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Texas State professor awarded grant to research bilingual math instruction

 A little boy uses math manipulative blocks to practice addition.
istock photo by Getty
The Texas State research team will look at different ways bilingual elementary students participate in math class, including physical activity.

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New research underway at Texas State University will help future bilingual teachers encourage participation in math class.

José Martinez Hinestroza, an assistant professor in the university’s department of instruction and curriculum, received a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct the research.

Instead of observing teachers and analyzing their methods independently, Martinez Hinestroza said bilingual teachers at two elementary schools in the San Marcos Independent School District will be his co-researchers.

I'm interested in generating or provoking transformations. So, if the teachers and I learn different things about how children participate and how they use their bodies and how they use Spanish and English in creative ways, [I can’t] just tell the teachers what to do with those findings,” Martinez Hinestroza said. “It's the teachers as the experts in their craft that are going to be able to then make decisions in terms of how to transform their teaching, to make it more inclusive of their children's ways of participating.

During the first three years of the grant, Martinez Hinestroza plans to research how bilingual children understand what it means to participate in math class. The goal is to better recognize different methods of participation and then pass on that knowledge to future teachers.

“Bilingual children have some linguistic resources that wouldn't be possible in other contexts, specifically in monolingual contexts, simply because they have a larger linguistic repertoire they can draw on to name things, to express things, and to communicate their mathematical ideas,” he said.

The research will build on the topic of his dissertation; the federal grant funding the research is for early-career academics.

He said he wants to learn what forms of participation are most natural for bilingual elementary students so that teachers can include those methods in their lessons.

“And then, how we can then learn to let go of our traditional ways of thinking about how children should talk in mathematics classrooms, how they should or should not be moving in mathematics classrooms,” Martinez Hinestroza said.

Martinez Hinestroza said adults tend to think students need to talk in order to participate, but movement also counts. And, with bilingual students, flexible and inventive use of language also matters.

“Some of our Latino bilingual students in the classrooms, their language production may be judged as incorrect or not mathematically formal. So, I'm really looking forward to observing if and how this plays out in the classrooms and how the teachers and I can disrupt those perceptions to begin honoring and affirming all children's ways of using their languages in creative ways,” he said.

“Mathematics is filled with lexical inventions,” He added. “They were all lexical inventions at some point.”

During the final two years of the grant, Martinez Hinestroza will work with the bilingual teachers to create online learning modules to share best practices with current and future teachers.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Education News Desk, including H-E-B Helping Here, Betty Stieren Kelso Foundation and Holly and Alston Beinhorn.

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