Diane Torres-Velásquez discusses some of the cultural differences among English learners and ways in which teachers can anchor math instruction so that it is culturally relevant (time: 7:39)
Questions asked of Diane Torres-Velásquez in this audio:
- Professor Torres-Velásquez, I’d like to begin by asking your thoughts about some of the differences among English learners.
- Can you address a few of the ways that a teacher can anchor math instruction so that it is relevant for all English learners?
Diane Torres-Velásquez, PhD
Associate Professor, Department of Teacher Education
University of New Mexico
Transcript: Diane Torres-Velásquez, PhD
Diane Torres-Velásquez discusses some of the cultural differences among English learners and ways in which teachers can anchor math instruction so that it is culturally relevant (time: 7:39).
Narrator: This podcast is brought to you by the IRIS Center, a national center funded by the Office of Special Education Programs.
Diane Torres-Velásquez, an associate professor at the University of New Mexico specializing in bilingual and multicultural special education, discusses issues related to culture and mathematics instruction.
Narrator: Professor Torres-Velásquez, I’d like to begin by asking your thoughts about some of the differences among English learners.
Diane Torres-VelDiane Torres-Velásquez:#225;squez: There are a number of things that teachers need to remember to do when working with culturally diverse students. In the United States, we have about 4,600,000 students who are English language learners in the public schools. That’s about 9.6% of the total public school enrollment. It’s very important to understand second-language acquisition and to understand that culture is very, very important, and taking cultural considerations into account when teaching is very important. There is a lot that we can bring from the students’ funds of knowledge, from their past backgrounds, and their current experiences. It’s also important to know your students and honor the diversity of their experiences. Take two students who are both Hispanic and both living in New Mexico: Adán comes from Northern New Mexico, and his family’s been there for over 400 years. In New Mexico, we have a very interesting case where the families were isolated for hundreds of years, and so the Spanish that is spoken is very much like the Spanish of the Spaniards who first arrived in the 1600s and also in the 1700s. You’ll hear in Spanish terms that are very different even to Spanish-speaking immigrants. Their language is going to be different from recent immigrants who are arriving from Mexico and other parts of Latin America. Carlos is coming from Mexico, where Spanish continues to evolve at a very rapid pace. It changes just like our English changes. When teaching students, it’s important to think about the type of Spanish that they come to school with and what experiences they’ve had using Spanish.
Narrator: Can you address a few of the ways that a teacher can anchor math instruction so that it is relevant for all English learners?
Diane Torres-VelDiane Torres-Velásquez:#225;squez: In looking at the language, it’s very important to teach vocabulary explicitly and in ways that the students will remember: drama or props or anything you can use through concrete experiences. It’s important to teach that vocabulary well and to really celebrate when students learn a difficult word that will be important in understanding the content. And so, when looking at a particular strand of mathematics or a particular skill, you want to pick a few words that are going to be consistently used and that will be really important in getting the concept across and then teach those explicitly and teach them very well and then have lots of opportunities for the students to hear you use that vocabulary and then also lots of opportunities for them to use that vocabulary with each other. And so sometimes a student may start to get a thought across, and if you’ve been working with a student and you’re familiar with what he’s trying to say, you can then revoice it and give it back to him. As far as teaching vocabulary, that is one of the most important things you can do with students. I just did a study with a group of students and their teacher at the middle-school level. I asked the students afterwards what was beneficial in helping them to understand and to remember some concepts. And they specifically said that learning the vocabulary was really important, and they went back to some of the ways that the teacher had first introduced the vocabulary to the class. One way to begin a unit was for the teacher to do what he called an “affirmation,” and so the teacher will give each student three Post-it notes. And then the student is going to write what they know about the concept then they return all of the Post-it notes anonymously to the teacher, and in this case the teachers uses a basket, and he just starts picking out the Post-it notes one at a time. And on the Post-it notes, students will have different levels of knowledge and different vocabulary that they use to express what they know. This is a perfect opportunity for the teacher to use the vocabulary that the students themselves bring with them and to introduce it to the class through a shared activity so that everyone has the same understanding of a particular term that’s going to be used. He started by finding out what they knew and then by clarifying, going one word at a time and one concept at a time, and then he selected key vocabulary for the students to learn. That’s what was used in homework and in games and in simulations with the class.
The next recommendation I would have to say for anchoring math instruction so that it’s culturally relevant is to create a community and a culture of learners. We need to take into consideration that we want children to be able to express their thoughts in a safe and trusting environment where they can experiment with ideas and they can give answers that are wrong sometimes and that’s okay and understand that that’s a part of learning, and that it’s a place where they can make mistakes and they can try things out and they can communicate thoughts that are hard to explain.
The next recommendation is that we want to make sure to hold high expectations for all of the students and to reward accomplishments. Everyone in the class understands that high expectations are valued and common in this classroom.
That also ties into the next recommendation and that is that you want to instill a sense of pride in what you and your students bring to the classroom. Teaching is about relationships, as well. If we can’t relate to our students and our student can’t relate to us, it makes it more difficult to teach. So even in looking at mathematics, it’s a perfect opportunity to share some things that you’re willing to share, so that they know too that you are a real person and that you use math in your daily life and that this is a way that they can use math as well. And so, if you instill a sense of pride in what you bring and in what your students bring to the classroom, that also helps students to see the place of mathematics in their lives. If the classroom is one that values math and sees the many different aspects of mathematics in the world around us then the teacher is going to remind students and value that as well and shows students where math fits in their everyday life.
Narrator: Thank you for listening to this episode of the IRIS Center podcast. For more information about the IRIS Center and its resources, visit us at www.iriscenter.com [https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/].