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

A design and development study funded by the National Science Foundation

REEd is partnering with schools in southern California 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 grades 3-5. The Professional Learning Program will incorporate research-based essential practices for teaching, aligning with ELD standards and CCSS math, 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.

Project Staff: Anthony Albano, Leslie Banes, Carlas McCauley, Robin Martin

*We use the term emerging bilingual (EB) instead of English learner to refer to students who are in the dynamic process of developing bilingual competencies (Escamilla et al., 2014) and to emphasize the value of bilingualism (García, 2009).

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

The Professional Learning Program (PLP) will be designed and developed in two phases over two school years, with the potential for two additional extension years.

Phase 1: Design


UCD leaders and a focus group of 7 teachers and up to 7 coaches will review existing resources and co-design the new PLP.

Phase 2: Development


  • PLP in 5 to 6 treatment schools with at least 40% EBs, 3-5 teachers per school
  • Up to 60 hours of support for teachers/coaches with stipends
  • Data will also be collected in control schools not participating in the PLP.

Data collection will include classroom observation, teacher/coach interview and survey, teacher/student artifacts and performance tasks, district benchmarks, ELPAC, and SBAC scores.

The Professional Learning Program (PLP) will incorporate research-based essential practices for teaching, aligning with ELD standards, CCSS and district initiatives. In phase 2, the PLP includes studio days with facilitators and monthly school collaboration meetings. Participants will conduct cycles of inquiry and analyze student thinking and language to inform their practice.

Content Focus: 

  • Fractions
  • Oral language development
  • Whole class math discussion

Expected Outcomes:

  1. Coaches: Improve mentoring practices associated with changes in teacher beliefs, knowledge, and practice
  2. Teachers: Increase understanding and implementation of essential practices
  3. Students: Increase achievement in math, English language proficiency, benchmark assessments & mathematical communication

Additional Features:

  • Parents: Engage in school-family projects and events that showcase student thinking and communication
  • Principals: Involvement in virtual update meetings and collaboration around school-level support of iELD/Math

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! 

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. 

Leslie Banes, Phd

Leslie is a professional development designer and researcher for UC Davis, REEd. She is a former bilingual elementary school teacher and works with teachers to support students’ learning in math using ALL of their languages. She has supported teachers in California, China, and Spain. 

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.

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.


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