Research Lecture Series - Stan Manu

11 March 2013 - 11 March 2013
16:00 PM
Abbotsford Campus

Lecture Theatre , B101

Roles of Language(s) in Bilingual Students' Understanding of Mathematics

Every teacher is a language teacher goes to say that language is the lifeblood of learning in many content areas. All over North America, for instance, the K-12 mathematics curriculum has a language for describing "mathematical practices" that focus primarily on mathematical understanding and reasoning. No doubt in today's societies, teachers face daunting tasks that include understanding the complex nature of language as it is used in the classrooms, wrestling with how to meet the diverse needs of their learners, and creating lessons that help students access challenging academic content. In classroom situations where English language learners are involved, the tasks can be immensely complex and seemingly overwhelming. Issues of language in content learning and teaching are surely important for both practical and theoretical reasons, and addressing these is crucial for improving content learning and teaching for students who are bilingual, multilingual, or learning English. Unfortunately, few studies have specifically addressed these issues head on.

This lecture attempts to share and contribute to the above discussion by looking at a particular bilingual situation where young mathematics students switch or alternate frequently between two languages (whether in words, phrases or sentences) during problem-solving discussions. In this type of bilingual situation, students learn mathematics in a dominant second language that has no direct or precise translation to their own native language. Questions such as ‘how do these students use both languages to communicate their mathematical thinking, what language strategies do they use, and how do these relate to their understanding of mathematics' are explored. A video example of a mathematical discussion between a group of these students will be shared and analysed through the "language" of a theoretical perspective that is rooted in constructivism and is used as a unique tool for describing growth of mathematical understanding in a systematic and analytic way.

This lecture will also examine a number of familiar and in some cases controversial views about bilingual mathematics learners and how such views can impact instruction. Some research findings will be offered as suggestions for ways of using language(s) to improve instruction for English language learners, and perhaps a starting point for action in a bilingual mathematics classroom. It is of the view here that if teachers have a thorough understanding of how language and content interact within a specific content area, they are better equipped to make well-informed decisions about learning and teaching. As found with the Tongan bilingual students, if these students are allowed the flexibility of language switching, and thus access to appropriate terms and images in either language, it is clear that they can be declared in no way mathematically disadvantaged from their monolingual counterparts.

BIO: Stan Manu, PhD

I've been with the Department of Maths-Stats at UFV since January 2011. I'm originally from Tonga, an island country in the South Pacific, near Fiji, where I did my undergrad in Maths and Physics. I did my master's in Maths at the University of Idaho, then later my doctoral study in Maths Education at UBC. In between my studies I taught at the high school levels. After UBC in 2005, my family and I went back to work in Tonga for one year, then moved to the University of the South Pacific, Fiji, where I worked as a Fellow in Mathematics and Assessment until our return to Canada in late 2009. My research interests are in the areas of curriculum development, assessment, and teaching and learning of mathematics, and the use of language(s) in mathematics particularly within a bilingual context.

For additional information contact Research.


UFV Research Department

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