Teaching statistics and academic language in culturally diverse classrooms

John Wiley & Sons
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Coutis, P. and Wood, L. 2002 'Teaching statistics and academic language in culturally diverse classrooms', 2nd International Conference on the Teaching of Mathematics, John Wiley & Sons, University of Crete, Greece, pp. NA-NA.
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The last decade has seen a substantial increase in the cultural and academic diversity of commencing tertiary education cohorts. The challenge for mathematics and statistics educators is the development of curriculum measures which address the language related difficulties of language minority students (Cocking & Mestre, 1988) and improve learning outcomes for all students. Our focus in this paper is on enhancing language and communication skills in culturally diverse undergraduate statistics cohorts. Most students have difficulty adjusting to the formal language requirements of academia. Non-English speaking background (NESB) students can have particular difficulty with the reading and assessment demands of Western universities if they are not adequately supported (e.g. Ballard & Clanchy, 1997). This is especially problematic when discrepancies between verbal and written expression and true intellectual ability result in assessment penalties. What is required are curriculum models which focus on what students do as opposed to deficit models which focus on who students are (Biggs, 1999). We describe curriculum development in two subjects designed to teach language skills in statistics. Both subjects require students to engage with academic language and to develop statistical discourse skills relevant to modern professionals in the quantitative sciences. Methods used to encourage this include explicitly teaching academic reading techniques, and group research projects that are peer assessed. The projects are designed to develop statistical concepts within the context of professional practice and to address key competency requirements of relevant professional associations. We will present data that suggest that NESB students have more difficulty than ESB students on "traditional" statistics assessment tasks and describe curricula interventions that assist those students to achieve their academic potential. The reaction of students to these developments has been very positive. The quality of the work is impressive and students improve both their statistical knowledge and their reading and writing skills.
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