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English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives (2018)

Chapter: 4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners

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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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4

Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners

Participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines offers unique learning opportunities for English learners (ELs). However, as described in Chapter 2, historically ELs have not been given access to grade-level, content-rich, language-rich STEM learning opportunities due to the misconception that a certain level of English proficiency is a prerequisite for participation in STEM learning (Callahan, 2005). Chapter 3 establishes that ELs develop STEM knowledge and language proficiency when they are engaged in meaningful interaction in the context of shared experience in the classroom. Teachers are crucial to creating classroom environments that can leverage the assets that ELs bring to STEM learning.

Building from these foundational chapters, the committee reviewed the extant literature on the classroom structures and instructional strategies for ELs in STEM learning.1 It should be noted that although there has been an increase in research with ELs in STEM subjects, there are few large-scale systematic studies to demonstrate widespread effectiveness of particular strategies and approaches (see National Research Council, 1992, for similar issues related to bilingual education). Moreover, the committee found limited evidence that could provide strong links to students’ outcomes of

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1 This chapter includes content drawn from papers commissioned by the committee titled Teachers’ Knowledge and Beliefs about English Learners and Their Impact on STEM Learning by Julie Bianchini (2018), Mathematics Education and Young Dual Language Learners by Sylvia Celedón-Pattichis (2018), Secondary Science Education for English Learners by Sara Tolbert (2018), and The Role of the ESL Teacher in Relation to Content Teachers by Sultan Turkan (2018).

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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specific practices to engage ELs at different proficiency levels and from different backgrounds. Given the limited causal evidence, the committee drew upon the available descriptive evidence and case examples to look for emerging themes suggestive of promising strategies and approaches.

This chapter is organized to first give an overview of classroom culture—describing some of the views that teachers of STEM have about ELs, the way ELs are positioned in the STEM classroom, and the value of teachers engaging with ELs’ families. It is then followed by a brief discussion of the changing role of the English as a second language (ESL) teacher in the STEM classroom. The committee then identifies promising instructional strategies for enriching STEM learning and language development and concludes with a brief discussion of curriculum.

CLASSROOM CULTURE

Teachers must “purposefully enact opportunities for the development of language and literacy in and through teaching . . . core curricular content, understandings, and activities” if they are to interest, engage, and challenge their EL students (Bunch, 2013, p. 298). Their efforts to construct safe classroom communities and effectively implement instructional strategies have been found to impact both ELs’ views of themselves as learners and their math and science achievement (Carlone, Haun-Frank, and Webb, 2011; Lewis et al., 2012; Llosa et al., 2016). Given that “teachers are both on the front line and responsible for the bottom line” in providing ELs with the knowledge, practices, and habits of mind needed to excel in and affiliate with STEM disciplines, it is important to understand teachers’ views and experiences (Gándara, Maxwell-Jolly, and Driscoll, 2005, p. 2).

Teachers’ Knowledge and Beliefs about ELs’ Learning in STEM

Researchers have examined a wide range of teachers’ knowledge and beliefs about the resources, interests, and strengths of their ELs both within and across studies. Overall, it is clear that there is substantial variability in the views teachers of ELs in STEM subjects hold, including asset-based and deficit-based orientations toward ELs. Table 4-1 provides an overview of some of the beliefs that teachers of STEM content have regarding ELs and their potential for STEM learning.

Research has documented that, although some practicing and preservice teachers conceive of language as integral to the nature of mathematics or science (Bunch, Aguirre, and Téllez, 2009; Swanson, Bianchini, and Lee, 2014), other teachers may fail to see language as integral to the nature, concepts, and practices of mathematics (Bunch, Aguirre, and Téllez, 2009; McLeman and Fernandes, 2012). For example, McLeman and Fernandes

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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TABLE 4-1 Summary of the General Views Teachers Have about English Learners’ (ELs’) Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Capabilities

Teachers who hold asset views typically: Teachers who hold deficit views typically:
Hold high expectations for EL’s success Hold low expectations for ELs’ success
View ELs as willing and able to learn both STEM content and English—as eager and capable learners View ELs as homogeneously low in language proficiency in STEM—conflating English language proficiency with STEM content understanding
Recognize ELs as a diverse, rather than homogeneous, group—background, interests, and/or English proficiency level Hold stereotypes of ELs grounded in their first language, ethnicity, and/or country of origin
Believe that ELs bring valuable knowledge and experiences to STEM classrooms that should be elicited and built on Believe that ELs lack relevant prior knowledge, experiences, and/or language
View ELs as entitled to rich learning opportunities (and) adequate scaffolds and supports See ELs as unable or unwilling to communicate with teachers and/or with their non-EL peers
Assume ELs enrich the classroom for all students Assume ELs are motivated and hardworking rather than intelligent
Engage ELs in disciplinary meaning-making Engage ELs in low-level cognitive demand tasks
Believe ELs have access to different yet important cultural knowledge that is dependent upon their experiences in and out of school Believe ELs have access to the same cultural knowledge as non-EL students
See ELs as potential future scientists and mathematicians See ELs as having limited future vocations or professions
Believe that ELs require similar time as non-EL peers to have their needs met Believe that ELs require more time to have their needs met than their non-EL peers
Believe that ELs are constrained by institutional and economic forces and experience fundamental inequities in their lives that teachers and schools could help to address Believe that ELs experience fundamental inequities in their lives that teachers and schools should not be expected to address

SOURCE: Developed and adapted from commissioned paper Teachers’ Knowledge and Beliefs about English Learners and Their Impact on STEM Learning by Julie Bianchini (2018). Available: http://www.nas.edu/ELinSTEM [October 2018].

