Change in Emergent Multilingual Learners’ Mathematical Communication Attending to Language Use and Needs

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Kathy Horak Smith, Dr.
Cecilia Silva
Molly H. Weinburgh
Natalie Smith Jones
Beth Riggs


Part of learning a new discipline is learning the language used in the discipline. For mathematics, an emergent multilingual student (EML) must learn English and mathematical symbols in order to make meaning and communication. The mathematics community’s understanding of communication is complex and includes the use of natural language, incorporation of representations (mathematical symbols and visuals), and manipulation of tools and technology. In our research, we use this notion of communication as we examine the way students think about their abilities to communicate in and about mathematics. We specifically ask: (1) How do 5th and 8th-grade EMSs change in their understanding of mathematics communication with intentional instruction as captured on the Mathematics Communication Inventory (MCI) composite scores? (2) If there is change, how do 5th and 8th-grade EMLs’ scores compare? (3) How does the use of academic language to communicate in mathematics change over time for EMSs with intentional instruction?  Two groups of students (15 fifth and 17 eighth graders) enrolled in a newcomers’ program informed this research. Data were collected using an open-ended pre- and post-writing assessment. The results strongly suggest that students began to recognize the extent to which they used math for communication after explicit instruction to reveal modes of communication in mathematics that are easily and constantly used by students. The change over time was different for the two age groups for total words/symbols and unique words.

Article Details

Research / Empirical
Author Biography

Molly H. Weinburgh, Texas Christian University

College of Education

Professor and Andrews Chair of Mathematics & Science Education

Director, Andrews Institute of Mathematics & Science Education