How Does My Lesson Stack Up?

Back at P.S. 182, our math PLC has been hard at work. This post highlights how the PLC is tackling the language demands embedded in math lessons and the actionable steps that are helping the teachers make sense of this complex work. Come on in!

After taking a deep dive into the ELSF Specifications, the teachers were eager for next steps. Prior to the third math PLC meeting at P.S. 182, the assistant principal considered informal feedback from PLC members and exit card data to inform the team’s focus and direction moving forward. She knew that teachers were eager to implement hands-on strategies and tools that address the needs of their English learners. In particular, the educators wanted to try out some new ways to support their students in learning both math and language simultaneously. The teachers value maintaining momentum, and the assistant principal wanted to capitalize on this teacher-led enthusiasm for their own learning!

Furthermore, the team determined that they wanted to address Focus Area I, Guideline 2 (Interdependence of Mathematical Content, Practices, and Language; Explicit mathematics and language learning goals and pathways) since these subject area teachers recognized their need to build their awareness about language demands in mathematics. She realized that this would require a great deal of teacher learning!

In response to the teachers’ need for professional development and their drive to move forward, the assistant principal decided to tackle Guideline 2 and implement an ELSF research-based tool that would support their English learners.

Language Demands - Tackling the Lessons

The teachers chose to tackle one lesson in each of the fourth and fifth grade curriculums and mine that chosen lesson for language demands. The assistant principal, a former teacher of English learners, provided the math PLC with Unpacking a Lesson for Embedded Language Demands in Mathematics: An Analysis Tool for identifying language demands in math.

The tool gave the teachers a focus for examining the lessons and directed teachers to:

  • common math language functions
  • disciplinary language
  • tricky words/phrases
  • opportunities within the four language domains that impact understanding
  • illustrative examples of the language domains in use that supported understanding

Teachers perused the lessons using those lenses. The purpose of the activity was to build teacher awareness, not necessarily to identify strategies to address those needs for English learners.

The assistant principal noticed that many of the teachers were landing on tricky vocabulary and gravitated towards such words often. She recognized that more practice was necessary for teachers to understand and recognize the other items in the analysis tool that carried so much weight. What other opportunities could she provide for teachers to further their understanding of language demands?

Using a Math Game to Make Language Demands Visible

In order to maintain teacher engagement, the assistant principal set up a fishbowl activity for teachers to unpack language demands in a math game and monitor those demands from beginning to end. What a success it was!

Two “student” teachers played the game, rehearsing as if they were students in their class, while other members of the PLC looked, listened, and determined the language demands necessary for student success. They used the Analysis Tool to maintain focus. In the end, teachers requested additional opportunities to practice mining the lessons, tasks, and math games since they had never considered the specific needs of their English learners in that particular way.  

Making it Real - Using ELSF Tools in the Classroom

The Assistant Principal wanted teachers to walk away with an actionable strategy to try out in their classrooms. To cap off the PLC meeting, teachers examined the resources provided by ELSF and chose one resource to implement that would support the specific needs of their students: Anchor Charts for Synonyms (for students to collect, use, discuss, and share mathematical words and phrases (Tier III and their associated Tier 1 and Tier II terms). Teachers committed to trying out Anchor Charts for Synonyms and planned to share out their successes and challenges at the next meeting.  

Fast Forward: Teacher Reflections on Anchor Charts for Synonyms

During the follow-up PLC at PS 182 teachers reflected on their implementation of Synonym Anchor Charts. The teachers discussed successes and challenges in their implementation of the Synonym Anchor Charts. While they had only a couple of weeks to implement the resources, they jumped right in and brought artifacts to share with their colleagues.

Here are a few teacher takeaways!

Synonym Anchor Charts:

  • Let’s add a column for visual icons as an additional support.
  • We need to be mindful of the number of words we introduce; 1-2 at a time is optimal!
  • Be strategic! We should create with or introduce these charts to small groups of students the day or week prior to introducing it whole-class. This will give beginner English learners a preview or “sneak peak” in order to increase their exposure and engagement with content-specific vocabulary.
  • It’s important for us to extrapolate task-specific and unit-specific words or phrases.
  • Let’s scan the math state exams for high-leverage, non-negotiable math terms that are connected to units of study and are embedded in the curriculum. Let’s use designated “test-prep” time to return to these words in the Synonym Anchor Charts.
  • We must use these charts with regularity and make them accessible to students. Could we create individual Synonym Anchor Charts to meet individual student needs?

Where to next? Keep posted to see how this group of thoughtful educators continue to develop their skills and expertise in unpacking their lessons for language demands in math, and how the ELSF tools are enabling them to support their English learners develop their math content knowledge and English proficiency!

Rachel Rosenbaum Mandell has dedicated the past 16 years to working with children in the NYC Department of Education. Currently, she is an assistant principal at a public elementary school in Jamaica, NY where she serves as instructional leader for 770 students, 35% of whom are English Language Learners. Prior to this role, Rachel served as an ESL teacher in East Harlem, and Midtown, Manhattan. She also worked in public relations for 3 years before diving into the world of education and spent 13 years as a volunteer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Rachel received her B.A. in Art History from the University of Pennsylvania, her M.S. in Education (TESOL) from the City College of New York, and her M.S. in Education (Educational Leadership) from Baruch College. In her free time, Rachel enjoys floral design, restaurant hopping, and spending quality time with her husband Matt and two young children, Jesse and Becca.

Felice Russell brings over 15 years of experience to ELSF as a teacher educator, educational researcher, and K-12 collaborator focused on meeting the needs of K-12 English learners through teacher development and support. Having worked across multiple teacher education programs in K-12 TESOL, elementary, and secondary teacher education, Felice is dedicated to preparing and supporting teachers and instructional leaders that are committed to meeting the needs of English learners. A former K-12 teacher in Seattle and Portland (OR), Felice received her B.S. from Cornell University, her M.Ed. from Portland State University, and her Ph.D. from the University of Washington. Her teaching, research, and community engagement focus on the intersection between English learners and the general education/content classroom, family and community engagement, and equity for culturally and linguistically diverse students. She resides in Ithaca, NY with her family.

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