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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(2012) found that the majority of the 330 preservice K–12 teachers from 12 different states they surveyed thought mathematics was ideal for beginning ELs to transition into learning English; at the same time, preservice teachers most likely viewed mathematics as “devoid of language” and purely symbolic in nature. However, the majority of preservice teachers who intended to teach high school mathematics and who had exposure to learning a second language themselves provided responses aligned with research on the complex nature of language and discourse in mathematics.

For those teachers who accept the need to integrate content and language, additional struggles are identified (Coady, Harper, and de Jong, 2016; de Araujo, 2017; Gándara, Maxwell-Jolly, and Driscoll, 2005). Coady, Harper, and de Jong (2016) found that while their two elementary teacher participants had been trained in and recognized the need to integrate content and language learning, they continued to value content learning over language learning (for an example, see Box 4-1). As such, in their teaching of mathematics, both relied on mere exposure to English and Euro-American cultural experiences rather than explicit instruction in linguistic and cultural norms to meet the needs of their EL students. On the other hand, de Araujo and colleagues (de Araujo, 2017; de Araujo, Smith, and Sakow, 2016; de Araujo et al., 2015) found that secondary math teachers constrained ELs’ opportunities to use mathematics concepts or practices because the teachers prioritized their support of students’ language for students labeled ELs. Additional examples of perceived challenges in integrating language and content include struggles to find enough time both to teach ELs subject matter and develop English proficiency and to address the needs of both ELs and other students (Gándara, Maxwell-Jolly, and Driscoll, 2005); difficulties in differentiating misunderstandings grounded in content versus those grounded in language (Roberts et al., 2017); and failures to consistently use ESL strategies to promote English language development in STEM lessons (Lee et al., 2009).

Some teachers appear to ignore the value of student talk, equate discourse with vocabulary, work with ELs in isolation rather than as part of the whole class, or fail to adequately support groupwork (Chval and Pinnow, 2010). Others, however, believe that a welcoming and safe classroom community is needed if ELs are to participate and learn (Chval and Chavez, 2011; Deaton, Deaton, and Koballa, 2014; Harper and de Jong, 2009) and understand the importance of engaging ELs in STEM disciplinary talk and practices (Bunch, Aguirre, and Téllez, 2009; Johnson, Bolshakova, and Waldron, 2016; Pettit, 2013).

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Positioning of ELs in the Classroom

In order to engage ELs in challenging STEM instruction, it is important to create a climate that positions them as capable participants with rights and duties in classroom social interactions. Positioning theory2 addresses the psychology of interactions through microanalysis of the role of rights and duties (Harré et al., 2009). Pinnow and Chval (2015) reported on the ways ELs can be positioned inequitably in peer-to-peer and whole-class dis-

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2 In positioning theory, interactions are composed of positions, storylines, and speech acts. Among the triad of positions, storylines, and speech acts, positions in classrooms are social in that they can be viewed as the rights and duties that participants are required to carry out in social interactions.

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

cussions, making it more difficult for them to gain access to academic debate and discussion. In that case, the inequitable positioning constrains ELs’ access to learning opportunities necessary for developing both advanced STEM learning and English language proficiency. Research examining classroom interactions emphasizes the teacher’s role in promoting EL academic success and participation (Iddings, 2005; Verplaetse, 2000; Yoon, 2008). If teachers position ELs as students with deficits who consistently need assistance, this will shape ELs’ positioning in peer-to-peer interactions (Cohen and Lotan, 1995, 1997, 2014; Pinnow and Chval, 2015).

ELs may be silent during classroom activities. Yoon (2008) argued that “the main reason for [ELs’] anxiety, silence, and different positioning has much to do with being outsiders in the regular classroom context” (p. 498). Pappamihiel (2002) noted that student silence is often the result of unfair or inequitable positioning in content classrooms that can subsequently reduce student opportunities to engage in meaningful learning opportunities. Hansen-Thomas (2009) compared how three 6th-grade mathematics teachers used language to draw ELs into content-focused classroom participation and found that in classes where teachers regularly elicited language from ELs, these students were successful on academic assessments, whereas students in other classes were not.

Teachers play a key role in partnering students so that ELs have regular opportunities to share their ideas and are then positioned as competent classroom community members (Yoon, 2008; see Box 4-2), thus placing them on a trajectory toward greater competence and participation (Empson, 2003; Turner et al., 2009). Chval and colleagues (2018) present examples from Courtney, a 3rd-grade teacher, and Sara, a 5th-grade teacher, whose practices they researched (see, e.g., Khisty and Chval [2002] and Chval, Pinnow, and Thomas [2015]) to illustrate teaching practices that have facilitated equitable partnerships for ELs in mathematics classrooms. These teachers (1) established environments in which students respected one another and valued partnerships, (2) used criteria for partner selection, (3) identified subtle cues that indicate inequitable partnership patterns, and (4) used strategies to intervene when necessary. Razfar, Khisty, and Chval (2011) reported on a 5th-grade teacher documented to be highly effective in working with ELs: “Overall, through her instruction, she creates an activity system that repositions students as agents of knowledge construction who collectively move toward a common goal using multiple mediational and semiotic tools. Through this activity system, her students not only develop mathematically but also appropriate complex writing practices in English” (p. 196). Chapter 5 provides a deeper discussion of the ways in which teachers position the families’ culture in classrooms.

