I really enjoyed Bill Jasper’s session on Concept and Vocabulary Acquisition. Though the importance of enabling ELL students was a thread through his presentation, he didn’t include this in his title, because his theme was that the same techniques that are useful for ELL students actually bring significant benefit to all students. He made a very good case for this position, with lots of examples, pages of basic principles and specific suggestions, and even manipulatives that he passed out to the audience. The emphasis on manipulatives was important to his theme of acquiring vocabulary and concepts because students’ use of manipulatives gives them concrete experiences to write and reflect about in the process of developing conceptual understanding.
I particularly liked his story about Ramon. At the end of his first day of summer school (after failing math), his math teacher asked the class to write about what they had learned that day. He told her “I don’t write English.” She encouraged him, he repeated that he didn’t write English, so she told him to write in Spanish. He was still reluctant, but she persisted until he had written several sentences in Spanish. She then told him to translate his sentences into English. After several iterations of Ramon’s reluctance and the teacher’s encouragement, she managed to get him to write down the English translations of as many of the Spanish words as he could. This continued, day after day, until Ramon realized that he was doing twice the work of the other students at the end of each class, and decided just to write the English translations. By the end of summer school, he not only passed the math course, but his teacher’s refusal to let him off the hook resulted in a huge leap in his skills in writing English.
Near the end of Bill’s presentation, he showed some Sketchpad projects several of his students had done in their geometry classes, and it was delightful to see how he’d used these projects to get them to write in detail, right next to each construction, the mathematical observations that they had made from these constructions and their reflections about the construction and about the mathematics.
Bill also encouraged his audience to join Todos (www.todos-math.org), the NCTM affiliate that works on issues related to equity for all students, with a special emphasis on Hispanic/Latino students.