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There are more and more ELLs and students of poverty in our schools. Teachers have pressure to raise students’ test scores in math, but campus administrators need to address the important issues. How can we meet all students’ needs?

Let me start by answering a few frequently asked questions. Need help? I have experience, know research-based strategies, and I am trained to motivate teachers. Check out one of my workshops or drop me an email for more information. -Jim,

Q: Math is a universal language, right?

A: Many think that math is math and there is no language involved, but this is not true. Today we ask students to do more than just tell their answers—they have to explain how they get their answers, too. Imagine having to solve math problems AND justifying your answers in another language.

Q: I don’t have time to develop students’ language. That’s not my job, is it?

A: Actually, you don’t have time not to develop students’ language. Most schools have ESL teachers, but due to the increase of ELLs, mainstream teachers must do the bulk of the ESL teaching. Teachers must develop students’ academic language in every subject, including math. If we don’t develop a student’s language, s/he won’t do well on the math assessments. Also, many students, including students of poverty, benefit from developing academic language.

Q: What is a math mindset?

A: A math mindset is the most important gift you can give to your students. It is the belief that if you work hard enough, you can be successful in math and that this is worth doing. Too many students (and adults) think that you are either born with the ability to succeed in math or you are not.

Q: How do I develop my students’ math mindsets?

A: For a start, you need to have one yourself. If you are excited about math, then your students will be too. Secondly, you need to have the belief that all students can be successful in math. Never tell a student that they are smart or good at math. This only reinforces the idea that some students are good at math. Instead, give students positive reinforcement for their effort. This will reinforce students to work hard in math.

Q: How do I develop ELLs’ math mindsets?

A: ELLs are often drilled in math. This gives them negative experiences towards math. Having a math mindset is imperative for ELLs because they have to develop their math skills and English proficiency at the same time.

Q: How do I develop math mindsets for students of poverty?

A: Students of poverty typically are more prone to stress and tend to give up more easily. It is especially important to find math problems that relate to their lives so they will be more motivated to persevere to solve the problems.

Q: How can I provide all students access to the math content?

A: You many need to use visuals, gestures, and wait time to help students have access to the content. This will not only help the ELLs, but many of your students. However, as you are providing access to the content, it is imperative that all students engage in productive struggle.

Q: What is productive struggle?

A: Research maintains that teachers jump in too soon to help students in math. When students are challenged and struggle to solve math problems, they retain concepts longer. Struggle is good.

Q: How can we promote productive struggle with ELLs and students of poverty?

A: The most important thing is to have high expectations for all students. If we have low expectations for some students, then they will get bored and uninterested. We can be caring for our students and still keep the problems challenging.

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