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Teachers’ Value of Family-Community Engagement

It is essential to acknowledge that all children, irrespective of their home culture and first language, arrive at school with rich knowledge and skills that have great potential as resources for STEM learning. However, the teachers who instruct students who are “minoritized” according to their social class and cultural and linguistic backgrounds need support to recognize, leverage, and use these as potential instructional resources (Rosebery and Warren, 2008). When teachers better understand their students and their families, they can then recognize students’ multiple ways of doing and demonstrating knowledge or understanding of mathematics and science content available in different contexts (Civil, 2012).

There is a need for teachers (and other school personnel) to gain a better understanding of their students’ and their families’ backgrounds and experiences (see Chapters 5 and 6). This can help teachers see that STEM

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

learning is not culture-free and can open up paths to teaching innovations that build on students’ experiences. One approach to teachers learning from families is work using the concept of Funds of Knowledge. As Moll and colleagues (1992) wrote, “We use the term ‘funds of knowledge’ to refer to these historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or individual functioning and well-being” (p. 133). Chapter 5 provides a more in-depth discussion of the interactions between the teacher, school, family, and community that are important for ELs’ success in STEM learning.

INTERACTIONS BETWEEN STEM CONTENT TEACHERS AND ESL TEACHERS

ESL teachers play significant roles in various ESL education programs at elementary and secondary levels. At elementary schools, some of the program models in which teachers of ELs play significant roles include pull-out, push-in, or inclusion models, and team teaching (Becker, 2001). At the secondary level, sheltered content classes are common (Faltis, 1993) to meet ELs’ language needs in content classrooms. (However, as noted in Chapter 2, sheltered classes often have more simplified disciplinary content.)

The challenges in collaboration between the STEM content teachers and ESL teachers are evident in research (Arkoudis, 2000, 2003; Tan, 2011). Tan (2011) showed how teachers in a STEM content-based language teaching environment viewed their roles as content teachers only and did not assume any language-related responsibilities nor did they approach collaboration positively. This kind of negative stance is a great challenge for collaboration. Further, Arkoudis (2000, 2003) showed in ethnographic work on ESL teachers’ roles in relation to the mainstream science teacher that the participating ESL teacher had less authority and agency over the lesson planning process. Arkoudis (2006) reported that the epistemological authority and power that the science teacher holds over the ESL teacher is directly linked to the institutional hierarchy within the education system.

Moreover, in the kind of content-based language teaching that has until recently been most common, ESL teachers are asked to develop “content objectives” and “language objectives.” MacDonald, Miller, and Lord (2017, p. 183) provided examples of typical “language objectives”:

  • Students will compare landforms using descriptive language.
  • Students will describe the molecular changes that occurred using the past tense ‘-ed’ form.

As the authors point out, goals like these, based on the assumption that

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

language learning will be supported by focusing on grammatical forms (past tense) or only on a particular function out of context (“compare”. . . .) lose sight of the larger goals of the instructional work, such as a focus on concepts and student participation in practices. Approaches that are currently being promoted for work with ELs in STEM classrooms instead focus on objectives that are relevant to deep STEM learning focused on disciplinary concepts and practices. For the same instructional focus, MacDonald and colleagues (2017, p. 184) presented these revised objectives:

  • Students will collaboratively develop a model that explains and predicts patterns in the changes to the land caused by wind and rain.
  • Students will collaboratively construct an explanation of the effect of thermal energy on molecular movement.

Objectives such as these focus the instruction on the science to be learned and embed attention to the functional use of language. As students explain and predict in developing a model and constructing an explanation, the teacher can support these discursive goals that develop students’ language at the same times the students learn science. Goals like these, recognizing the functional use of language in learning, align with the focus of science educators on disciplinary concepts and practices and offer new opportunities for collaboration between ESL and content teachers of STEM, where the role of the ESL teacher is to identify how a strategic focus on language can support the content teacher in reaching the content learning goals with ELs. As these objectives illustrate, classroom interaction with peers and engagement in meaningful activities is central to this view of STEM instruction.

PROMISING INSTRUCTIONAL STRATEGIES TO SUPPORT STEM CONTENT AND LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT

The Promising Futures report (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2017) set the stage for this report by highlighting the diversity of ELs in terms of their cultures, languages, and experiences that may have an impact on their education. The 2017 report concluded that many schools were not prepared to provide adequate instruction to ELs in acquiring English proficiency while ensuring academic success. The committee of that report identified several promising and effective strategies for ELs in PreK–12. In the early grades, the strategies include (1) provide explicit instruction in literacy components; (2) develop academic language during content area instruction; (3) provide visual and verbal supports to make core content comprehensive; (4) encourage peer-assistant learning

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

opportunities; (5) capitalize on students’ home language, knowledge, and cultural assets; (6) screen for language and literacy challenges and monitor progress; and (7) provide small-group support in literacy and English language development for ELs who need additional support.

When moving into the middle and high school grades, the strategies are similar, such as capitalizing on a student’s home language, knowledge, and cultural assets and providing collaborative, peer-group learning communities to support and extend teacher-led instruction. However, the Promising Futures report also highlights the need to support comprehension and writing related to core content and to develop academic English as part of subject-matter learning. Overall, the majority of the practices focus on promoting literacy development.

Building from these strategies, the present committee examined the literature more specific to STEM learning. As described in Chapter 2, ELs have had a history of limited access to STEM instruction and with a favoring to develop English proficiency; this stemmed from a narrow view that for participation in STEM subjects, ELs first needed to have proficiency in the disciplinary talk—the words, vocabulary, or definitions. However, it is now better understood that ELs benefit when they are engaged in meaningful classroom activities that enable interaction with others during STEM meaning-making.

