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Reading List: Second Language Issues in Mathematics Instruction

**Cummins, J. (2003). Supporting ESL Students in Learning the Language of Mathematics. Issues and Trends in Mathematics. Chicago, IL: Pearson Education/Scott Foresman. Not available online.


This research brief focuses on the importance of language across the curriculum, especially in mathematics because of the specialized vocabulary of mathematics. The author outlines various supports and strategies that are important to employ in the teaching of mathematics to English language learners, including: activating prior knowledge or building on background knowledge; providing access to content through supports or scaffolds (e.g., demonstration/modeling, whole class and small-group project work, use of visuals, language clarification, and dramatization); and extending the language through mathematical language banks, reporting back to the class, and mastering the language of mathematical assessment.


Secada, W. (unknown). Teaching Mathematics for Understanding to Bilingual Students. National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition and Language Instruction Educational Programs. Not available online.


This article provides information about teaching for understanding accessible to educators of bilingual students. The author outlines four principles to guide educator’s decision making and practices: 1) constantly assess what students understand; 2) choose mathematical content that is interesting, open ended, and accessible to students of varying skills and abilities; 3) focus on developing children’s understanding by building in their prior knowledge of mathematics; and 4) develop mathematical language in context.


Hernandez, A. (2003). Making Content Instruction Accessible for English Language Learners in G. Garcia (Ed.) English Learners: Reaching the Highest Level of English Literacy. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Available at


This chapter presents strategies to help educators optimize English learners’ education in subject matter instruction. The author addresses the potential to teach language and to enable access to learning across content areas through four instructional dimensions: communication-based instruction, content-based instruction, cognitive development, and study skills.


National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2002). Mathematics for Second-Language Learners. Not available online.


This document outlines the NCTM’s position on mathematics education for English learners. The principles emphasize communication for all students, particularly second-language learners, who should be given opportunities and support for speaking, writing, reading and listening in mathematics classes.

**This document is considered a priority reading.