Common Core

Bilingualism and math standards

I am preparing for an upcoming presentation on instructional strategies for young children who are dual-language learners.  I am really fascinated by the language used in the Common Core Mathematics Standards.  You might wonder what bilingualism and mathematics standards could possibly have to do with each other.  Well, I think quite a lot.  These standards remind me of numerous advantages that many bilinguals have been found to experience, such as with problem-solving skills.


Take a look, for example, at the first two goals which you can find on page 6 of the Mathematics Standards (http://www.corestandards.org/Math/):

  1. “Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. Mathematically proficient students start by explaining to themselves the meaning of a problem and looking for entry points to its solution.”
  2. “Reason abstractly and quantitatively. Mathematically proficient students make sense of quantities and their relationships in problem situations.”

For brevity, I’ll highlight a few particular areas and phrases to illustrate why these standards make me think of bilinguals:

  • “They bring two complementary abilities to bear on problems… the ability to decontextualize—to abstract a given situation and represent it symbolically and manipulate the representing symbols as if they have a life of their own, without necessarily attending to their referents—and the ability to contextualize”
  • “…to pause as needed during the manipulation process in order to probe into the referents for the symbols involved”
  • “…attending to the meaning…not just how to compute”
  • “…knowing and flexibly using”

So, attention, abstraction, symbols, manipulation, meaning, flexibly using—do not these terms also all relate to the natural experience of being bilingual?  Bilinguals attend to the language being used; they may display early understanding that words are abstract and arbitrary symbols to convey meaning that vary by language; they demonstrate the ability to manipulate language use to communicate in one language with one person, the other language with another person, and even both languages simultaneously with certain people in some situations to enhance meaning.  Talk about flexibility!

The mathematics standards are much more than rote memorization and computation; they target underlying cognitive skills in attention, analysis, abstraction, flexibility, and creative thought processes in which bilinguals have been shown to have advantages.

In my mind, this is all the more justification for not only allowing children to maintain their first language, but strongly encouraging and supporting parents’ endeavors to raise their children with more than one language, and therefore, experience the benefits that bilingualism affords them.

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Common Core – Where to begin this discussion?

Dr. Brenda K. Gorman, Contributing Author

In the language and literacy course I am teaching, we are currently discussing the Common Core standards and the implications of these standards for speech-language pathologists.  It is a fascinating discussion.  It was a hot topic at the recent ASHA Schools Conference in Pittsburg, and a number of presentations on the topic will be shared at the upcoming ASHA Convention in Orlando.

I have shared SLPs’ professional interest in the Common Core standards since they were introduced.  Over the last several months, I have been hearing more and more parent perspectives, which have also been interesting, to say the least.  Where I live, the mention of Common Core elicits either positive or extremely negative comments from parents.  A few of my students were already aware of this controversy and had a lot to share in our discussion.

There are critics who are indicating that they want the Common Core “curriculum” abolished.  I have heard from some parents who are ready to pull their children from their current school and are seeking out other schools that do not implement this “curriculum.”  Relative to the reading standards, I have read various comments indicating that the standards call for bypassing the teaching of building blocks for reading, including phonics and phonological awareness, and jumping to the expectation that children read full texts as early as Kindergarten.  For mathematics, I have heard some people indicate that the standards call for bypassing the teaching of basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division tables, and instead moving directly to the types of problem-solving tasks that are commonly appear in social media and You Tube videos.

As an educator and as a parent with children whose education is impacted by these standards, naturally, I have been concerned by many of these claims.  However, upon hearing or reading them, I go directly to the source and re-read the standards; to my relief, I am generally unable to find evidence in the standards to support such claims.

So, what’s going on?  It seems clear that there a many misconceptions and myths out there, and we as SLPs should be aware of them so that we can understand and better support the families we serve.  Perhaps the most common misconception is that the Common Core is a curriculum that tells teachers what and how to teach.  The standards, however, clearly indicate that Common Core is not a curriculum.  Rather, they are a set of goals.  These goals can be addressed within the curriculum that teachers and schools choose to implement.   Therefore, we may be able to help parents understand the difference between the standards and a curriculum, which guides implementation.  There seem to be dramatic differences between schools’ and districts’ curricula and implementation, with schools addressing the Common Core standards in different manners.  Importantly, most of the specific examples of parents’ concerns that I am hearing point to problems with implementation and high-stakes standardized testing, not the standards themselves.

As crazy as it may seem, I recently thought about this topic while eating Brussels sprouts after having read a social media thread.  My husband usually hates them, but for whatever reason, he decided to buy them and prepare a Brussels sprout salad using a new recipe.  The salad was incredibly delicious!  I couldn’t help but think that the Brussels sprouts reminded me of the standards; healthy or not, it’s the preparation, in other words, the curriculum and implementation, that makes the Brussels sprouts palatable or not.

Indeed, we do have to figure out how to make the standards palatable, how to make them “work” for our children.  Clearly, the standards aim very high, and they will be very challenging for our students with speech-language impairments.  Upon examination of not only the reading standards, but also the math standards, you can see that successful achievement will demand strong language skills.  Therefore, I think that speech-language pathologists have a tremendous role in ensuring the standards are targeted appropriately and successfully.  I also think that educators and administrators will continue to see the importance of our role as language experts in the achievement of these standards.

It is important for us to understand parent perspectives and to help provide accurate information about the standards and what they mean for their children.  If parents still do not favor the standards after clarifying misconceptions, that’s certainly their prerogative.  It is important for us to let families know that our role is to help their children succeed and to make the standards “work” for rather than against their children.

So while there is certainly more to be said, this is where I have begun our discussion of Common Core.  I am looking forward to the ASHA Convention and learning more about the topic.  If you are unable to attend, I would like to share that I am half-way through what I am finding to be an excellent, very insightful book: Pathways to the Common Core, written by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman.  If you are looking for a good read on this topic, I am learning a great deal from this book and will share some of their insights in an upcoming post.

Pathways to the Common Core