Reading vs. Math

After a test today I had my PreCalc students work through some CME problems on compound interest. There was a nice story about a woman going to the bank, getting an account and getting a miraculous rate of 100% APR! She forgot to ask how often it was compounded so the students have to figure out how much money she will end up with in an assortment of possible scenarios. Many kids struggled, were mad they couldn’t remember the formula and finally conceded to just make a chart. As a class we did some delayed evaluation for the semi-annual model and came up with a nice factored form that most students easily generalized into the formula.

However, I have one student who arrived in the US this year. Her English is good and her math is even better, but I neglected to consider her when I planned this lesson, most of my lessons apply math to other math so it hasn’t come up before. Realizing my mistake I opted to have her skip reading the lengthy intro and just gave her the essential info. To CME’s credit they did define semi-annual and quarterly right in the problem, but it was still a lot of non-mathematical vocabulary to weed through. Afterward, though, I felt like I robbed this student of the opportunity to read a problem, pick out the important information and decide what to do with it.

What do you do when you have ELL students in a class and you want them to study something “real world”?


3 thoughts on “Reading vs. Math

  1. mrdardy says:

    At our school we have about one-fourth of our population in the high school are international boarders – many from the pacific rim. In addition to the problem you’ve identified I am often defining terms like parallel or perpendicular in the middle of an assessment and letting them know that a dime is 10 cents or a nickel is 5. I think that an most efficient way around this, in the context you described, is to not narrow the work, but to pair them up with a classmate who will help them navigate some of the trickier words here.

    • Tina C. says:

      Pairing with a classmate is a smart idea. Having so many international boarders must make for an interesting classroom environment- talk about different perspectives!

      • mrdardy says:


        What also happens that is really interesting is that our international kids know some algebraic techniques that I have never seen before. Often they can only show me that a process works, but sometimes they can work through the logic. These are always terrific conversations.

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