How do mathematics teachers and learners perceive the role of oral interaction in the teaching and learning of English language learners (ELLs) in year 10 mathematics classes?
New Zealand has recently reached a population of five million. Many of these five million are from non-English-speaking-backgrounds. Consequently, many students from language backgrounds other than English find themselves in content classrooms where English is the dominant language. One of these content classrooms is secondary school mathematics.
This qualitative investigation uses exploratory case study, with two sub-units to examine how mathematics teachers and learners perceive the role of oral interaction in the learning of junior (year 10) mathematics. Data were gathered from two classes in one large coeducational school in the greater Wellington region. Data were collected through two interviews with two teachers, one teacher aide, and five English Language Learner (ELL) students from two year 10 mathematics classrooms. Additional data gathered were gathered through observations, narrative field notes, and artifacts. Data were then analysed using thematic analysis.
There were four key findings. The first of these findings was the importance of personal experiences of learning and using an additional language for staff. These experiences shaped the way staff interacted with ELLs and made them empathetic to the language learners. An additional finding was the significance of relationships in classrooms between teaching staff and ELLs, as well as ELLs and their classmates. The ELLs reported that they flourished when they felt comfortable and confident in their classroom environment. A dominant theme was understanding the language demands of mathematics. Students and staff recognised the importance of moving beyond vocabulary, to learning the language of mathematical concepts. The staff discussed the affordances and hindrances for language learning in the classroom. Staff also recognised the challenges for ELLs in accessing the curriculum, and acknowledged 5 that full participation was not always achieved. The final finding was that the teacher had a role in supporting oral language for learning mathematics in the classroom.
The findings suggest that teachers need support in recognising the role of language in their subject areas including how to promote oral language. This study recommends that preservice teacher education should include opportunities for teaching discipline specific language in content areas, particularly in mathematics