Preservice Teachers’ Strategies for Teaching Mathematics with English Learners

  • Zandra de AraujoEmail author
  • Erin Smith
  • Ji-Yeong I
  • Matthew Sakow
Part of the Research in Mathematics Education book series (RME)


Although English learners (ELs) are one of the fastest growing groups of students in the United States, many teacher preparation programs have yet to require preservice teachers (PSTs) to receive training in effective practices for teaching ELs. We examined four elementary PSTs’ instructional practices when implementing cognitively demanding mathematics tasks with ELs during a 4-week field experience. Through interviews, observations, and written reflections, we found that the PSTs tried to support the ELs, with varying degrees of success, by allowing for multiple modes of communication, including visual supports, pressing for explanations, and checking for understanding. The PSTs’ use of these strategies during the field experience was largely in response to the ELs’ use of language rather than mathematics. Furthermore, although the PSTs’ attention to linguistic supports was well intentioned, it often resulted in the PSTs taking on much of the mathematical thinking or failing to consider different student mathematical conceptions. We conclude that explicit instruction in and reflection on effective instructional strategies with ELs, set in authentic experiences, could help PSTs to more effectively develop the knowledge and skills necessary to meet the needs of ELs in the mathematics classroom.


English learners Teaching practice Field experiences Equity and diversity Elementary school education Teacher education preservice 



We would like to thank the PSTs and students for participating in this study. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2016 annual meeting of the North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education in East Lansing, MI (de Araujo, I, Smith, & Sakow, 2015).


  1. Aguirre, J. M., Turner, E. E., Bartell, T. G., Kalinec-Craig, C., Foote, M. Q., Roth McDuffie, A., & Drake, C. (2012). Making connections in practice: How prospective elementary teachers connect to children’s mathematical thinking and community funds of knowledge in mathematics instruction. Journal of Teacher Education, 64(2), 178–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bunch, G. C., Aguirre, J. M., & Téllez, K. (2015). Integrating a focus on academic language, English learners, and mathematics: Teacher candidates’ responses on the Performance Assessment for California Teachers (PACT). The New Educator, 11(1), 79–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Chitera, N. (2011). Language of learning and teaching in schools: An issue for research in mathematics teacher education? Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 14(3), 231–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chval, K. B., & Chávez, Ó. (2012). Designing math lessons for English language learners. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 17, 261–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. de Araujo, Z., J. Y, I., Smith, E., & Sakow, M. (2015, November). Preservice teachers’ strategies to support English learners. In T. G. Bartell, K. N. Bieda, T. R. Putnam, & H. Dominguez (Eds.), Proceedings of the 37th annual meeting for the North American chapter for the psychology of mathematics education (pp. 648–655). East Lansing: Michigan State University.Google Scholar
  6. Education Commission of the States. (2014). 50-state comparison: What ELL training, if any, is required of general classroom teachers? Retrieved from
  7. Fernandes, A. (2012). Mathematics preservice teachers learning about English language learners through task-based interviews and noticing. Mathematics Teacher Educator, 1(1), 10–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Foote, M. Q., Roth McDuffe, A., Turner, E. E., Aguirre, J. M., Bartell, T. G., & Drake, C. (2013). Orientations of prospective teachers towards students’ family and community. Teaching and Teacher Education, 35, 126–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Goldring, R., Gray, L., & Bitterman, A. (2013). Characteristics of public and private elementary and secondary school teachers in the United States: Results from the 2011–12 schools and staffing survey (NCES 2013-314). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from
  10. Gutiérrez, R. (2013). The sociopolitical turn in mathematics education. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 44(1), 37–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Jackson, K., Garrison, A., Wilson, J., Gibbons, L., & Shahan, E. (2013). Exploring relationships between setting up complex tasks and opportunities to learn in concluding whole-class discussions in middle-grades mathematics instruction. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 44(4), 646–682.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kasmer, L. (2013). Pre-service teachers’ experiences teaching secondary mathematics in English-medium schools in Tanzania. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 25(3), 399–413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Khisty, L. L., & Chval, K. B. (2002). Pedagogic discourse and equity in mathematics: When teachers’ talk matters. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 14(3), 4–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Moschkovich, J. (2002). A situated and sociocultural perspective on bilingual mathematics learners. Mathematical Thinking and Learning, 4(2–3), 189–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Moschkovich, J. (2010). Language and mathematics education: Multiple perspectives and direc-tions for research. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.Google Scholar
  16. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2000). Principles and standards for school mathematics. Reston, VA: Author.Google Scholar
  17. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2014). Principles to actions: Ensuring mathematical success for all. Reston, VA: Author.Google Scholar
  18. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common core state standards for mathematics. Washington, DC: Authors.Google Scholar
  19. Office of English Language Acquisition. (2015). Fast facts: Profiles of English learners (ELs). Retrieved from
  20. Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. (2014). Practice tests. Retrieved from
  21. Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  22. Putnam, R. T., & Borko, H. (2000). What do new views of knowledge and thinking have to say about research on teacher learning? American Educational Researcher, 29(1), 4–15.
  23. Smarter Balanced Consortium. (2014). Practice and training tests. Retrieved from
  24. Stein, M. K., Smith, M. S., Henningsen, M. A., & Silver, E. (2009). Implementing standards-based mathematics instruction: A casebook for professional development (2nd ed.). Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.Google Scholar
  25. Vomvoridi-Ivanovic, E. (2012). “Estoy acostumbrada hablar Inglés”: Latin@ pre-service teachers’ struggles to use Spanish in a bilingual after school mathematics program. Journal of Urban Mathematics Education, 5(2), 87–111.Google Scholar
  26. Wager, A. A. (2012). Incorporating out-of-school mathematics: From cultural context to embedded practice. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 15, 9–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Wolf, M. K., Herman, J. L., & Dietel, R. (2010). Improving the validity of English language learner assessment systems. Retrieved from

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zandra de Araujo
    • 1
    Email author
  • Erin Smith
    • 2
  • Ji-Yeong I
    • 3
  • Matthew Sakow
    • 4
  1. 1.University of MissouriColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.University of Southern MississippiHattiesburgUSA
  3. 3.Iowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  4. 4.Columbia River High SchoolVancouverUSA

Personalised recommendations