Building Students’ Academic Language in Mathematics

Building Students’ Academic Language in Mathematics Through Integrated English Language Development

A design and development study funded by the National Science Foundation


Our team is partnering with the Multilingual Multicultural Education Department of the Los Angeles Unified School District to address an urgent need to improve opportunities and resources for emergent bilinguals. Our partnership focuses on supporting Title III English Learner coaches and teachers to build students’ academic language in mathematics through integrated English language development (iELD/Math) in primary grades. 

Project Overview

Our collaborative, design-based approach to professional learning will incorporate research-based essential practices for teaching ELD and Common Core math standards, with a focus on understanding students’ thinking about fractions and using translanguaging pedagogies to leverage students’ home language as a valuable resource for thinking and communicating mathematically. UC Davis researchers will engage participating practitioners in monthly cycles of collaborative discussion and learning to deepen pedagogical knowledge and iteratively design tools and practices that support integrative teaching and learning. 

Content Focus

  • Fractions
  • Oral language development
  • Whole class math discussion

iELD/Math Professional Learning Program , attention to students' mathematical thinking (CGI), translanguaging pedagogies and L1 as a resource,  interacting in meaningful ways, understanding how language works to communicate mathematical ideas

Pedagogical Approaches 

Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI): Equal sharing, multiple groups, equivalent fractions, operations on fractions, and decimals

Integrated ELD Math/Local District Strategies: Constructive Conversation Skills, Three Phase Lesson, Instructional Approaches

Engaging students in productive language: Exploring the pedagogical approach of Translanguaging to provide students opportunities to develop linguistic practices for academic context in math.

Project Goals

  • Develop a deeper understanding of emergent bilinguals’ thinking about mathematical solutions using equal sharing problems
  • Leverage emergent bilinguals’ full repertoire of oral and written language, with an emphasis on mathematical precision in conversations with peers
  • Integrate culturally sustaining pedagogical practices, including collaborating with families to support emergent bilinguals’ language and math identities

Meet the Design Team

The following design leaders will be collaborating with teachers and coaches in school districts to design teaching practices and learning experiences that help bilingual students thrive. 

Rebecca Ambrose, PhD
Rebecca is a professor at University of California-Davis. She works with children and their teachers in classrooms to find good tasks that lead to interesting discussions. She studies the ways that children use Spanish and English while doing math. She has worked in schools in Madison, WI, San Diego & Sacramento.

Margarita Jimenez-Silva, PhD
Prof. Margarita Jimenez-Silva’s research focuses on preparing and supporting teachers to work with culturally and linguistically diverse learners, especially in addressing emergent bilinguals’ linguistic and academic content development. She has worked with newcomer students as a middle-school math and science teacher in Oakland, California, and began her work with pre-service teachers at Concordia University in Irvine, CA. She herself is a former English learner from the San Fernando Valley in Southern California.

Rachel Restani, PhD 
Rachel’s experience teaching mathematics in economically and socially diverse communities motivates her to support teachers in humanizing the learning experience so that minoritized students have more agency in the classroom. She recently worked with teachers and students in New Zealand.

Suzanne Abdelrahim, EDD
Suzanne is a former elementary school teacher and former researcher with the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition. Suzanne helps educators to reflect on teaching practices to improve learning for linguistically and culturally diverse learners.

Project Importance

Why should students explain their mathematical ideas? Why should they use ALL their languages to explain? 

  • Research shows students develop a deeper understanding of math concepts when they explain their ideas to other people.
  • Math explanations can include explaining what you understand about a problem, how you solved it, and why you think it works to answer the question.
  • Explanations of fractions include many components, such as explaining what “whole” you’re referring to and the size of the pieces. 
  • Communication can and should include using ALL of the students’ communicative resources to explain complex ideas. This includes visuals, symbols, manipulatives, and gestures to show their thinking. It also includes using home languages and dialects in addition to English. 
  • When students discuss their ideas in English and their home language, they have opportunities to develop their bilingualism, biliteracy, and strong bilingual math identities. They can make cross-language connections that help them develop in both languages. They can also further develop their mathematical understanding by communicating their ideas more fully.
  • Students and teachers can work towards communicating in more and more precise ways, in all their languages.
  • We support teachers in learning to attend to students’ thinking, listen deeply for their mathematical understanding, probe for more detail, and know when the right time is to push for greater precision in communication. If we push too soon, it can interrupt students’ mathematical thinking! 

Project Research

Conference Presentations

  • Restani, R, Abdelrahim, S., Yudess, H. (December 2022). Using Student Explanations as a Tool to Understand Fractions. Presentation at the California Mathematics Council, Pacific Grove, CA.
  • Restani, R, Abdelrahim, S., Yudess, H. (November 2022). Using Student Explanations as a Tool to Understand Fractions. Presentation at the California Mathematics Council, Palm Springs, CA.
  • Banes, L., Abdelrahim, S., Yudess, H., Ambrose, R. (April 2021). Translanguaging Practices for Understanding and Discussing Fractions. Presentation at the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE), Houston, TX.

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