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IES Grant

Title: Mathematics Coaching Supporting English Language Learners
Center: NCER Year: 2011
Principal Investigator: Driscoll, Mark Awardee: Education Development Center, Inc.
Program: English Learners      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $1,450,579
Goal: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A110076

Co-Principal Investigator: Johannah Nikula

Purpose: Many English learners in middle and high schools are taught mathematics by teachers who are not prepared and often reluctant to integrate language supports into teaching and learning mathematics. This project will develop and study the utility of integrating mathematics coaching and professional development for middle-grade teachers whose classrooms include English language learners (ELLs). Researchers will base their development of coaching and professional development (PD) materials on empirical research on mathematical problem solving. This research suggests that ELLs benefit from learning multiple problem-solving strategies, using diagrams to represent and solve problems, and increasing opportunities to develop self-monitoring skills. Coaching and PD materials will emphasize the importance of providing challenging mathematical tasks, multimodal representations, and emphasize acquisition of academic language in math.

Project Activities: To meet the goals of this project, researchers will create two handbooks: a Seminar Handbook and a Coaching Cycle Handbook. The Seminar Handbook will be used by coaches to develop teachers' understanding of mathematics, language, and the principles of ELL-focused mathematics instruction. The Coaching Cycle Handbook will guide coaches in employing a model for mathematics teacher coaching that complements the seminars and presents best ways to influence the instructional practices of teachers of ELL students. Both handbooks will be iteratively developed and refined with input from coaches, teachers, and experts in math and ELL issues. A pilot study in Year 3 will also gather information on student problem solving in classrooms taught by teachers receiving the professional development and coaching.

Products: Two handbooks for use in professional development and coaching of middle-grade math teachers of ELLs will be developed. Scholarly reports of the findings will also be produced.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study will take place in six urban middle schools in Massachusetts with substantial numbers of Hispanic and Asian students.

Population: Participants include 12 middle grade mathematics teachers and 120 ELL students.

Intervention: The Seminar Handbook will provide seminar leaders with guidance to facilitate six, three-hour seminars plus two optional seminars that will include meeting agendas, exemplar mathematics problems, research summaries, language tools and notes to accompany the problems, and guidance on how to facilitate seminar activities. Teachers will examine the role of challenging tasks, multiple strategies, visual diagramming, and meta-cognitive skills in learning to solve mathematical problems. They will engage in problem solving and in describing multiple strategies in terms of the underlying thinking. Seminars will also include content related to teaching mathematics to ELLs, including lesson planning, language tools for classroom instruction, use of visual diagrams, and helping students transition from diagrammatic to symbolic representations of problems. The Coaching Cycle Handbook will include general guidelines to help coaches influence teachers' classroom instruction, a set of protocols and tools to guide lesson planning and evaluation, and suggestions for activities and tools to help teachers transfer learning from the seminars to the classroom.

Research Design and Methods: In Year 1, coaches will meet six times to discuss and try activities for the seminar and coaching cycle materials. In Year 2, researchers will conduct eight seminars and coaching cycles with teachers to try out the materials and solicit feedback for use in refining them. Data gathered in classroom observations will be combined with information obtained through teacher interviews and feedback forms to inform refinement of materials. A case study will be created for each teacher describing the teacher's change over the course of the six to eight observed coaching cycle lessons. The degree to which they modify their instruction in order to take into account cognitive demand, incorporate multimodal representations, support academic language development, and integrate diagramming will be assessed. Content and ELL experts will review materials each year of the project. The materials will be used by school-based leaders in Year 3 in a pilot test. Assessments of students' mathematics content knowledge will be administered before and after teachers participate in the seminars and coaching to provide evidence of student learning. Student performance in the classrooms of participating teachers the previous year will constitute the comparison group for the determining the promise of the intervention to improve EL learning in mathematics.

Key Measures: Key measures to support the iterative development include observation notes and artifacts from seminar and coaching cycles, seminar feedback forms, coaching cycle logs, teacher and coach interviews, and analysis of lesson plans. Student achievement will be measured using a test constructed from released National Assessment of Educational Progress and Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System items in mathematics. Achievement will also be measured using videotapes of student problem-solving sessions.

Data Analytic Strategy: Analytic memos will be produced for each training session that summarize themes from seminar observations and participant interviews. These memos will then be analyzed to identify themes for use in refining the training. A summary of observation notes, artifacts, and teacher logs will also be produced and reviewed for each coaching cycle. A similar process will be used for the feedback obtained from teachers describing their training experiences. Data collected in the quasi-experimental pilot study will compare gains in mathematics content knowledge made by ELL students in participating teachers' classrooms with the gains made by similar students in the same teachers' classrooms the previous year. The potential efficacy of the intervention will also be evaluated by analyzing videotaped, student think-alouds collected at the beginning and end of the school year to document changes in mathematical thinking and representation. Videotapes will be coded for problem-solving themes (e.g., use of strategies, tools, persistence, accuracy of reasoning, and focus on solutions) and communication themes (e.g., justifying statements, questioning, language use, and non-linguistic communication).

Publications from this project:

Driscoll, M., Nikula, J., and DePiper, J.N. (2016) Mathematical Thinking and Communication: Access for English Learners. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.