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Teaching High-Level Mathematics to English Language Learners in the Middle Grades

Dr. Sara Freedman, Dr. Dan Lynn Watt

Students at the Center paper Latino/a and Black Students and Mathematics (Gutiérrez & Irving 2012) asks readers to rethink the problem of mathematical achievement for all students, and for Latino/a and black students in particular. Teaching High-Level Mathematics to English Language Learners, a two-day professional development curriculum, reflects the principles espoused in this paper while extending the scope to include English Language Learners.

Jobs for the Future's Sara Freedman developed this curriculum while with the Center for Collaborative Education. She offers several points of congruence between this curriculum and Latino/a and Black Students and Mathematics.

Like Latino/a and Black Students and Mathematics, Teaching High-Level Mathematics to English Language Learners sees mathematics as a social activity in which the role of the teacher is to create mathematical communities of practice. Both tout the use of authentic problems and peer learners to increase mathematical rigor. The article and the curriculum recognize that math problems in "real life" do not come neatly packaged with step-by-step instructions but instead require problem solving skills to determine what is important, what solution is sought, and what questions to ask. And like the paper, the workshops emphasize the language of mathematics and scaffolds ways to gain mastery in that language through continual use in small and large group activities. The curriculum encourages the creation of learning situations that require collaboration, demand student discussion, allow students to listen to alternatives and choose among them, and asks them to defend their thinking. Finally, the paper notes that signs of learning are in the form greater participation in the practice, not of individual acquisition—and the curriculum will reinforce how to teach in a similar manner.

Thank you to the Center for Collaborative Education for allowing us to highlight these materials.

Professional Development Curriculum

Before you Begin

Teaching High-Level Mathematics to English Language Learners consists of two full-day workshops that can be subdivided into four half-day workshops.

Download the Facilitators Guide to the Workshop Series.

View Best Instructional Practices to Teach High-Level Mathematics to English Language Learners in the Middle Grades.

In Workshop 1, teachers will learn: 

  • Who the English language learners in schools are today;
  • How to support English language learners in learning the language of mathematics; and
  • How to ensure the active engagement of English language learners in developing the mathematical reasoning essential to mastering high-level mathematics.
Workshop 1 Materials

In Workshop 2, teachers will learn:

  • How to distinguish high-level from low-level mathematical tasks in the middle grades; and
  • How to create high-level math activities that engage English language learners in the middle grades.
Workshop 2 Materials