As teachers we know that Pat’s statement is an accurate one; however, as a secondary math teacher I was not armed with a plethora of research based strategies on vocabulary acquisition. As I came to this realization, I worried that I would have nothing to present at my next math forum. Once I reflected on this a bit more, I found a great book, Teaching Mathematics Vocabulary In Context by Miki Murray.
Murray’s book is an excellent resource for including vocabulary instruction as part of every math lesson. Murray believes that vocabulary instruction should not be treated as an add - on to a lesson but rather as a format for teaching mathematics. I encourage you to watch a video my colleague shared on content literacy; this one, Developing Academic Language demonstrates how a middle school math teacher seamlessly includes vocabulary in her math lesson. Including vocabulary into our math lessons is crucial for our students, as they need to be able to make viable arguments to justify their problem solving as expected by the Eight Mathematical Practices of the CCLS. In 1987, the United Kingdom’s Mathematical Association commented that “mathematical language may play little part in the conversation at home….many children are disadvantaged linguistically in mathematics in comparison with other areas of their experience “ (Murray, 2004, p. 11). Based on this information it is clear that our students are not coming to school prepared to engage in mathematical discussions; as teachers we need to address this need in our classrooms.
Robert Pondiscio recently published a blog post titled, It Pays To Increase Your Word Power. Pondiscio talks about vocabulary as a tiered hierarchy. Tier one words are common words that are familiar to all native speakers, whereas, tier three words are words that are specific to a certain profession or field; like equation in mathematics. Tier two words, like “justify”, “explain” or “verify”, are words that bridge the two tiers, these words are perceived as everyday words by adults; however, these words tend to be difficult for students. Therefore, we not only need to focus on the words that are essential to mathematics but also those words that allow our students the ability to make viable arguments as expected by the CCLS.
The CCLS expect students to have a deep understanding of mathematics; I believe embedding math vocabulary into our practice will foster mathematical growth in students. Another way to foster vocabulary acquisition is through word walls. No matter what age level you teach, word walls can be an effective way to visualize important mathematical vocabulary. Listed below are a few ideas on ways to make your word wall interactive so that the wall can become an integral part of your daily lessons.
1. Turn the classroom lights off.
2. With a flashlight select a word.
3. Call on a student to define the word.
The definition of _____ is ....
1. Divide students into groups of 3 or 4.
2. Give each student a card with a different word from the Word Wall.
3. Have students stand and form a circle.
4. In turn, each student announce his vocabulary word and explains how it is related to the word held by the student to his right.
5. Repeat until each student has had a turn.
My word is ____ and their word is ____.
They are related because....
About the Author: Rebecca Farwell is part of the Integrated Education Services Team at E2CCB where she serves as a Staff Development Specialist with a focus on Mathematics. In addition, she serves as a STEAM liaison and is embedded in the Ripley and Forestville school districts as a Curriculum Coordinator. Prior to coming to BOCES, Rebecca was a Secondary Math Teacher and a Dean of Students. Follow Rebecca on twitter @rfarwell1 or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org