Like all good TV shows we wanted to introduce a spin-off series from our Functional Skills monthly insight blog, so this new blog starts off with a crossover: Teaching Functional Skills Maths to ESOL learners.
How does Pearson support the teaching of Functional Skills maths to ESOL learners?
When creating assessments for Functional Skills maths, Pearson will always maintain considerations for ESOL learners. Our research on contexts ensures that the assessments are relevant to the needs of the majority of our learners. At Level 1 and level 2, each question has a separate context to ensure that the learners can engage with the context. At Entry Level, we allow centres to pre-teach the vocabulary of the contexts, providing a list in our assessor guides, or to contextualise the assessments themselves for their learners’ benefit. There is more guidance on contextualising in our ICCA guide.
NB: It is key that you gain approval from your Standards Verifier before allowing learners to take an adapted version of the assessment.
In terms of language, we ensure that there is an English specialist involved in the creating of the maths assessments so we can avoid confusing grammatical structures and vocabulary. We want the learners to be demonstrating their mathematical skills and not their literacy skills.
That being said, the reformed Functional Skills do contain a great deal of problem-solving questions, so we do recommend that learners spend time working with past questions to ensure that they can pull out the necessary maths.
Finally, learners are allowed access to dictionaries or bilingual dictionaries in the assessments as a further support mechanism.
Speaking with Eve Shephard, an ESOL and Functional Skills maths specialist and Advance Practitioner, we posed the question - What more can be done to support ESOL learners with Functional Skills maths?
- The most obvious difficulty ESOL students have is with language. There are many aspects of language that may cause issues, with vocabulary being a particular challenge. Maths has its own language, which includes field-specific words such as ‘area and perimeter’ but also many everyday words which have a separate meaning in maths such as ‘product’ and ‘difference’. These can present difficulties to any maths learner and most teachers will plan to spend some time teaching maths vocabulary. However, for ESOL students the problem is compounded by a lack of general vocabulary. Abstract words such as ‘enough’, ‘except’ and ‘should’ can cause difficulties that are harder for teachers to predict and address.
- Learners can struggle with cultural differences. Imperial measurements and UK currency are likely to be new to them. Students may also lack cultural knowledge of the scenarios used in functional questions, such as visiting a garden centre. Some students may have learned different methods and be used to different notation conventions, such as using a comma* for a decimal point. Others may have had a very disrupted education due to war and migration and therefore have gaps in basic underpinning knowledge.
- Finally, there is the spoken English of the teacher to contend with. Learners can easily miss information when their decoding skills cannot keep pace with the speed of delivery.
NB: On the point of commas, Pearson does accept commas for decimal points when marking their papers.
As part of my research for this blog, I asked some maths and ESOL teachers for their top tips.
Encourage your learners to support each other in their first language if you have the luxury of multiple learners with the same first language. It may be easier for them to put some maths concepts across this way.
Demonstrate that vocabulary can have multiple meanings so that learners can understand these difference and use them correctly in the maths context. Words such as mean or table would be good examples of this.
Richard Oliver – Functional Skills maths Tutor
Use visual resources to support your teaching. Having clear visuals and examples will support students to understand spoken explanations and instructions. A picture is an efficient way to convey context without getting bogged down in excessive teacher talk; in fact it encourages students to talk and demonstrate their understanding. Students need regular practice with key vocabulary, both inside and out of class. Spaced practice is important as learners may need to encounter a word many times before it is securely memorised.
Eve Shephard - ESOL and Functional Skills maths specialist
Use realia in the classroom to support learning. Simple things like a metre rule, a piece of wood that is one metre squared or a one kilogram bag of flour can help with the concepts of measurements.
Ensure you teach the language of maths thoroughly, especially focusing on common synonyms such as add, sum and total.
We hope the tips and advice in this blog will help you support your ESOL learners when learning Functional Skills maths. If you have any further tips or questions, please do share them with us.
Chris Briggs - Product Manager Post 16 English, Maths and Digital Skills