Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Discursive Practices in Language Minority Mathematics Classrooms. (On-Going Topics)

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Discursive Practices in Language Minority Mathematics Classrooms. (On-Going Topics)

Article excerpt

Abstract

A survey was administered to 623 Mexican American students who attended a summer mathematics and science enrichment program at a university located on the Texas-Mexico border. The purposes of the survey were to gain an understanding of students' perception of opportunities for constructivist, classroom practices, and their feeling about how prepared they are to take advanced mathematics classes. A multivariate analysis of variance was conducted with gender, primary language, and ability as independent variables. The study found that female students with Spanish as their primary language perceived opportunities to communicate at a level nearly equal to both male and female students with English as their primary language. Low performing male students with English as their primary language reported the lowest frequency to participate in constructivist classroom activities.

Introduction

There is a growing interest in the instructional practices experienced by language minority students, in particular, students with a Latino/a heritage. Moschkeovich (1999) contends that an empirical research base is needed to guide the design of classroom mathematics instruction for language minority student populations. One area of interest is the level of discourse that occurs in mathematics classrooms. Discursive practices allow teachers and students to socially construct mathematical knowledge in order to promote understanding (Atweh, Bleicher, & Cooper, 1995). Since language is viewed as a vehicle for organizing and developing reasoning, it becomes important to determine the degree to which language is used for this purpose in teaching mathematics to language minority learners (Cummins, 1984).

Both language and non-language minority students are often placed in the same classroom, especially in schools along the Texas-Mexico border. Researchers (e.g., MacGregor & Price, 1999; Mestre, 1988) have found that both monolingual and bilingual students may demonstrate poor academic performance in mathematics as a result of low levels of academic language proficiency.

Studies have examined language minority learners' understanding of word problems, comprehension of written mathematical texts, or vocabulary development (Dale & Cuevas, 1987; MacGregor & Moore, 1992; Olivares, 1996). Few studies have examined language minority secondary students' classroom experiences related to various forms of discursive practices in mathematics classrooms. In this study we sought to determine the mathematics learning opportunities as reported by language and non-language minority students. Communication is defined as discourse, both oral and written, that allows students to present ideas and completed tasks (Pirie, 1998; Sierpinska, 1998). The study sought to answer three questions:

1. What are the differences between language and non-language minority high school students' perceptions of opportunities to communicate and to use tools in mathematics classrooms?

2. What are the differences between "remedial" and "high performing" students' perceptions of opportunities to communicate and to use tools in mathematics classrooms?

3. How do language minority high school students perceive their preparation to enter a mathematics and science related career?

Conceptual Framework

Teachers provide social situations where communication, as an expression of thought, takes place through discursive practices, such as whole-class discussions, small group collaborative problem solving, and written drafts (Wood, 1995). The expression of higher-order thinking is fostered through a mathematics language register, which is taught in school as a separate register where specific, and specialized vocabulary and expressions are used. Meaning for mathematical objects, such as expressions, words, formulas, and diagrams, is developed when these features become a part of discourse shared with other students (Sierpinska, 1998). …

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