A Project to Investigate Whether and How Teachers Teach and Children May Learn the Language of Maths in Maths Lessons in the Primary School

Project Number
SUG 14/15 SAJ

Project Duration
January 2016 - December 2016


This research aims to explore existing primary school practice to ascertain whether and how teachers at the different levels of the primary school teach pupils the English language necessary for the maths curriculum. It will focus on the three levels of primary one, three, and five in one girls’ school, St Anthony’s Canossian Primary School. Using a qualitative methodology, the project seeks to identify features of teaching in maths lessons at different school levels that assist children’s learning of mathematical concepts and the language that encodes them. Additionally, the study will explore the links between the teachers’ instruction, pupils’ language use, and their perceptions and experiences of learning through focus group discussions with pupils and analyses of their completed maths tasks, regular school ones and an additional reflective task. Importantly, the project studies girls’ learning of maths which, international tests suggest, is less successful than that of boys. However, the same tests suggest that girls outperform boys in reading. The project will therefore explore whether the girls’ difficulties are related to classroom language, pedagogic approach, or counter-productive teaching strategies such as ‘key words’, addressing these as school concerns. In the face of increasing subject specialisation in the upper primary, the project also asks, through a scrutiny of syllabi, textbooks, and school material, whether the language of English lessons is generalizable to other school disciplines such as maths. The findings of the project will be used, first, to develop instruction in the school to improve girls’ learning in maths. Second, they will be used for teacher development in school and in the NIE. The findings are likely to suggest directions for further research, for example, a similar project with boys and/or mixed classes, one in the secondary school, or a project to examine the issue of language transfer across English and maths lessons.

Funding Source

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