8th-grade teacher Katie Freund is helping ELs expand their mathematical thinking—and vocabulary!
Eighth-grade math teacher Katie Freund wore a lot of hats before she started teaching for Corpus Christi ISD in the fall of 2022. She studied in Mexico on a Fulbright Scholarship and has worked as a non-profit coordinator, researcher, educational coach, translator, civil rights paralegal, and ESL paraprofessional.
As a fluent Spanish speaker with a background in math, education, and serving marginalized populations, Ms. Freund has a unique perspective on how poverty, privilege, and education intersect, and she’s the perfect person to talk about how our Texas Math Solution has addressed the needs of her English language learners.
A Math Solution That Helps English Learners Thrive
Ms. Freund teaches at Martin Middle School, where she worked as a Spanish-language paraprofessional in the 2021-22 school year. Having worked with English learners in multiple capacities, Ms. Freund understands the specific challenges of teaching math to students who are still growing their English proficiency.
“Even though this is my first year teaching, I’ve been in a lot of math classrooms as an ESL paraprofessional,” Ms. Freund explains, “And one of my main struggles, especially with my English learners, is that the traditional way of learning math—which is kind of a plug and chug method where teachers teach how to solve a problem and then students practice—is just not a very effective method for teaching ELs. They need to think more about the ‘why?’ behind the math they are learning through doing fun problems and hands-on activities.”
Learning by doing is where the Texas Math Solution shines.
“I was excited to learn that Carnegie Learning was more focused on understanding concepts and active, experiential learning,” Ms. Freund says. “That’s the best way to learn math, and while it's good for all my students, it's what my English Learners need the most.”
Improving Vocabulary for Better Math Learning
One aspect of the Texas Math Solution that Ms. Freund has found particularly valuable for her English Learners is the emphasis on mathematical vocabulary. The focus on defining and understanding terminology, which she reinforces with a word wall, gives her students tools to converse with one another and extend their thinking.
“I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of reading, writing, and vocabulary in the curriculum,” Ms. Freund shares. “It’s important for the kids to learn that math doesn’t make sense unless you can read and write and interpret. And, for ELs, any chance they have to improve language skills and reading comprehension is valuable.”
When asked how her students felt about the emphasis on vocabulary and other literacy skills, Ms. Freund shares, “At first, it was a lot of, ‘Miss, we didn’t know there was so much reading and writing in math,’ but their speaking and writing skills have really blossomed. And watching some of my kids, who I wouldn’t consider ‘math people,' start to use the vocabulary and say things like, ‘Oh, miss, these lines are congruent’ has been cool. The other day, actually, an admin came in to observe, and the kids—many of whom are English learners—were using mathematical terms that he didn’t know. The kids felt really proud about that!”
Better Mathematical Language for Better STAAR Results
Ms. Freund hopes that the emphasis on mathematical vocabulary will positively impact how her English learners perform on the STAAR, which is the statewide test that assesses academic readiness.
“Many of our students, and especially our EL kids, struggled a lot on the STAAR last year,” Ms. Freund explains, “Often because even if they understood the math, they didn’t understand the way the question was worded. But now that they see language like what is on the STAAR every day, I think we are setting them up to do better on that test.”
Talking the Talk: Leaning Into Mathematical Conversations
Once students become comfortable with mathematical vocabulary, the Texas Math Solution encourages them to apply what they have learned by talking through different mathematical concepts, approaches, and solutions in guided discussions.
While these discussions have built confidence and content knowledge for all of Ms. Freund’s students, she notes that they have been particularly fruitful for her English learners.
“Having discussion embedded in the curriculum gives my ELs time to have academic conversations in English. And when intermediate and advanced English learners can start talking about course content and using the correct terminology, that’s usually the jumping-off point for full fluency. And for my beginners, many of whom haven’t been in an American school system before, they can still learn from their peers even if they’re not 100 percent getting all the content. Everyone has to start somewhere, and hearing students with higher proficiency talk about math has been a good low-pressure way for them to learn math and English.”
What’s Next for Ms. Freund and Her Students?
Before sharing what’s next for her English learners, Ms. Freund reflects on the year’s journey.
“It was difficult at first for our kids,” she admits. “I work at a relatively low-income and underserved middle school. They often struggle to get to grade level. But I feel like with the Carnegie Learning curriculum, they’re starting to pick it up faster. At first, they would enjoy the activities but not really follow the concepts through to the end of the lesson. But recently, they’ve really started to excel. They’re using the mathematical vocabulary; they’re starting to discuss ideas with each other and figure out problems for themselves.”
Ms. Freund’s goal is for every English learner to feel that they fully belong in their school community, and she knows that part of this sense of belonging comes from understanding that they are as academically capable as their peers who are native English speakers.
And she hopes that the work her students are doing in math class will help them realize their potential: “I’m hopeful that the skills and motivation they’re gaining here will translate to other classes, and we won’t see some of the trends we sometimes see with ELs struggling to remain at grade level. They’re working so hard, and I want them to be successful.”
So do we, Ms. Freund! And we applaud all the work you—and your students—are doing to build the next generation of mathematical thinkers.
Before joining Carnegie Learning’s marketing team in 2021, Emily Anderson spent 16 years teaching middle school, high school, and college English in classrooms throughout Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, and Minnesota. During these years, Emily developed a passion for designing exciting, relatable curricula and developing transformative teaching strategies. She holds master's degrees in English and Women’s Studies and a doctorate in American literature and lives for those classroom moments when students learn something that will forever change them. She loves helping amazing teachers achieve more of these moments in their classrooms.Explore more related to this author
Having discussion embedded in the curriculum gives my English learners time to have academic conversations in English. And when intermediate and advanced English learners can start talking about course content and using the correct terminology, that’s usually the jumping-off point for full fluency.
Katie Freund, 8th-Grade Math Teacher