ELs benefit when the classroom offers opportunities to build on their home languages and everyday registers, drawing on the full range of meaning-making resources they bring and move back and forth between more informal and formal registers. In addition, they benefit when their teachers are able to raise their awareness of the language of instruction and how it works in learning and teaching STEM. This chapter offers a review of research on instructional strategies in mathematics and science classrooms that have shown promise for supporting ELs through opportunities to engage in disciplinary practices, interact in meaningful and varied ways that draw on their language and other meaning-making resources, and attend to language and its meanings as they do disciplinary work. Given all of this, the five promising instructional strategies discussed include

  1. Engage Students in Disciplinary Practices
  2. Engage Students in Productive Discourse and Interactions with Others
  3. Utilize and Encourage Students to Use Multiple Registers and Multiple Modalities
  4. Leverage Multiple Meaning-Making Resources
  5. Provide Some Explicit Focus on How Language Functions in the Discipline
Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

Engage Students in Disciplinary Practices

As students engage in STEM disciplinary practices, they communicate their ideas with peers and the teacher and co-construct disciplinary meaning in the STEM classroom community. Language is a product of interaction and learning, not a precursor or prerequisite. Gibbons (2006) called for EL learning in authentic curriculum contexts that engage learners in tasks that are intellectually challenging and that call for interaction with others in contexts of high support. When students engage in highly demanding disciplinary practices, they grapple with the ideas, concepts, and practices of the discipline, transform what they learn into a different form or present it to a different audience, and move between concrete and abstract knowledge. They engage in substantive conversation about what they are learning, make connections between the spoken and written practices and meaningful artifacts of the discipline, and problematize knowledge and question accepted wisdom (Gibbons, 2007).

STEM subjects often involve authentic engagement with material supports and central ideas. Work with artifacts can be extended into opportunities for generalizing and reasoning about concepts, using language, and other meaning-making resources. Focusing on a topic over a sustained period of instruction, learners have opportunities to engage in experiences about the new topic, and then reflect on and consolidate that learning through talk or written work. This exposes them to different registers and modes of communication and enables them to draw on multiple meaning-making resources (as articulated in Chapter 3).

Science Practices

Science is the practice of making and testing evidence-based conjectures about the world. In the science classroom, students engage in science as scientists do as they try to make sense of phenomena (see Box 4-3 for an illustration of this process as ELs engage in a science lesson focused on antibiotic resistance of MRSA). According to A Framework for K–12 Science Education, phenomena or problems are central to science and science learning, as “the goal of science is to develop a set of coherent and mutually consistent theoretical descriptions of the world that can provide explanations over a wide range of phenomena” (National Research Council, 2012, p. 48). In elementary and secondary grades, local phenomena promote ELs’ access to science and inclusion in the science classroom by engaging all students, including ELs, to use their everyday experience and everyday language from their homes and communities (Lee and Miller, 2016; Lee et al., in press; Lyon et al., 2016; Tolbert, 2016). Once students identify a compelling phenomenon that offers access to science and inclusion in the

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

science classroom, they engage in science and engineering practices to figure out the phenomenon or design solutions to problems. As they experience science, they build an understanding of science to explain the phenomenon. Over the course of science instruction, students develop deeper and more sophisticated understanding of science.

Foundational to understanding science inquiry with ELs, the programmatic line of research by members of the Chèche Konnen team has involved

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

case studies of students from African American, Haitian, and Latino backgrounds in both bilingual and monolingual classrooms across elementary and secondary grades (Rosebery, Warren, and Conant, 1992; Warren et al., 2001). The Chèche Konnen research has used open-ended tasks to frame experimentation as an exploratory process of constructing meaning from emerging variables (Rosebery et al., 2010). By asking questions about what children do as they engage in experimental tasks, what resources they draw

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

upon as they develop and evaluate ideas, and how children’s scientific reasoning corresponds to the nature of experimentation practiced by scientists, these studies have provided evidence that ELs are capable of engaging in science inquiry.

ELs come into the science classroom with rich cultural and linguistic resources for scientific sense-making. Capitalizing on ELs’ prior knowledge and interests is an important starting point for linking science and language (González, Moll, and Amanti, 2005; Tolbert and Knox, 2016). In the Chèche Konnen body of work, researchers explicitly consider the role of language in scientific sense-making by investigating how ELs’ home languages and discourse styles can be used as resources to understand and gradually take ownership of the discourse patterns of scientific communities. For example, Hudicourt-Barnes (2003) demonstrated how argumentative discussion is a major feature of social interaction among Haitian adults and how this discourse pattern can then be leveraged as a resource for students as they practice argumentation in science class. More recent work by this group (Warren and Rosebery, 2011) has considered the value of viewing science learning as an intercultural process in which students and teachers negotiate the boundaries of race, culture, language, and subject matter in order to overcome the traditional inequalities that often persist in science classrooms with ELs.

