Sunday / May 19

Math and Language Acquisition

Helping students develop the language of mathematics begins by helping them develop their conceptual understanding using the four language acquisition skills: Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening.


Figure 1

As can be seen from the diagram in Figure 1, reading and listening are inputs the brain uses to receive information. Writing and speaking are outputs the brain uses to communicate information about the inputs it receives. In-between the inputs and the outputs, the brain processes information (thinking) by organizing the information it sees and hears. Beginning ELL students can particularly be seen undergoing this organization process. As they work to acquire the English language, they often translate English into their native language before attempting to speak or write in English. Although the majority of math students are not English language learners; they are, in a sense, math language learners, and have some of the same struggles translating the unfamiliar language of math into a language they understand. Similar to English language development, students that are able to quickly process and organize the math inputs they receive are considered to be more fluent in language of mathematics.

Therefore, as teachers formatively assess students’ progress toward fluency in the language of mathematics it is important to ensure that their learning experiences give teachers access to the “thinking processes” and “language organization activities” that led to the speaking and writing activities that are evaluated in class – not just the right or wrong answer.

In the most fundamental sense, our ability to become fluent in the language of mathematics is directly related to our ability to use our reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills to communicate our mathematical understandings. The Common Core states, “As students advance through the grades and master the standards in reading, writing, speaking, listening, they are able to exhibit with increasing fullness and regularity the following capacities of the literate individual:

  • They demonstrate independence.
  • They build strong content knowledge.
  • They respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline.
  • They comprehend as well as critique.
  • They value evidence.
  • They use technology and digital media strategically and capably.
  • They come to understand other perspectives and cultures.

The above description of a literate student effectively helps us visualize what literacy can look like in a math class. However, this standard is not an excerpt from the Common Core math standards. It is actually an excerpt from the Common Core English Language Arts standards. The message here is that literacy in all content areas should look very similar. Regardless of content, literate students are able to use their reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills to access information, process that information, and communicate their ideas to others. In order to help students become fluent in the language of any content area, including mathematics, teachers should provide meaningful opportunities for students to read, write, listen and speak about their learning experiences.

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Tremain has a passion for education that has been apparent through his service as a teacher, administrator, and educational consultant in the K-12 community for over 15 years. As a teacher, he worked closely with low-income high school math students that were taking Algebra for the second and sometimes third time. During his teaching career he was able to build relationships with students and incorporate research-based instructional strategies that resulted in superior state exam pass rates with his students year after year. His classroom was so effective that it was featured on Annenberg’s Insights into Algebra Workshop Series and is still in use as a professional development tool for teachers wanting to improve their instructional practice. As an administrator, he worked closely with instructional leaders and teaching staff to ensure high quality lesson preparation and delivery occurred every day. He oversaw compliance with campus, district, state, and federal policies, as well as monitored the success of instructional programs and other campus goals. He has developed and coordinated the selection of appropriate programs and strategies, such as RTI, pull-outs, before/after school tutorials, Saturday Academy, Title I, Data Teams, new teacher induction, professional development, and the acquisition of instructional materials and resources. As an educational consultant, Tremain has provided professional development services that resulted in improved student achievement, instructional practices, and leadership decisions in the areas of K-12 mathematics, data driven Instruction, state standards, assessments, and research-based Instructional strategies for school districts in Texas, California, Hawaii, New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and more. He has also served as a speaker at NCTM, ASCD, NSBE, and other education conferences.

Outside of public education, Tremain enjoyed serving as the Director of Operation for Princeton Review in Houston, TX where he recruited, hired, and supervised over 100 teachers, tutors, and course operations managers in the development and maintenance of effective test preparation courses for the SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT, and the MCAT. He is also a certified SAT tutor himself. Tremain’s work with Princeton Review is a reflection of his desire to help all students be College and Career ready by the end of their K-12 experience.

Tremain also enjoyed working as a Systems Engineer for Lockheed Martin at NASA’s Johnson Space Center where he was responsible for monitoring workstation and telemetry performance between the Mission Control Center and the International Space Station. His former work as an engineer continues to fuel his passion for the integration of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into the K-12 curriculum. To this end, he has assisted several districts in their pursuit of designing curriculum based on 21st century learning skills, project based learning, and formative assessments.

Tremain is always ready to share his passion for making a difference in the lives of students. His passion can be seen in every opportunity he gets to create high-quality instructional opportunities for teachers, students, and instructional leaders. He continues to provide consultation and coaching at the state, district, and campus levels that results in systematic change around the execution of professional learning communities and math instruction. When he is not working, Tremain can be found spending time with his wife and young daughter. He is active in church, enjoys fitness, loves to shop, and appreciates quiet time at home engrossed in a good book.

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