We are so proud to announce our recent partnership with EdGems in creating ELL support strategies for their Math curriculum. To celebrate this new project, we asked Ventura Unified School District Math teacher, Rosslyn Nikula, to be a guest blogger this week.
When I tell people I’m a kindergarten teacher, people often say “Oh that’s cute” or “Wow, you must be crazy!” While my students are very cute, anyone who has taught a five year old from a Title 1 school knows that the students are often in need of extra support with their vocabulary and speaking skills. Low language development coupled with low number sense and a general lack of mathematical background, which is common amongst many 5 year olds, often requires some “creativity” when crafting my lessons. I have found that embedding language routines into my daily math time boosts language development in my ELL students, as well as benefits all of my students.
One way to boost language is to create academic language “signal” words for transitions. Teaching kindergarten is often compared to “herding cats”, so the more transition chants and songs, the better! For example, when I want my students to sit along the edge of our rainbow carpet for a number talk or lesson, I say “perimeter”- they then chant back “Perimeter! Outside edge!”I also taught them to use a hand signal along with it that traces the edge of a rectangle. This visual, along with the definition, allows my students to place themselves easily in the correct position and they are learning academic language. I have used this same trick to teach definitions of shapes (and it’s an easy way to teach them to sit in a circle, which is no small feat in kindergarten!), addition and subtraction, comparing, and so on. I have found this is most effective when a hand signal is taught along with it. Sometimes, depending on their level, my ELL students might pause on a term but if I use the hand signal it jogs their memory. This could easily be adapted to older students, while they already know how to sit in a circle, the typical “class, class” chant for attention could be turned into endless opportunities for building academic language.
Another trick I use to boost language is a game I like to call “He said, She said”. I use this any time I ask my students to “turn and talk” to a neighbor. I find it especially rich during my Number Corner math time. When I say “Turn and Talk” my students chant back “Knees and eyes, head to head, he said, she said! This reminds my students my expectation for the conversation. Students know that they have to have their knees and eyes facing each other, heads together discussing the concept, and they will be responsible for using the words “He said” or “She said” at the beginning of their sentence if called on to answer. This strategy is three-fold. First, it gives my student a sentence frame (they aren’t able to read yet, everything is verbal) to begin their speaking. Second, it requires them to speak to their neighbors and listen to them enough to relay what they said. Third, this opens up discussion with my students about their agreement with the statement. I find this very rich at math time, especially. I ask my students whether they agree with the statement and have them “turn and talk” again with a new student. This allows my student multiple opportunities to engage in conversations with multiple viewpoints. It also allows my students to agree or disagree and explain their thinking. Mathematical discourse is an engaging and enriching tool for all students.
When sprinkling a little more magic into my math time, I concentrate on connecting visuals and kinesthetic movements, to verbal use. As I mentioned, we are working on our number sense (sometimes all year) in kindergarten. Finger fluency is a huge part of our understanding of numbers and the patterns that make up mathematics. In fact, many studies have come out that encourage the use of fingers in math, no matter what age the students are. It has been found that finger use and finger fluency fires different synapses and uses a different part of the brain. For example, when I have my students use both hands to make the number 7, I have them repeat after me what they see. “Five plus two equals seven” or “five and two make seven”, depending on if we are past the beginning of the year. I then have my students cross their hands over one another’s and say “flip the addends”. They then say “two plus five equals seven”. This requires my students to cross the midline of their brain and use both sides of it. My number corner also has the visuals of each number made from hands, with the word and symbol underneath. As the year progresses, I challenge the students to substitute one finger from one hand and add it to the other, to find different parts of each number. This strategy could be adapted to older students with multiplication and division too.
As each new school year begins, sometimes I even find myself asking if I’m crazy for teaching kindergarten. It’s a labor of love, but when I see my students presenting and asking questions, and engaging in rhetoric, I know it’s worth a bit of my sanity.
Rosslyn Nikula earned her teaching credential and Master’s in Educational Leadership at California Lutheran University. She is on her seventh year of teaching primary elementary school, with the last four years in kindergarten. She was a recipient of a Teacher of the Year award her second year teaching and was recognized by the Ventura County Math Council as an Outstanding Educator of Mathematics last year. With a Leading Edge Digital Educator certification, Mrs. Nikula is a tech mentor for her school site, enjoys teaching GATE classes and an extended Enrichment math class for the 5th grade students, as well. With a fifth grader, third grader and a kindergarten student of her own, she uses her “spare” time to run half marathons and serve on the board of her children’s school PTA.