Using large-scale and experimental or quasi-experimental designs, studies examined the impact of inquiry interventions on science and language development with ELs. Some interventions focused primarily on science learning while attending to language development (Llosa et al., 2016; Maerten-Rivera et al., 2016), others focused on both language development and science learning (August, Artzi, and Barr, 2016; August et al., 2009, 2014; Lara-Alecio et al., 2012), and still others focused primarily on ELs’ language development in the context of science learning (Zwiep and Straits, 2013). To test the effectiveness of inquiry interventions with ELs, Estrella and colleagues (2018) conducted a meta-analysis of the effect of inquiry instruction on the science achievement of ELs in elementary school. An analysis of 26 articles confirmed that inquiry instruction produced significantly greater impacts on measures of science achievement for ELs compared to traditional science instruction. However, there was still a differential learning effect suggesting greater efficacy for non-ELs compared to ELs.

Mathematical Practices

Research suggests that high-quality instruction for ELs that supports student achievement has two general characteristics (Gándara and Contreras, 2009): an emphasis on academic achievement (not only on

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

learning English) and recognition of the meaning-making resources students bring to the classroom. Previous research shows that ELs, even as they are learning English, can participate in discussions where they grapple with important mathematical content (for examples of lessons, see Khisty, 1995, 2001; Khisty and Chval, 2002; Moschkovich, 1999, 2011; Pinnow and Chval, 2014). Moreover, research has described how teachers learn to recognize how ELs express their mathematical ideas as they are learning English and maintain a focus on mathematical reasoning as well as on language development (Khisty, 1995, 2001; Khisty and Chval, 2002; Moschkovich, 1999, 2011; Razfar, Khisty, and Chval, 2011).

Effective mathematics instruction for ELs includes and focuses on mathematical practices because these practices are central to developing full mathematical proficiency and expertise. For example, multiplication lessons are expected not to focus exclusively on the five strands of mathematical proficiency (see Chapter 3), but also to provide opportunities for students to participate in these mathematical practices—such as making sense of problems and looking for regularity—as well as mathematical discourse—reading word problems, explaining solutions orally and in writing, providing mathematical justification, and the like.

As described in Chapter 3, research describes high-quality mathematics instruction that is effective as having three central characteristics: teachers and students focus on mathematical concepts and connections among those concepts (Hiebert and Grouws, 2007), students wrestle with important mathematics (Hiebert and Grouws, 2007), and teachers use high cognitive demand mathematical tasks and maintain the rigor and cognitive demand of those tasks during lessons, for example, by encouraging students to explain their reasoning (American Educational Research Association, 2006; Stein, Grover, and Henningsen, 1996). The research suggests that mathematics lessons (1) include the full spectrum of mathematical proficiency (see Chapter 3), balance a focus on computational fluency with high-cognitive-demand tasks that require conceptual understanding and reasoning, and provide students opportunities to participate in mathematical practices (Moschkovich, 2013a, 2013b); (2) allow students to use multiple resources (such as modes of communication, symbol systems, registers, or languages) for mathematical reasoning (Moschkovich, 2013a, 2013b); and (3) support students in negotiating meanings for mathematical language grounded in student mathematical work.

In particular, for ELs, strong mathematics instruction focuses on uncovering, hearing, and supporting students’ mathematical reasoning and supports their participation in these practices and is not focused on their accuracy in using language (Moschkovich, 2010, 2012). Effective instruction recognizes students’ emerging mathematical reasoning and mathematical meanings learners construct, not on the mistakes they make or the

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

obstacles they face. Instruction needs to first focus on assessing content knowledge as distinct from fluency of expression in English, so that teachers can then extend and refine students’ mathematical reasoning (a central mathematical practice). If the focus is only on grammatical accuracy or vocabulary, mathematical reasoning may be missed. Mathematics instruction for ELs can be designed and implemented to provide ELs opportunities to actively engage in mathematical practices, such as making sense of problems, constructing arguments, and expressing structure and regularity.

In early mathematics classes, storytelling has been shown to be an effective teaching strategy that supports problem solving (Lo Cicero, Fuson, and Allexsaht-Snider, 1999; Lo Cicero, De La Cruz, and Fuson, 1999; Turner et al., 2009). Studying three primarily Latina/o kindergarten classrooms, one in which mathematics was taught in Spanish, one bilingual, and one in English as a second language, Turner and Celedón-Pattichis (2011) found that, although there was growth across all three classrooms in problem solving, students showed the most growth in solving word problems in the classroom where the teacher used storytelling twice as often; used the home language, Spanish, more often; and spent more time on a wide range of problem types. What is important to note is that all teachers drew from familiar ways of talking and negotiating meaning within students’ cultural contexts (Delgado-Gaitan, 1987; Villenas and Moreno, 2001), telling and sharing authentic, storytelling conversations, and inviting young ELs to co-construct these stories when engaged in mathematical problem solving (Turner et al., 2009).

Engage Students in Productive Discourse and Interactions with Others

For ELs, experiencing science and mathematics through engagement in the disciplinary practices is especially important, as the disciplinary practices are both cognitively demanding and language intensive. While engaging in the disciplinary practices, ELs comprehend (receptive language functions) and express (productive language functions) disciplinary ideas using their emerging English. For example, in science, the practice of developing and using models involves both science analytical tasks (e.g., make revisions to a model based on either suggestions from others or conflicts between a model and observation), receptive language functions (e.g., interpret the meaning of models presented in texts and diagrams), and productive language functions (e.g., describe a model using oral and/or written language as well as illustrations [Council of Chief State School Officers, 2012, pp. 27–28]). Swanson, Bianchini, and Lee (2014) found that a high school teacher who conceived of science as including both practices and discourse defined science discourse as generating and evaluating arguments from evidence, sharing ideas and understandings with others in public forums, and

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

using precise language. In taking this approach, the teacher provided her EL students with multiple, scaffolded opportunities to articulate their ideas about natural phenomena; engage in the process of developing arguments from evidence; and read, interpret, and evaluate scientific information. Such instruction offers students repeated, extended access to participation in disciplinary practices such as conjecturing, explaining, and arguing with appropriate scaffolding.

