Language development in mathematics

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Beckford Lesson Study Group,
Issue Date
Educational Level
ISCED Level 1 Primary education
Curriculum Area
Geographical Setting
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Background: An issue across the school, which serves a diverse community, was improving the progress of EAL children in school. Children appeared to understand the mathematics they were being taught during lessons, but when tested they were working below the standards expected. Their difficulties with language were often identified as a key barrier to learning and progress in mathematics.

Aim: Through lesson study, we wanted to explore how language in mathematics could be developed to support greater understanding and progress in learning. We have been monitoring the impact and use of sentence frames, greater opportunities for talk, and the links between oral, visual and contextualised understanding.

Methods: We developed a sequence of research lessons focusing on three case pupils. We introduced and modelled the activities. We provided example key learning facts related to odd and even numbers and a range of visual and practical aids. Additional framing devices were provided in subsequent lessons, and we sought and observed the children’s explanations, encouraging paired talk.

Findings: Children showed both persistence and resilience in being able to do more of the activity independently as the lessons progressed. They have shown greater confidence in sharing ideas and developing and supporting their own and other’s learning. Most children were able to use the prompt: “I know...because...” to discuss their reasons and answers with adults and with their peers. Some EAL children still needed help to be clear about what a written question is asking for and to decide what they needed to do to answer it.

Implications: The lesson study sequence highlighted the importance of giving children much greater opportunity for mathematics talk, and how that talk is most rich when it is supported with multiple representations for children to use and refer to in the lesson including practical resources and equipment, and mathematics pictures and models. Lesson study has provided insights into children’s misconceptions, strategies and learning, and has suggested alternative and additional activities to support them.
Keywords (free text)
primary education , mathematics , lesson study , number operations
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