Use these three strategies to support learner variability and ELLs in your Georgia classroom.
If there’s one thing to say about teaching, it’s that no day—and no student—is ever the same. And we’re so thankful; diversity in our classrooms brings joy, beauty, and new learning opportunities daily.
Georgia schools are no different; they see a more diverse student population every year, especially with English Language Learners (ELLs). Georgia educates the eighth-highest number of ELLs in the nation, with ELL enrollment growth at 3.5 times faster than the national average!
“The population of ELL students continues to increase in the Atlanta Metropolitan area,” shares Dr. Lisa Stueve, a Georgia-based Carnegie Learning Manager of School Partnerships and former Georgia educator. “But it’s also increasing in more rural areas like the North Georgia Mountains. So what are we doing to make sure our teachers know how to meaningfully educate and engage with their ELL students?”
The Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) aims to support these needs with newly updated mathematics standards and a wealth of materials and guidance to support classroom instruction for the 2023-24 school year.
Of these newly-released materials, Georgia math educators will find the Mathematics Strategies Toolkits to Address Learner Variability particularly helpful. The toolkits outline evidence- and research-based strategies to support Georgia students in 14 identified areas of learner variability, including those who are learning the English language in math class.
Here, we’re breaking down three strategies out of the wealth of resources found in the ELL supports of the Georgia Mathematics Strategies Toolkits to address Learner Variability. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way to ensuring your ELL students are full participants in learning!
1. Make Language and Vocabulary Visible for ELLs
One of the first and most concrete teacher actions identified in the ELL supports of the Georgia learner variability toolkits is making language and vocabulary visible.
“Visual supports are essential,” says Natalia Álvarez, Spanish and ESL teacher of six years. “Math, especially in the upper grades, can be so abstract. That makes it hard for someone just learning the language to capture the concepts. To explain abstract concepts, ground them in things that are visible and can be illustrated.”
Check out these strategies to make the language of mathematics visible in your classroom:
Show visual examples and non-examples of English language math vocabulary paired with the written term. We love to use Frayer models (like this one from NCTM!), the Essential Words Routine, and word walls, just to name a few. Strategies like showing graphs of equations paired with terms like increasing, decreasing, constant, continuous, and discrete can also help connect an abstract representation to the vocabulary used to define it.
Be sure to use anchor charts, vocabulary cards, or word walls to show distinctions between the meaning of English language terms used in mathematics and everyday life—a table in math class is much different than a table in the lunchroom!
Support visual representations of vocabulary and concepts, language connectors to order steps (first, next, then), and problem-solving steps with teacher think-aloud and modeling to provide an extra layer of scaffolding. Be intentional with your think-aloud, refer to your visual cues, and don’t overcomplicate with non-essential vocabulary.
Keep visual supports displayed or easily accessible. Consider supplementing classroom anchor charts with pocket-size versions students can keep in a notebook or an electronic file they can easily access through your learning management system.
2. When Teaching ELLs, Use Tools to Help With Sense-Making
Another strategy to support Georgia ELLs outlined in the learner variability toolkits is using tools to help with sense-making.
“Use your tools!” exclaims Dr. Stueve. “Always try to make a drawing, a graph, a chart, or use a manipulative. Even in Algebra, when we think about abstract concepts, these tools make a huge difference and support the idea of making the language visible.”
Here are some tips to help your ELLs use tools to make sense of mathematical concepts and problem-solving processes:
Use charts, graphs, and other visual data representations to make sense of word problems. These tools can support the mathematics of the task at hand, while different scaffolds like graphic organizers, anchor charts, and teacher think-aloud can reinforce steps for problem-solving.
Supplement instruction, group work, and independent problem-solving with manipulatives such as algebra tiles, fraction strips, base ten blocks, or even spinners and dice.
MATHbook, the consumable text portion of the Georgia Math Solution, has a wealth of manipulatives to supplement lessons. For example, the Georgia Math Solution Grade 7 lesson “Math Football,” provides cutouts of a math football game board to help students understand positive and negative integers and how they can use a number line to represent their sums.
Graphing calculators or other digital tools are also great resources to help your ELLs access the new Georgia mathematics standards, which heavily emphasize modeling. Using technology to graph a quadratic equation, for example, allows them to understand that much of mathematics has multiple representations and make connections with English language vocabulary that describes graphical behaviors.
And remember, don’t limit the use of these tools for sense-making to your ELL students—they benefit everyone and provide a starting point for our next strategy: structured peer interactions and conversations.
3. Help ELLs Have Structured Peer Interactions
The last suggested strategy from Georgia’s Mathematics Strategies Toolkits to Address Learner Variability focuses on what many students love but may not think will help them learn: talking in class!
Give your students a few free minutes and you’ll inevitably hear a cacophony of chatter. Talking to each other is a natural thing for kids to do, but all too often, ELL students are left out.
Here are some suggestions to foster these meaningful peer interactions in your math classroom:
Guide conversations with tools such as sentence frames, word banks, and the Georgia Math Solution’s Questions to Support Discourse. Chu and Hamburger also suggest Guidance Cards, such as this one found in NCELA’s “Integrating Language While Teaching Mathematics”.
Let students discuss math while using manipulatives or visual representations such as graphs or diagrams. These tools provide helpful scaffolds as students develop their English expressive academic language and can be used to support Guidance Cards and sentence frames.
Give your students time and a safe space to rehearse responses. Depending on their confidence and proficiency level, this might mean rehearsal with other ELLs, practicing in small groups, or talking through responses with you or an ESL teacher.
And don’t discourage your ELL students from practicing their answers in their native language. “Encouraging ELL students to use their native language when working on math problems or explaining their thinking can help them feel more confident and comfortable,” says Álvarez. “This will also help them build connections between their native language and mathematical concepts.”
Ensuring Equitable Access for ELLs Starts With You
Georgia’s rapidly increasing number of English Language Learners deserve access to the same content standards, academic expectations, and support as their peers, and this access starts with you.
A teacher is an advocate, and embracing the belief that all learners bring valuable assets to the classroom, no matter their background, is a strong base from which to support ELLs as full participants in learning.
Interested in more information on how the Georgia Math Solution supports not just ELLs, but all student needs identified in the Georgia Mathematics Strategies Toolkits to Address Learner Variability? Check out the link below. We can’t wait to show you more about how every Georgia learner can succeed!
Before joining Carnegie Learning's marketing team in 2022, Karen spent 16 years teaching mathematics and social studies in Ohio classrooms. She has a passion for inclusive education and believes that all learners can be meaningfully included in academic settings from day one. As a former math and special education teacher, she is excited to provide educators with the latest in best-practices content so that they can set all students on the path to becoming confident "math people."Explore more related to this author
The population of ELL students continues to increase in the Atlanta Metropolitan area and rural areas like the North Georgia Mountains. So what are we doing to make sure our teachers know how to meaningfully educate and engage with their ELL students?
Dr. Lisa Stueve, former Georgia Educator