Scaffolding

Scaffolding for ELs is not simply one kind of support. Scaffolding can be provided at different levels (van Lier, 2004), in different settings (individual or collective), or for different pedagogical purposes (i.e., to support procedural fluency, conceptual understanding, or participation in classroom discussions, Moschkovich, 2015). It is not simply the ways in which tasks are structured to “help” the learner. Scaffolding is contingent upon the reaction of the learner to something new (Walqui, 2006). As such, scaffolding can occur as structure and as process (Walqui, 2006; Walqui and van Lier, 2010) and can be provided in multiple levels or time scales such as micro, meso, or macro (van Lier, 2004). Macro-level scaffolding involves the design of long-term sequences of work or projects, with recurring tasks-with-variations over a protracted time period. Meso-level scaffolding involves the design of individual tasks as consisting of a series of steps or activities that occur sequentially or in collaborative construction. Micro-level scaffolding involves contingent interactional processes of appropriation, stimulation, give-and-take in conversation, collaborative dialogue (Swain, 2000), and so on.

Structuring Interaction

Gibbons (2004) pointed out that teachers plan activities, but rarely plan for how they will interact with students. In particular, interaction that involves shifting back and forth between registers can highlight the relationship between the specific task that students are engaged with and the general and more abstract disciplinary concepts that the students are learning. Haneda’s (2000) case study of interaction between a teacher and two 3rd-grade ELs as they discussed an experiment on refraction describes how, with teacher support in interaction, one of the children was able to move beyond just recounting the procedures she had followed to also explain and reason about what she had done. The other student never reached this goal, suggesting that the move from recounting to explaining is quite challenging, as it calls for moving beyond concrete experiences and drawing on more abstract registers. McNeil (2012) found that after an instructional inter-

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

vention, a 5th-grade teacher scaffolded her classroom talk in new ways, utilizing multiple new communicative moves that served to better engage her ELs in disciplinary discourse.

Research on interaction with ELs stresses the role of contingent responses in enabling learners to build their knowledge of language and subject matter. For example, Boyd and Rubin (2002) analyzed the kinds of interaction in the classroom that enable 4th- and 5th-grade ELs to produce what they call student critical turns (SCTs) in a literacy-rich science unit. They defined SCTs as coherent and topic-focused contributions of 10 seconds or more, and they studied the local discourse conditions that appear to foster production of SCTs. They found that contingent questioning by the teacher or other students at strategic junctures promoted extended contributions by ELs. The teacher initiated 58 percent of episodes that led to SCTs, and two-thirds of the time she had the turn of talk immediately prior to the SCT. Often the questions that preceded the SCTs were display questions that asked students to report on what they had learned. Although display questions are often considered less helpful to students than questions that authentically seek information, the researchers found that display questions could be contingently responsive teaching that pushes a student to elaborate on what has already been said. These questions pushed students to expand their thinking and talk. Authentic questions also worked this way, as did clarification requests.

Boyd and Rubin ask for reconsideration of the role of the often maligned Initiation-Response-Feedback (IRF3) participation structure, as these question-answer sequences can be used in different contexts to achieve different purposes. Gibbons (2004) noted that the Feedback move can increase the demands on a student and support language development by pushing the student to expand on what has been said. Cervetti, DiPardo, and Staley (2014) showed how a teacher used an IRF structure to adeptly nudge students to ask their own questions, make their own evaluations, and connect their contributions as they worked in an inquiry science context with 6th- and 7th-grade ELs. She used “shaping moves” that invited students into the discussion and encouraged collaborative listening, keeping the conversation going. The authors noted that IRF structures can be used strategically, striking “a balance…between more authoritative and more dialogic forms of discourse” (p. 560) as they engage students in participation that supports their conceptual understanding. (See Wells [1993] for further discussion of the potential of IRF participation structures to support language development.)

___________________

3 Sometimes referred to as Initiation-Response-Feedback/Evaluation or IRE. Although these terms can be used interchangeably, the distinction is that the teacher provides an evaluation of the student’s response in the third turn (Feedback) (Thoms, 2012).

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Disciplinary Talk and Talk Moves

Chapter 3 introduced the notion of linguistic register to highlight the ways students’ language choice vary, depending on the activity, the interlocutors, and the modalities available for meaning-making. Herbel-Eisenmann, Steele, and Cirillo (2013) pointed out that not all talk is formal and whether students use more or less formal ways of talking depends on the context. They described how students may use more informal talk that involves pointing and reference to features of the situational context (e.g., “Why did you do that? When I did this, I got the wrong answer”) when talking in a small group with writing or computations in front of them. That talk may become more formal when presenting a solution at the board (e.g., “When I multiplied by seven, I got the wrong answer”). And, finally, when presenting a final solution in writing, that talk would then become even more formal (e.g., “My calculation was initially wrong, but I changed the operation from multiplication to division and then the result made more sense”).

