Frustrated young boy stands in front of chalkboard with math equations written on it

Bilingual teaching model highlights math learning in other languages

It’s been said that mathematics is a universal subject, but Dean’s Doctoral Fellow Jessica Hale sees it differently.

For students who aren’t being taught in their native language, learning math concepts can be a struggle.

“If you look at how mathematics is taught in different cultures, we teach and emphasize different things. And there are some cultures where our entire number system doesn’t exist, so this idea that mathematics is universal is a very Westernized thought,” she explained. “It’s amazing how quickly that can get dismantled just by doing something like teaching math in a student’s native language.”

Hale’s latest research project puts her in an Atlanta-area school that uses a bilingual model — students are taught in English one day and in another language the next. She wants to see how this model can potentially bridge the gap for students whose first language isn’t English and highlight their mathematics skills.

“We haven’t had a lot of opportunity to see this happen organically and see what it means for mathematics instruction,” she said.

In addition, Hale is working with College of Education & Human Development Assistant Professor Stephanie Behm Cross to study teacher residency programs and how to support new teachers in their first few years in the field.

Both projects allow her to get to know the teachers, students and communities around Atlanta, gain more insight into mathematics education and learn how to be both a researcher and an advocate for quality education. She believes teachers in the classroom have a lot to offer researchers and hopes her dissertation reflects what she’s learned from them.

“I want to learn what they’re doing that’s working and use my position as a researcher to then share that with other teachers and practitioners.”

“Jessica figured out at the beginning of her second year that she really wanted to do ethnographic research – which allows researchers to observe and listen to teachers and students in a nondirected way – and she hadn’t had any experience with that. I was working with a local school to collect research on a newly developed residency model for preservice and inservice teachers and Jessica suggested that she could look more closely at some of the residents at that school and spend some extended time in their classrooms prior to starting her dissertation work. I think that was beneficial for her to engage in that type of research before doing it, and it was a great benefit to me because it was a type of research I hadn’t really done before. We really learned from each other in that space; it was great.” -Stephanie Behm Cross, Jessica’s faculty advisor, on simultaneously learning from Jessica and helping her determine which direction her research would take