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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Language and content in language arts and math : a case study Evans, Peter D.

Abstract

This thesis is a qualitative case study of a mathematics unit and a literature unit taught concurrently to a class of grades five and six students, the majority of who were English as a Second Language (ESL) students. The units were collaboratively planned with an ESL Resource Teacher. The study aims to illuminate the processes and products of student engagement with the two units. At the same time, it documents the teacher/ researcher's process of reflection. The study makes reference to the teacher/researcher's growing understanding of the role that prior knowledge plays in the classroom. For the teacher/ researcher, this study acted as a "voyage of discovery" as he made observations regarding the student's experiences and the role of prior knowledge. Students experienced considerable success with the literature unit, but had persistent difficulties with the mathematics unit. To investigate the reasons for this difference, concerning this difference in success, the researcher explored two matters of prior knowledge: prior classroom experience and the link between everyday language and technical language in student discourse. With respect to prior classroom experience, the students reported little prior teaching of relevant mathematical material whereas the literature material had regularly been taught. With respect to the link between everyday and technical language, the findings suggested that the students were able to draw on everyday language for describing persons in the literature unit, but were not able to draw on everyday language for describing patterns in the mathematics unit. More broadly, this suggests that students were able to draw on familiar social practices for describing persons but not for describing mathematical patterns. Implications are drawn for further research and for educational practice.

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