Algebra for All: Implementing California’s New 8th Grade Algebra Requirement

Reading List: English Language Learners – Language and Mathematics

** Lager, C.A. (October 1, 2004). Unlocking the Language of Mathematics to Ensure our English Learners Acquire Algebra. University of California All Campus Consortium on Research for Diversity. UC/ACCORD Policy Briefs. Paper pb-006-1004. Available at


This brief documents types of reading challenges that hinder middle-school ELs (and some non-ELs) when responding to a set of related written algebra items. The author states that “one reading misunderstanding or non-understanding can lead a student to create a logical, yet incorrect solution path to one item and apply that misconstruction when responding to other related items.” The three most common language obstacles to understanding an algebra task include: a) unknown or misunderstood vocabulary, b) incomplete understanding of syntax, and c) unanticipated contradictory visual cues. The brief provides several policy recommendations.


Lager, C.A. (2006). Types of mathematics-reading interactions that unnecessarily hinder algebra learning and assessment. Reading Psychology, 272 (2-30, 165-204). Available at


This article reports on the study summarized in the policy brief above and includes more detailed information about the theoretical framework behind the study, the methods employed, and the items used in the study.


Kotsopoulous, D. (2004, November). Literacy across the curriculum: Myth, mystery, or biliteracy: The case of mathematics education. Bilingual Basics 6(2). Alexandria, VA: TESOL. Not available online.


In this article, the author contends that literacy development must be a core component of mathematics curriculum, since literacy enables sense-making in mathematics learning. Literacy instruction within mathematics is challenging as students must develop a command of the “mathematics language register,” or the language and use of words associated with mathematics. The complexities involved in learning the content-based language require pedagogical strategies that help to develop both general literacy as well as mathematical literacy.


Paek, P. L. (2008, January). English Language Learners Mathematics Initiative: New York City Department of Education. Case study from Practices worthy of attention: Local innovations in strengthening secondary mathematics. Austin, TX: Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Available at


This profile highlights New York City Department of Education's English Language Learners (ELL) Mathematics Initiative that aims to raise achievement of ELL students by forming a network of mathematics and ELL leaders in the district and schools. Central to the initiative is professional development (e.g., the Quality Teaching for English Learners (QTEL) program, developed by WestEd) focused on instruction that incorporates students’ native language, English, and academic mathematics language. (This description is part of a compilation of “Practices Worthy of Attention,” a joint initiative of Achieve, Inc. and the Charles A. Dana Center.)


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 article was one of the priority readings for meeting #2, in LAUSD, District 4. It will not be included in this binder, but we will send it as an attachment to an email in case meeting participants did not attend that meeting or can’t locate the relevant binder.


This research brief focuses on the importance of language across the curriculum, especially in 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.


**This document is considered a priority reading.