Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Language and Content

I am teaching Mathematics in the bilingual program of our school. Apparently, two languages are used as media of instruction in teaching Mathematics – they are the learners’ first language (Thai) and second language (English).

At first, I was wondering why two languages have to be utilized in teaching a particular subject in school when a single language can be used to teach the subject matter. Well, everything doesn’t really work that way because the main thrust of teaching Mathematics in English in our program is for the students to have good grasp of the English language especially on the contextual and technical usages of the language. In the first place, a particular word in English could mean different things according to how and where it is used and so teaching other subjects through English would help broaden the learners’ linguistic abilities.

However, one thing that confused me when I started teaching in the 2nd and 4th graders of this program was when I learned that the expected learning outcomes stated as the learning standards for Mathematics were purely the learning of mathematical concepts and skills. Personally, I believe that there’s no point in teaching mathematical concepts through English especially if the learners have poor grasp of the English language. That way, we’re only giving double frustrations to the learners – difficulty to understand the language and difficulty to understand the concepts because of the language. At times, I do need to understand why learners become so unmotivated. Following double learning standards is, indeed, frustrating.

The same thing happened in the lower secondary level this year where I have been teaching 8th graders. The learning outcomes given were purely mathematics and none is of language. The evaluation, of course, is based on the expected learning outcomes and as a teacher, I could not help myself but follow the standards given which I sometimes twist to match with the learners’ ability and readiness. I admit, it’s so frustrating at times.

I am happy because I have been given one class in the upper secondary where more freedom is given to the teacher from the planning of curriculum to its execution. Here, I enjoy giving both language and math related activities to the learners. I have been considering my class with the 11th graders as English for Academic Purposes (EAP) class where the content is Mathematics. Although it’s been my first year to handle such class, I am happy that I am somewhat directed on what I am going to do in the entire school year and, at least, I personally know what I am doing. I have been offered to teach mainly in upper secondary next school year and I am very excited on that. I am hoping to develop more enhancing strategies for learners to develop English language competency and mathematical thinking and communication as well. I claim that this is for real. I am very excited to teach upper secondary classes next school year and I continually wish that this excitement would turn in undying enthusiasm in developing the learners for the better.

The contents are quite challenging as I would be embarking with Pre-Calculus and Introduction to Calculus but I am not looking at it as a challenge because I optimistically look at it as another opportunity. I believe it would be another learning experience that would broaden my horizon as Mathematics slash Language teacher. After all, versatility is the true test of being a teacher.

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