by Karen Nemeth
There’s nothing boring about math but some math activities CAN be boring or hard to understand. This is especially true for children who are dual language learners. They really need math activities that are embedded in meaningful contexts that interest them to help them understand. Using empty plastic, paper or worksheet items with no real meaning can cut DLLs off from comprehending what you want them to learn. Here are 5 ways to make math meaningful when children speak different languages.
Teaching a skill with no context or content causes a big disconnect for all young children and is even more confusing for DLLs. When I ask a teacher why she has chosen an activity and she says she is teaching “sorting” or “shapes”, I know that’s a red flag. The answer should always start with an idea or explanation such as “exploring which foods need to be kept in the refrigerator and which can be stored in the cabinet – and that helps us practice sorting.” Or “We are building towers with blocks and talking about which block shapes help us make the tallest and sturdiest towers.” Think of it this way: If your parents signed you up for lessons with a tutor who had you practice swinging your arms in a circle while standing in a classroom, you would wonder what on earth this skill was for. What if you found out that was a swimming instructor? Wouldn’t it make more sense if your instructor brought you right into the pool to demonstrate in context how those arm movements could keep you floating and moving? Meaning makes math accessible for DLLs – an important step in the path to better learning outcomes. Here’s a research report from Child Trends: Making Math Count for Young Latino Children. Read more about it in this article from Education Week.