Education (Elementary and Secondary)

Second Major



de Groot, Cornelis

Advisor Department





mathematics education; English Language Learners; ELLs; mathematical pedagogy; scaffolding; educational methods

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License


Mathematics is often considered a universal language. Most of us have heard this statement from a math teacher at some point throughout our academic careers. However, for students moving to the United States from another country with minimal fluency in English, this is clearly not the case. They may walk into math class, a subject area in which they may have excelled in their native country, and see the words “polynomial”, “coefficient”, and “differentiate” on the board. Regardless of their experiences in their native language, there are disconnects and cultural differences between languages and skills emphasized that prevents mathematics from being universally understood.

This is an experience that is not uncommon for many English Language Learners (ELLs) in mathematics classrooms from elementary to secondary grade levels. In my student teaching and pre-student teaching practicums in Cranston and Providence, I explored potential tools and techniques to help break down that wall between mathematical content and language. These two schools had a high level of ELLs of various backgrounds. Most of these ELLs are from families who have immigrated to the United States and speak their native language at home, with a high percentage of that language being Spanish.

My findings indicate a few things that contradict our notion of universality. Most students I worked with, regardless of language fluency, experience this wall prominently, which prevents mathematics from being understood in its purest form. Some of the more prominent discrepancies that cause these contradictions include but are not limited to inability to abstract mathematics from various real world contexts, difficulty visualizing how these skills are executed, and the blockade that complex vocabulary puts between instruction and skills. In addition, I have discovered that creating a classroom that supports ELL students’ math learning is much more than one device or technique; it is the structure of tasks, deliberate and thoughtful pedagogy that moves from the concrete to the abstract with language developing in sync, opportunities for collaboration, and the dynamic of acceptance in the classroom environment. When implemented consistently, these practices will help mathematics teachers to create an inclusive classroom that accommodates various skill levels and languages.