Academic Spanish during mathematics instruction : the case of novice bilingual teachers in elementary classrooms

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Fabelo, Dora M., 1955-

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This dissertation focused on the study of the Spanish academic language proficiency of novice bilingual teachers during the act of teaching mathematics in elementary grades. Four first year teachers in a large urban school district in central Texas participated in the study. At the time of the study two participants were fully certified and had attended four-year teacher preparation programs. The additional participants had completed all certification requirements including content examinations and the Texas Oral Proficiency Test (TOPT); they were completing their certification requirements through alternative certification programs. The study sought to identify the moments in their teaching of mathematics in Spanish when their instruction broke down, i.e. when they appeared unable to communicate ideas to students, and the reasons for these breakdowns. Findings revealed that the teachers in the study demonstrated linguistic and/or pedagogical breakdowns and that certain factors influenced their knowledge and language competencies. Linguistic breakdowns were manifested when teachers switched to English, used repetitive language when teaching, or provided limited academic language. Pedagogical breakdowns were identified as a lack of: student talk or discussion, effective teacher questioning, or diverse presentation of content. Overall, the teachers struggled with limited language in Spanish and limited pedagogical reasoning skills while teaching mathematical concepts to their students. These limitations were exacerbated by the pressures of high stakes testing and countered by the fact that all four teachers shared linguistic and cultural affiliation with their students. This collective case study was conducted from within a constructivist theoretical framework focusing on theories of academic language, communicative competence, and Vygotsky’s sociocultural perspective of learning. Recommendations for future training and practice of bilingual teachers are provided specifically on the importance of Spanish language proficiency of this group of educators.