English Learners and Distance Learning: Math Language Routines

by Vanessa Cerrahoglu, Jennifer Wilson, and Liz Ramirez

We envision creating a world where learners know, use, and enjoy mathematics. Knowing and using math goes beyond calculating and evaluating. We create purposeful opportunities for students to engage in sense-making and use language to negotiate meaning with their peers. This calls for a language-rich environment where there’s space for all students to participate in argumentation and explanation.

What do these conversations look like now that we are no longer sharing physical space together? And how do we support our multilingual students who are gaining proficiency with English during distance learning? 

In this series of posts, we have told stories of teachers working to strengthen opportunities and supports for mathematical discourse—orally, visually, and in writing—in the distance learning environment. The language demands for an activity conducted in a distance learning environment can be different from the language demands when students are in the classroom together. One benefit of distance learning is that conversations can span longer periods of time, which gives students and teachers time to reflect and be purposeful about language. 
In this post, we will share more strategies for making use of the MLRs during distance learning. We acknowledge that in distance learning every context is different. We hope that some of the ideas will support you while responding to your own set of variables and constraints.

MLR 1: Stronger and Clearer Each Time

Read about the purpose and enactment of this routine.

Both Synchronous and Asynchronous
-Take advantage of the benefits of distance learning. There is more time for students to compose their ideas and reflect and revise. Also: peer language examples are there to revisit, even copy and paste!
SynchronousAsynchronous
– Breakout rooms provide space for structured pair meetings in synchronous settings.– Consider using discussion board technology to have students make a post and then read and ask clarifying questions of the posts above and below theirs, before revising their own writing.

– Family members can be recruited to listen and ask clarifying questions for students to write a second draft.

MLR 2: Collect and Display

Click here to read about the purpose and enactment of this routine, MLR 2: Collect and Display.

Both Synchronous and Asynchronous
– If students are working in discussion boards, virtual documents, or in breakout rooms, consider creating a centralized place to collect and display words and phrases from each group.

– Collecting words and phrases can be easier during distance learning if you’re monitoring virtual documents and can copy and paste.
SynchronousAsynchronous
– Collect words and phrases on a shared document, and share the display with all students during a whole class discussion.

– Encourage students to continue to use and/or add to the document while engaging in breakout rooms.
– Consider using discussion board technology to have students make a post and then read and ask clarifying questions of the posts above and below theirs, before revising their own writing.

– Family members can be recruited to listen and ask clarifying questions for students to write a second draft.

MLR 3: Clarify, Critique, Correct

Read about the purpose and enactment of this routine.

See our blog post English Learners and Distance Learning: Clarify, Critique, Correct for more.

SynchronousAsynchronous
– Display the sample response as part of the synthesis and ask students to clarify, critique, and correct in the group chat. The sample response might be actual student work, or a sample response.– In anticipation of possible student responses, include a prompt for students to clarify, critique, and correct.

MLR 4: Information Gap

Read about the purpose and enactment of this routine.

MLR 4 is a more difficult routine to enact during distance learning.

SynchronousAsynchronous
– The teacher holds the data card and students type possible questions in the chat, or volunteer to ask questions. When the group agrees they have enough information, all students work on solving the problem (perhaps in breakout groups).– An asynchronous version involves the teacher holding the data card and all students asking questions on a discussion board. More data is revealed over time, and students answer when they feel they have enough.

MLR 5: Co-Craft Questions

Read about the purpose and enactment of this routine.

See our blog post English Learners and Distance Learning: Co-Craft Questions for more.

SynchronousAsynchronous
– Display the prompt, and ask students to submit questions via the chat or a shared google doc. There is a benefit to students being able to see one another’s responses in real time.– Students can submit questions via a discussion board, virtual document, or web form, and the teacher can share selected questions for further discussion, or students can pick one or more to solve. This gives students an additional opportunity to interact with — and reflect on — the questions.

MLR 6: Three Reads

Read about the purpose and enactment of this routine.

MLR 6 Three Reads is a useful technique for students to use on their own as well as in activities, so demonstrating it during synchronous or asynchronous classes is valuable.