Science talk formats and talk moves are one important way to support ELs to engage with locally relevant phenomena (Gallas, 1994; Herrenkohl and Guerra, 1998; Michaels and O’Connor, 2012). These moves make explicit the types of talk that are critical for making sense of phenomena collectively in the science classroom. Teachers can use a variety of formats (e.g., whole class, small group, pair work, and individual thinking time) and a set of moves to support particular kinds of reasoning. These moves include sharing; expanding or clarifying reasoning; listening to and understanding others’ ideas; providing evidence and examples to support reasoning; or asking questions or making comments to agree with, add on to, or explain what someone else means. These strategies help students know how they can contribute productively to make sense of phenomena in the science classroom community. These strategies also address issues of equity, as they can help teachers monitor turn-taking to ensure that ELs have ample opportunities to participate in classroom discourse (Michaels and O’Connor, 2015).

Work on teacher talk moves in mathematics classrooms has documented how teachers support whole-class discussions (Chapin, O’Connor, and Anderson, 2003, 2009; Herbel-Eisenmann, Steele, and Cirillo, 2013; Michaels and O’Connor, 2015; Razfar and Leavitt, 2010, 2011). Chval (2012) reported on specific features of the discourse of one 5th-grade teacher who spoke and wrote sophisticated words. She used these words frequently and in the context of solving problems and supported students as they built understanding of the meanings of these words. These talk moves create opportunities for students to draw upon the linguistic resources they bring to class and move toward more formal registers. They also enable productive classroom discussions in mathematics (Anderson, Chapin, and

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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O’Connor, 2011). According to Anderson, Chapin, and O’Connor (2011), a productive classroom discussion supports students’ mathematical understandings by proceeding through four steps:

  • Step 1.
Helping individual students clarify and share their own thoughts
  • Step 2.
Helping students orient to the thinking of other students
  • Step 3.
Helping students deepen their reasoning
  • Step 4.
Helping students to engage with the reasoning of others

Several “teacher moves” (Michaels and O’Connor, 2015) have been described that can support student participation in a discussion: revoicing, asking for clarification, accepting and building on what students say, probing what students mean, and using students’ own ways of talking. Teachers can use multiple ways to scaffold and support more formal language, including revoicing student statements (Moschkovich, 2015).

Revoicing (O’Connor and Michaels, 1993) is a teacher move describing how an adult, typically a teacher, rephrases a student’s contribution during a discussion, expanding or recasting the original utterance (Forman, McCormick, and Donato, 1997). Revoicing has been used to describe teacher talk moves in several studies (e.g., Herbel-Eisenmann, Drake, and Cirillo, 2009). A teacher’s revoicing can support student participation in a discussion as well as introduce more formal language (see Box 4-4). First, it can facilitate student participation in general, by accepting a student’s response, using it to make an inference, and allowing the student to evaluate the accuracy of the teacher’s interpretation of the student contribution (O’Connor and Michaels, 1993). This teacher move allows for further student contributions in a way that the standard classroom Initiation-Response-Evaluation (IRE) pattern (Mehan, 1979; Sinclair and Coulthard, 1975) does not (although see above for studies that show such IRE/IRF interaction has a place in instruction for ELs).

The work cited above on talk moves can provide resources for teachers of STEM, with the important consideration that applying talk moves for instruction with ELs will require teachers to have experience, professional development, and resources that include ELs and consider issues particular to ELs, for example, the fact that the language ELs use may be different than that used by monolingual English speakers (Bunch, 2013; Moschkovich, 2007).

Utilize Multiple Registers and Multiple Modalities

While communicating ideas with peers and the teacher, students use multiple modalities, including both linguistic and other semiotic modalities.

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

They draw on a variety of registers of talk and text, ranging from everyday to specialized. In addition, students participate in a range of different interactions. To communicate the growing sophistication of their ideas over the course of instruction, ELs use increasingly specialized registers adapting their language to meet the communicative demands of interactions in pair, small-group, and whole-class settings.

Registers

To make sense of disciplinary concepts, students participate in partner (one-to-one), small-group (one-to-small group), and whole-class (one-to-many) settings. In doing so, they move fluidly across modalities (see below) and registers to meet the communicative demands of different interactions (Lee, Grapin, and Haas, 2018). Formal or school STEM disciplinary registers are one resource for students to express disciplinary reasoning, such as when making a presentation or developing a written account of a solution. However, informal registers are also important, especially when students are exploring a concept, learning a new concept, or discussing a problem in small groups. Informal language can be used by students (and teachers) during exploratory talk (Barnes, 1976/1992, 2008) or when working in a small group (Herbel-Eisenmann, Steele, and Cirillo, 2013). Such informal registers can reflect important student mathematical thinking (see Moschkovich, 1996, 1998, 2008, 2014). For example, in carrying out an investigation with a partner (one-to-one), ELs may use a more everyday register while pointing at a measurement instrument (e.g., “Put it on here”), as nonlinguistic modalities of gestures and objects serve as resources for meaning-making and communication (Grapin, 2018).

Specialized registers afford the precision necessary to communicate disciplinary meaning as students’ disciplinary-specific ideas become more sophisticated. Precision privileges disciplinary meaning by focusing on how students use language to engage in the STEM practices. As Moschkovich (2012) described in the context of the mathematics classroom, precision goes beyond the use of specialized vocabulary of the content areas. In addition, precision does not imply linguistic accuracy, as “precise claims can be expressed in imperfect language” (Moschkovich, 2012, p. 22). Likewise, in the science classroom, precision goes beyond the use of specialized vocabulary to the communication of precise disciplinary meaning. For example, when engaging in argument from evidence, students communicate precise disciplinary meaning by supporting their claims with evidence and reasoning (Quinn, Lee, and Valdés, 2012). In the classroom, ELs can communicate precise disciplinary meaning using less-than-perfect English (Lee, Quinn, and Valdés, 2013).

