What the mathematics teacher needs to know

This page has information and advice for mathematics teachers on the specific problems ESL students may have in their subject.


Mathematics has been called the universal language. And it is certainly true that many ESL students come to their new school with a high degree of proficiency in 'speaking' it.


The advantage this confers on teachers and students can be considerable. This is because it allows existing knowledge to activated as a lead into the teaching of new skills and concepts.

Alternatively, it allows students to focus more attention on the language of mathematics, because they already know mathematical principles and how to solve problems.


There is, however, a potential disadvantage in the often strong mathematics proficiency of ESL students. It can lead to high levels of frustration when students find that their lack of the English language interferes with their ability to do mathematics that they would otherwise find easy.

@@ ESL students can go from being high achievers in the subject in their own language to strugglers in the mathematics class at their new school. ~~ This can be a blow to their self-confidence and self-esteem.


It is important therefore that the mathematics teacher does not further undermine the students' confidence by calling into question the computational methods that the learned in their previous schools.

Of course, modern mathematics classes require that students do much more than computation. Students are expected to analyse possible solutions to problems and be able to explain why they chose the method they did, both verbally and in writing.

This is a very demanding task for non-native speakers, and it is essential that they get the kind of help they need to perform such tasks successfully. Suggestions on how to provide this support can be found in other pages of this subsite - in particular on Questions and answers about teaching ESL students . And cited below is a book that contains a number of specific strategies that mathematics teachers and their students can employ.


In common to all of this advice is the fundamental principle that @ the mathematics teacher at an international school is also a teacher of the English language. ~


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