Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Innovation in Teaching Math to Latino Preschoolers

Yesterday I had the chance to visit Chicago’s Erikson Institute, the nation’s only higher education center exclusively dedicated to early childhood education. Erikson won a federal i3 grant to expand its Early Math Project, which coaches early educators in strategies that help children progress in mathematical thinking.Jacqueline Jones, Arne Duncan’s deputy for early childhood, and some other U.S. Department of Education staff visited yesterday as the institute kicked off their first year of expansion from just working with pre-K and kindergarten teachers to tackling the primary grades, too.

A large number of the Chicago Public Schools involved in the project are in Latin0-heavy neighborhoods on the city’s north and northwest sides, so Erikson has taken steps to ensure young Spanish-speaking children and their teachers will get the support they need. Five of the eight coaches recruited for the project are bilingual in English and Spanish, as is one of the two coach supervisors. A key element of the work helps teachers think about the mathematical language they use in lessons and activities; there’s a nice example of how to help multilingual children develop words related to spatial reasoning here. Program director Jennifer McCray says they want to encourage teachers to learn key words in both languages and use them with their students. “We’re aware of [the need] and doing what we can. We’re trying to help teachers think about it. Often there isn’t anyone there to help them think about it.”

Erikson also recognizes the common reality that in Chicago pre-K classrooms, the teacher may be a monolingual English speaker while the teacher assistant is bilingual in Spanish and English. Though the program is only able to offer its “learning labs” (training sessions) to teachers, coaches will have some direct access to classrooms and thus opportunities to interact with assistant teachers.