemplar towards promoting equitable multilingual education in other content areas and among multiple actors; (b) the need for pre-service education in MLL pedagogy; (c) the need for more comprehensive PD courses for in-service teachers across content areas, and in particular those which support and promote ideological awareness; and, (d) engagement of multiple actors—including teachers, students, parents, administrators, community members, policymakers—in ideological awareness and transformative learning, and the subsequent promotion of multilingual policies and practices that will benefit not only MLLs but all students.
Description:Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2016.
Includes bibliographical references.
Appears in Collections: Ph.D. - Second Language Studies

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