Written by Haiwen Chu and Leslie Hamburger of Quality Teaching for English Learners at WestEd.

In our work through WestEd’s Quality Teaching for English Learners initiative, we collaborate with teachers across the country to strengthen English learner students’ opportunities to communicate about math and math concepts.

We have found that when math teachers design instruction for students, they often think of a “task” as the problem students are asked to solve. A more productive way to think of a “task” is as an “invitation” for students to use language to explore mathematics with their classmates.

Invitations encourage students to engage in sustained talk and reciprocal interactions.

  • Talk is sustained when students get to elaborate upon complete ideas.
  • Interactions are reciprocal when students respond to the ideas of their peers, building understanding together.

In an information linking task, there are more objects for students to talk about and connect. For example, instead of one student describing one shape, a small group might be asked to sort several different shapes in a sequence. This task design allows for all students to participate.

Here’s an example of how a small-group dialogue might go:

Student A:       I have 10. Who has the number that is half of me?

Student D:       I have 5. Who has the number two less than me?

Student B:       I have 3. Who has the number 4 more than me?

Student C:       I have 7. Who has the number three more than me?

Student A:       I have 10. (p. 222, Chu & Hamburger, 2019)

This game benefits students in several ways:

  • All students speak while attending to the arithmetical connections between numbers.
  • The group knows if they are successful if the cycle goes all the way around the group of four.
  • By engaging in multiple rounds, English learner students and their classmates develop procedural fluency in mathematics while simultaneously developing oracy — integrated fluency in speaking and listening.

To learn more about this type of invitation, read our article in Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School’s 2019 Focus Issue on “Making Math Social.” Our article, Designing Mathematical Interactions for English Learners, explores information linking alongside four other types of tasks.

Want to gain the expertise to engage English learner students in your classroom? Join us for our annual QTEL Summer Institutes in San Francisco and Washington, DC. Register today.

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