Coming to school where the language of instruction is different from the home language of the students can be challenging for young learners. For many teachers in remote areas, their knowledge of the home language/s of their students is very limited so finding ways to communicate mathematically can be challenging for both teachers and students. Connecting to the students’ home experiences and languages is an important process in the teaching context. There are numerous ways that this can be achieved, one of them is through the construction of big books (or any size book).
From the Remote Numeracy project, we found a number of very remote schools creating resources. Given that the teachers may not know the home language of the students, a valuable resource in the school is the Aboriginal Education Workers who generally come from the community and speak the local language/s, know the children and their families and are familiar with the activities that the students undertake outside school. This knowledge is priceless when creating resources that not only engage the learners, but also have personal meaning for them.
Creating big books is one way to engage the students and provide a bridge between the home language and that of school mathematics. Initially a book is created around a theme – comparative terms (longer, shorter, more less etc), a topic such as number; or positional language. Any topic can be identified and then created into a book. The Aboriginal Education Workers took photographs of the students and/or their contexts that represented the topic of the book. For example with positional language, children were photographed in various positions around the school grounds. Often the students were named so that the books were very personalised. Some of the pages included children under the slide, above the play gym and so on. Each picture was then described in the home language and school language with the key concept (under, above, etc) highlighted in a different colour. This demonstrated to the students the links between how a concept was expressed in the home language and how it was expressed in mathematics.
Teachers and the Aboriginal Education Workers modelled the language to the students as they read the books. In some cases, the teacher would read the standard English version and the Aboriginal Education Worker would read the home language version (or vice versa).
One of the perceived benefits of this approach, other than the obvious transition into school mathematics language, was that the approach celebrated and validated the home language of the student. Recognising the language (and culture) of the students is important. Similarly, the approach also validated that value of the Aboriginal Education Workers in the classroom and the important knowledge/s that they bring to the learning context.