Fast 5 Gamechangers for Using Bilingual AlphabetsFebruary 2, 2017
Fast 5 Gamechangers: Yes, You CAN Support Any Home Language!March 30, 2017
by Karen Nemeth
There’s nothing boring about math but some math activities CAN be boring or hard to understand. This is especially true for children who are dual language learners. They really need math activities that are embedded in meaningful contexts that interest them to help them understand. Using empty plastic, paper or worksheet items with no real meaning can cut DLLs off from comprehending what you want them to learn. Here are 5 ways to make math meaningful when children speak different languages.
- Choose materials and activities that are part of the children’s real lives so they can be used and extended at school, in play and at home. Teaching children to sort plastic manipulatives gives them practice in a skill that they don’t see anywhere else. Sorting socks is just as good for building that skill while adding meaningful context. All children know what socks are, what they are for and why you can’t put the daddy’s sock in the baby’s drawer!
- Highlight math that happens naturally in class because that’s where things make sense to DLLs even if they don’t understand the teacher’s explanation. Counting the number of plates they need at the table at snack time and matching one plate to each chair is something any DLL can see without understanding the words. Counting spots on a ladybug doesn’t help DLLs understand why counting is useful!
- Concepts like patterns need to be supported with more information. Stringing red and blue beads on a string doesn’t give children much to talk about in any language. But, getting the dolls dressed with underwear, then socks, then pants, then shoes…. that’s a pattern children can use at school and at home. And there’s plenty to talk about whether it is done correctly or incorrectly!
- So much natural math happens in the context of mealtimes and outdoor play. Consider giving up inauthentic activities that teach just a skill for the purpose of then observing that children did the skill. Instead, be prepared to observe DLLs showing what they know and can do as they take turns going down the slide, or pouring a little more milk when they didn’t have enough. When math experiences are meaningful, teachers can easily attach both home language and English words that really make sense to all children.
- Songs and stories have lots of opportunities for showing math concepts at work. Reading a story like Goldilocks and the Three Bears or The Napping House in the home languages of the children will help them learn math concepts they need while also helping them enjoy the story and build their bilingual vocabulary.
Teaching a skill with no context or content causes a big disconnect for all young children and is even more confusing for DLLs. When I ask a teacher why she has chosen an activity and she says she is teaching “sorting” or “shapes”, I know that’s a red flag. The answer should always start with an idea or explanation such as “exploring which foods need to be kept in the refrigerator and which can be stored in the cabinet – and that helps us practice sorting.” Or “We are building towers with blocks and talking about which block shapes help us make the tallest and sturdiest towers.” Think of it this way: If your parents signed you up for lessons with a tutor who had you practice swinging your arms in a circle while standing in a classroom, you would wonder what on earth this skill was for. What if you found out that was a swimming instructor? Wouldn’t it make more sense if your instructor brought you right into the pool to demonstrate in context how those arm movements could keep you floating and moving? Meaning makes math accessible for DLLs – an important step in the path to better learning outcomes. Here’s a research report from Child Trends: Making Math Count for Young Latino Children. Read more about it in this article from Education Week.