Math and English Language Development for English Learners (Project MELD)

Young female student writing at school desk

Mastering math and the academic language of math is essential for all students, but especially for English Learners (ELs), who are acquiring content knowledge and English proficiency concurrently. The goal of Project MELD, a three-year study funded by the Institutes of Education Sciences, was to enable sixth-grade Spanish-speaking ELs to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to meet the new Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and Literacy in the Technical Subjects. An iterative development process was used to refine the intervention over the first two years of the study, leading to a pilot study in the final study year.

This is one of a very small number of experimental studies focused on developing mathematics and academic English vocabulary in middle grade ELs and their English-proficient classmates.

Methods were aligned with research that suggests effective math instruction for ELs should “balance conceptual understanding and procedural fluency; maintain high cognitive demand throughout lessons and units; and develop beliefs that mathematics is sensible, worthwhile, and doable” (Moschkovich, 2013, p. 49). MELD lessons engaged students in grade-level disciplinary practices with high cognitive demand; supported conceptual understanding through teacher modeling and students’ collaborative problem solving; and encouraged procedural fluency through sprints and independent problem solving. Visual and verbal supports and individualized attention helped ELs learn and feel that math was “doable.”

The intervention methods were also closely aligned with those of the National Academy of Sciences consensus report that examined ELs in STEM subjects. That report (NASEM, 2018, p. 98) identified five promising instructional practices: “engage students in disciplinary practices; engage students in productive discourse and interactions with others; utilize and encourage students to use multiple registers and modalities; leverage multiple meaning resources; and provide some explicit focus on how languages function in the discipline.” Students in the control group received the district’s standard version of supplemental math instruction.

Findings indicated the at both ELs and English-proficient students who received MELD supplemental instruction outperformed students in the control group in math and academic language associated with math.

The MELD Supplemental Curriculum

The MELD supplemental curriculum consisted of two units, each composed of 10 to 15 lessons, that were taught during a 50-minute daily block of time over the course of three months. The two MELD units focused on proportional relationships—a central concept in middle school mathematics.

The practitioner manual, Project MELD: Mathematics and English Language Development for English (PDF), displays and describes the instructional materials and methods used in MELD. Materials include digital teaching cards, teacher guides, student guides and handouts, unit glossaries, supplemental resources, and mini-lessons. The manual also explains how MELD engages students in disciplinary practices; develops ELs’ foundational conceptual knowledge and skills required for grade-level mathematics, involves students in productive discourse and interactions with others; uses multiple registers and modalities; and leverages home-language resources.

  • Appendix A displays a MELD lesson consisting of digital teaching slides. Each digital teaching slide is accompanied by guidance for teachers and activities for students.
  • Appendix B displays three lessons teachers can use to support students in engaging in academic conversations with classmates, and in using cognates knowledge and knowledge of prefixes and suffixes to uncover the meanings of unknown words.


Findings indicated that both ELLs and English-proficient students who received MELD supplemental instruction outperformed students in the control group in math and academic language associated with math.

The development and pilot testing of MELD materials and methods was supported through a grant from the United States Department of Education (Project MELD R305A140199).

Image of Rebecca Bergey
Principal Researcher