Academic journal article Australian Mathematics Teacher

Teaching & Learning Mathematics in a Multi-Cultural Classroom --Guidelines for Teachers

Academic journal article Australian Mathematics Teacher

Teaching & Learning Mathematics in a Multi-Cultural Classroom --Guidelines for Teachers

Article excerpt

In recent years there has been a growing body of research which is highly informative about the impact of language in the mathematics classroom. Thus studies on the reading of mathematical text, teacher speech, small group discourse and pupil's understanding of mathematical terms and symbolism appear in the literature. Studies of bilingual children learning mathematics in English as a second language have thrown a good deal of light on cultural forces which shape expectations about the way mathematics should be learned. A whole new perspective of pupils' use of language switching, the active role played by parents and the importance of first language competence has emerged. This paper is an attempt to draw together these different findings and 10 discuss their implications for classroom teachers.

Teachers of mathematics throughout Australia today are finding their task increasingly difficult with the impact of immigration on schools. This is particularly so for teachers in the cities where vast numbers of children from different ethnic backgrounds have joined school populations. In inner city areas it is common to find children representing a dozen or more different cultural backgrounds with as many first languages in the one classroom. In other schools there may be a predominance of one or two groups such as Greek, Lebanese, Italian or Vietnamese. Further, the mathematics education of indigenous Aboriginal Australian children continues to challenge us despite a great deal of effort in this field. Although the variety of situations in which different schools have found themselves seems endless, the problem of communicating mathematical ideas is common to all.

Which way of learning mathematics do I emphasise?

The teaching strategies of mathematics teachers lead children to learn not only facts, concepts and skills but also a way of learning. The requirements of the teacher fix the pattern by which the child expects to learn. For example the practice of teaching facts by precept and demonstrating processes to be imitated, may make pupils assume that:

(i) learning consists of recall and repetition of facts

(ii) one should only be asked for answers that have been 'taught' previously

(iii) that there is one, unique, method of working each type of example, prior knowledge of which is pre-requisite to success.

Unfortunately these expectations may be severely shaken on those occasions when mathematics becomes cloaked in the verbosity of word problems. Success at this may require pupils to read with comprehension, to "think for themselves". We would probably agree that the pupil is entitled to learn not only facts and skills but to develop concepts, to habituate a way of learning which enables him/her to do much more than memorise, important though that may be. However to establish this expectation on the part of the pupil a completely different learning situation must be provided. Compare the two ways of learning shown in the flowcharts below taken from a workshop paper by Courtney (undated):

Two ways of learning mathematics

Traditional

   The teacher states and explains
   a mathematical relationship.

   The teacher demonstrates a process,
   utilising this relationship to derive
   a conclusion.

   Pupils imitate, practise and memorise
   the process. (Some students comprehend
   the relationship making memorisation
   unnecessary. Many merely learn the
   process. Frequently the teacher has no
   time to separate the two groups.)

   Further practise through many examples
   (textbooks worksheets) to consolidate
   the relationship.

An alternative

   The children experiment with a suitable
   structured activity.

   They record and analyse the results
   looking for interesting patterns and
   relationships. Opportunity to talk
   about their work is given.

   Mathematical ideas are perceived and
   (using learner language) are expressed
   as discoveries. … 
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