The influence of terminology and support materials in the main language on the conceptualisation of geometry learners with limited English proficiency
Vorster, Johanna Alida
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Learners in South Africa underachieve in Mathematics. Amidst many other factors that influence the Mathematics scenario in South African schools, one major aspect of the Mathematics classroom culture is the Language of Learning and Teaching (LoLT). For many learners the LoLT, namely English, is not their main language. The question arises of whether Setswana learners with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) are disadvantaged because the LoLT is English and if so, what could be done about it. The interaction between language and thought is discussed against the background of the learning theories of Piaget, Vygotsky and van Hiele, as well as the Network Theory of Learning. From this study the importance of language for conceptualisation becomes clear, especially that of the mother tongue. The circle is then narrowed down to take a look at the vital part that language plays in Mathematics and the problems that exist for the learner when negotiating meaning during the journey between natural language and the mathematical register. Focusing on the situation of the Setswana Mathematics learner with English as LoLT, the views of parents and teachers come under scrutiny as well as government policies regarding the LoLT. The techniques and strategies of teachers in the English Second Language Mathematics classrooms (ESL-classrooms) are investigated. In this regard code-switching is of importance and is discussed extensively. These theoretical investigations led to an empirical study. Firstly, a quantitative study was undertaken by means of a survey to investigate the language situation in schools where Setswana is the main language. Furthermore, the views of those teachers, who teach Setswana learners with English as LoLT, on how English as LoLT influences Setswana Mathematics learners' conceptualisation were investigated. A sample of 218 teachers in the North-West Province of South Africa was used in this survey. A complex language situation crystallises where no one-dimensional answer can be recommended. Code-switching has clearly made large inroads into the Mathematics classroom, but teachers' views on the expediency of using Setswana, especially for formal notes, terminology and tests, vary considerably. Secondly, a qualitative study was undertaken in two schools. The study investigated the possibility that notes in Setswana as well as in English, and the aid of an English/Setswana glossary of Mathematical terminology in daily tasks as well as in tests, would be of value to learners. It was clear from the sample that the new terminology is difficult for the teachers in question because they are used to the English terminology. Some learners also find the Setswana terminology difficult. However, the learners experience the use of the Setswana in the notes positively. It was clear from the interviews with the learners that by far the most of the learners in the sample felt that the Setswana/English notes as well as the glossary helped them to understand better. The learners oscillate between English and Setswana to understand the explanation given or the question asked. Most of the learners are of opinion that tests where questions are asked in both languages contribute to a better comprehension of what is asked. They also experience the glossary of English/Setswana terminology supplied in the test as an important aid. Recommendations comprise that the Setswana Mathematics register should be expanded and final examinations set in both Setswana and English. Furthermore, teachers should be educated to use new terminology effectively as a scaffold to ensure adequate conceptualisation, as well as to manage code-switching in a structured way.
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