SynchronousAsynchronous
– Model the routine live, with all three reads.

– Create a slide or image to serve as an anchor chart, cuing the purpose of each of the three reads.
– Recording a think-aloud of your own three reads can benefit all students in making sense of problems.

– List the three questions for students to respond to independently or on a discussion board.

MLR 7: Compare and Connect

Read about the purpose and enactment of this routine.

See our blog post English Learners and Distance Learning: Compare and Connect for more.

SynchronousAsynchronous
– Support students to use screencasting tools or send a picture of their work ahead of time so that you can select strategies for students to compare and connect.

– Share selected pieces of student work and ask students to identify what is the same and what is different across the selected pieces of student work.

– Ask students to identify where the quantities or relationships are expressed in the different strategies.
– Share selected pieces of student work (or teacher-generated samples of strategies/representations based on student work) in a document or discussion board post for students to respond to.

– Ask students to identify what is the same and what is different across the selected pieces of student work.

MLR 8: Discussion Supports

Read about the purpose and enactment of this routine.

Both Synchronous and Asynchronous
– Press for details in students’ explanations by requesting that students challenge an idea, elaborate on an idea, or give an example.

– Use videos, pictures, or diagrams to help illustrate contexts.

– Prompt students to think about different possible audiences for the statement, and about the level of specificity or formality needed for a classmate vs. a mathematician, for example. [Convince Yourself, Convince a Friend, Convince a Skeptic (Mason, Burton, & Stacey, 2010)]
SynchronousAsynchronous
– Provide sentence frames on a slide deck, image, or shared document to support student discussions (either with all participants or a breakout room).

– Give students time in breakout groups (if using) to make sure that everyone in the group can explain or justify each step or part of the problem. Tell students in advance how the group will share out, and vary the role of sharing out.
– Provide sentence frames for online discussion boards.

– Record yourself thinking aloud by talking through thinking about a mathematical concept while solving a related problem or doing a task..

Let’s go back to our question: “What happens when we pay attention to language?”

By focusing on language, we create an opportunity for students to go beyond just describing their own process and answer. Students explore connections between their thinking and the thinking of others. Students use oral and written language to reflect on their reasoning, and comparisons between their work and the work of others. This allows students to engage in sense-making, optimize output, maximize linguistic and cognitive meta-awareness, and cultivate conversation, whether or not we are in the room together.

Next Steps

We would love to learn alongside you. How have you used MLRs with your students during distance learning? Share your prompts, and, if possible, student work, at #LearnWithIM.

Looking for more support for distance learning? Check out IM’s collection of resources.

Vanessa Cerrahoglu

Vanessa Cerrahoglu started her journey as an educator, curriculum developer, and workshop facilitator over 20 years ago. She taught high school mathematics in Los Angeles and Orange County before joining her local county office as a math coordinator. She has developed a unique perspective to the problems we face every day, through her work with diverse learning communities: a site with predominantly English language learners in Title 1 schools, a math and science academy, and an academy grounded in the arts. She currently supports teachers, administrators, and varied stakeholders, grades K–12, to foster a love for learning mathematics! She tweets @mymathsoul.

Jennifer Wilson
Jennifer enjoys learning alongside the Illustrative Mathematics community as a professional learning facilitator and writer. She is a Core Advocate and National Board Certified Teacher, and she has most recently taught and learned math with students and teachers in the Rankin County School District in Brandon, Mississippi. She is a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (2011) and an instructor for TI’s Teachers Teaching with Technology program. Jennifer thinks a lot about how we might slow down and savor learning math through questions, collaboration, and connection, and so she blogs at Easing the Hurry Syndrome and The Slow Math Movement.
Liz Ramirez

As the Director of Access and Supports at Illustrative Mathematics, Liz’s goal is to develop quality resources and professional learning opportunities that empower teachers to meet the diverse needs of their students. Before joining IM, Liz devoted her career to teaching students and supporting educators in New York City Public Schools. She is passionate about improving the experience of learning mathematics for all students, especially those in underrepresented and underserved communities.

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