High quality instructional materials play a vital role in learning outcomes. This means that content developers are an integral piece of the educational puzzle. Yet, a recent ELSF national survey showed that 60% of surveyed math teachers in California report that their primary math materials include little to no guidance on how to support English Learners. That may soon change in California, especially after the implementation of the newly adopted Mathematics Framework.
With this new framework, California has taken up the clarion call to close the learning opportunity gaps in math. The framwork’s assets-based focus positions all students as drivers of their own math learning. Arbiters like EdReports have come a long way in articulating quality as it relates to standards-alignment. The framework takes it one step further by clearly outlining additional equitable design features critical to EL student success, such as cultural and linguistic responsiveness. If implemented well, this framework can have a cascading effect on improving the 20% gap in proficiency between ELs and Non-ELs, and ultimately on math engagement and outcomes for the over 2 million multilingual students in California.
Instructional materials will likely need to include a few fundamental design shifts in order to meet the recommendations and criteria laid out in the California Mathematics Framework. Below, we outline a few of these shifts. While not comprehensive, they represent an important starting point for designers of quality curriculum. With standards-alignment as a foundation, these shifts serve as a roadmap for where the field is heading in regards to cultural and linguistic responsiveness. These design shifts are framed here as “from-to” to highlight changes in conceptualizations of language development and culturally sustaining education.1
“Specific strategies to support students in developing the language skills needed to meet the mathematical learning and language objectives that are explicitly and clearly associated with instruction and assessment.”
(Chapter 13, Category 5: Instructional Planning and Support).
Historically, curricular materials have focused on generic language strategies such as graphic organizers and “think-pair-share” interaction structures that are not related to the specific math lesson. Or if they do focus on mathematics, the supports are primarily for math vocabulary development, terms and definitions. While these may be useful in a general sense, the framework is calling for a more integrated approach to language, math practices and math content.
What could this look like in instructional materials? Here are two practical examples:
We see that explanation and justification are mathematical practices AND language practices simultaneously. They are both cognitive and linguistic accomplishments.
“Student and teacher materials include formative assessments to provide multiple methods to assess student understanding to inform instruction, such as graphic organizers, student observation, student interviews, journals and learning logs, mathematics portfolios, self- and peer evaluations, tests and quizzes, self-reflection, and performance tasks”
(Chapter 13, Category 3: Assessment).
Although formative assessment has become largely recognized as effective teaching practice, it has focused exclusively on content, and not the related assessment of students' disciplinary language through which they communicate their understanding of math content. Formative assessment practices gathered through exit tickets, student journals, or class observation checklists have tended to focus on whether students are making progress on the mathematical knowledge and skills, but not on specific linguistic forms that characterize mathematical displays of understanding.
Since we know that math content, math practices and math language are interrelated, formative assessments will need to be expanded to capture not only what students understand, but also how they express their understanding, as part of a mathematical community. The CA framework lays out a rich array of data sources (student interviews, portfolios, performance assessments, etc), but in order for them to be useful and actionable for teachers, instructional materials will need to provide guidance in the following areas:
“Teacher materials include strategies for students who are English learners that are consistent with the California English Language Development Standards: Kindergarten Through Grade 12 adopted under EC Section 60811”
(Chapter 13, Category 4: Access and Equity).
The California English Language Development (ELD) Standards is a rich and complex document, representing the most current research and best practices in language development. Yet most mathematics specialists and curriculum developers often struggle to productively link or integrate the ELD standards in ways that deepen the mathematics of a unit or lesson for English learners. In recent years, we have seen some important steps in this direction, for example, when content developers include guidance for how different instructional supports might be needed from students of varying language proficiency levels within the same class. Materials that include this feature are signaling to teachers to pay attention to where English learners are in their English language development. Again, steps in the right direction.
One of the questions we get asked in our work with math content developers is how to identify key language demands and how to formulate language objectives at the lesson and unit level. (Sometimes the language objective is integrated with the content learning goals, and sometimes it stands apart for emphasis.) The CA ELD provides a useful framework for identifying opportunities to develop language in Part 1: Interacting in Meaningful Ways. (see below)
Using this framework, math content developers and specialists can begin to see the ways that language is woven into every phase of a lesson, not just vocabulary. Language goals and objectives can be drawn from how lessons expect students to interact with one another, how students interact with written and spoken texts, and what students are asked to produce as evidence of their learning. This framework shines a light on how language is used in different ways as students learn mathematics.
Of course, there is a lot more to unpack in the CA ELD standards, but this example is meant to serve as a practical way for content developers to begin mapping out the language demands and language opportunities within their materials. We invite writing teams to choose a sample lesson and apply this framework. This exercise will generate lots of ideas for language learning objectives and goals.
Quality implementation of the math framework by all stakeholders is the next step in the process. For content developers, ensuring that mathematics materials robustly reflect the shifts outlined above will demonstrate commitment to that imperative. If you’re ready for a more robust analysis of your curriculum, these California-specific Criteria–created by ELSF in partnership with EdReports and UnboundEd (formerly Pivot Learning) to support framework-aligned curriculum adoptions in the state--are for those seeking to ensure they are designing materials responsive to culturally and linguistically diverse learners. ELSF’s Fall Institute is another great opportunity to learn how to identify the opportunities for language development in math lessons and units and to build in responsive design features.