Language practices in the teaching and learning of mathematics : a case study of three mathematics teachers in multilingual schools
Gaoshubelwe, Bafedile Sam
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The achievement of learners in mathematics is unsatisfactory. There are a number of factors that contribute to this poor performance in the subject. One of these factors is the fact that many learners in South Africa learn mathematics through medium of English while it is not their main language. This research discusses the relationship between language, thought and social environment against background of the constructivist theory. Special attention is paid to mental connections and sociocultural theories that are important for the study. The significance of language in algebra learning and geometry reasoning levels provides insight into how mathematical language is used in learning. The importance of language in mathematics is highlighted, as well as the use of the mathematics register in multilingual classrooms. The language strategies and techniques used in the multilingual mathematics classrooms are discussed. Case studies were conducted at three schools to investigate the language situation. At these schools Setswana, the learners’ main language, and English are both used in the teaching and learning of mathematics. Three lessons from each school were recorded, transcribed and interpreted, using different constructs that emerged from literature. The study revealed that code–switching is practised as a language strategy in all three schools in the teaching and learning of mathematics. When switching to Setswana teachers often used transliterated words, as well as direct English terminology. Known Setswana terminology was seldomly used. The researcher observed decoding of language to facilitate construction of concepts, but only English mathematical terminology was decoded. Because teachers often code–switched in one sentence, the modelling of both the correct English and Setswana mathematical language was obstructed, and little language teaching took place as teaching styles of the teachers did not allow much learner discourse. Learners were not often required to formulate written explanations or conjectures, and never in Setswana. Recommendations include that language teaching in mathematics should be part of teacher education programmes, and in–service workshops should be conducted to inform teachers about and sensitise them to different language strategies and techniques. A future study could also focus on the use of bilingual teaching materials in mathematics teaching and learning.
- ETD@PUK