In both mathematics and science classrooms, precision privileges disci-

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×
Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×
Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

plinary meaning regardless of the linguistic features used. Precision, then, is not an inherent quality of language itself, but rather, a function of what the language does or what effect it has in the context of engaging in disciplinary practices. In considering precision, it is crucial to clarify what is meant, and particularly what is considered precise language, since the word “language” can be used to mean different things. In the case of precision, the reference is not to the precision of individual words, but instead to longer constructions that enable claims to be more or less precise, even when the individual words in that claim may not be the single most perfect “mathy” or “sciency” word that an expert would use.

Moreover, the specialized register affords the explicitness necessary (e.g., fewer deictic words like “it” and “here”) to communicate disciplinary meaning across physical and temporal contexts. Whereas one-to-one interactions allow students to check for comprehension in real time and clarify their meaning as needed, one-to-small group interactions and, to an even lesser extent, one-to-many interactions do not always offer such opportunities. For example, when presenting data to the class, ELs use a more specialized register as it affords the explicitness to ensure successful communication (e.g., “We recorded the weight of the substance.”). Also, in one-to-many interactions, students can rely less on a shared frame of reference. Thus, whereas ELs may use a more everyday register in one-to-one interactions and one-to-small group interactions, they may need to move toward a more specialized register in one-to-many interactions.

Multiple Modalities

As described in Chapter 3, modalities refer to the multiple channels through which communication occurs, including nonlinguistic modalities (e.g., gestures, pictures, symbols, graphs, tables, equations) as well as the linguistic modalities of talk (oral language) and text (written language). Multiple modalities are important in both the STEM disciplines and EL education. In the STEM disciplines, multiple modalities, especially visual representations (e.g., graphs, symbols, equations), are the essential semiotic resources used by scientists, mathematicians, and engineers to communicate their ideas (Lemke, 1998). They are not only important to support ELs but also are, in fact, central to participation in disciplinary practices.

In EL education, nonlinguistic modalities have traditionally been thought of as scaffolds for learning language, which has overshadowed their importance in content areas (Grapin, 2018). As STEM content areas expect all students to use multiple modalities strategically and in ways appropriate to each discipline, nonlinguistic modalities are not just compensatory for ELs. At the same time, multiple modalities serve to support ELs at the early stages of English language proficiency, as they engage in

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

language-intensive practices, such as explaining causal mechanisms and arguing from evidence (Lee, Quinn, and Valdés, 2013). Thus, multiple modalities are essential to “doing” science and mathematics and are especially beneficial to ELs (Grapin, 2018). Recognizing the importance of multimodality in STEM content areas reorients the focus from what ELs lack in terms of language to the diverse meaning-making resources they bring to the classroom. Box 4-5 describes how ELs use different sets of linguistic resources to construct knowledge and express ideas in English and in their first language.

In the mathematics classroom, communication that moves beyond the written and oral world to incorporate diagrams, manipulatives, gestures, multiple representations, and technology can provide more avenues for ELs’ participation (Dominguez, 2005; Fernandes, Kahn, and Civil, 2017; Sorto and Bower, 2017; Zahner and Gutiérrez, 2015; Zahner et al., 2012). Drawing on a situated multiliteracies approach, Takeuchi (2015) studied the participation of ELs in mathematics practices in an urban Canadian classroom, describing ELs’ successful participation in classroom mathematics practices in relation to the context that supported their participation. Specifically, the teacher’s use of multiple language and physical and symbolic tools supported her ELs, along with the teacher’s affirmation of the students’ identities as multimodal learners. Takeuchi calls for broadening the definition of language in mathematics classrooms as well as embracing students’ identities that are shaped through classroom interactions with content and language.

In the science classroom, students use multiple modalities to engage in science and engineering practices (Grapin, 2018). For example, they use graphs and tables as they analyze and interpret data. Multiple modalities may be especially useful for supporting ELs to engage in language-intensive science and engineering practices, such as arguing from evidence and constructing explanations. ELs use drawings, symbols, and text to construct model-supported explanations of phenomena. As ELs build their understanding of science over the course of instruction, they make increasingly strategic use of multiple modalities. Specifically, they learn to consider how modalities help them communicate the increasing sophistication of their ideas. For example, students use arrows to represent relationships in a system, graphs and tables to represent patterns in data, or diagrammatic or computational models to explain causal mechanism.

Leverage Multiple Meaning-Making Resources

By the time ELs come to school, they already possess a range of knowledge, values, and ways of looking at the world that have developed during their socialization into their families and communities that could be

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

leveraged to support science learning (Lee and Fradd, 1998) as well as mathematics learning. For example, Buxton and colleagues (2014) found that ELs had certain advantages in making use of the language of science, such as through the use of cognates, familiarity with multiple grammatical structures, and increased tenacity in trying to understand others’ emergent science meaning-making.

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

Research has documented a variety of language resources that ELs use to communicate mathematical ideas: their first language, everyday language, gestures, and objects. When communicating mathematically, students use multiple resources from experiences both in and out of school (Forman et al., 1998; Moschkovich, 2010; O’Connor, 1999). Everyday language, ways of talking, and experiences are resources students use as

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

they participate in mathematical discussions (Moschkovich, 1996, 2010). For example, students have been documented using their first language to repeat an explanation or mixing Spanish and English (“translanguaging”) to explain a mathematical idea (Moschkovich, 2002).

Several studies have described how students’ use of home or everyday language is not a failure to be mathematically precise, but instead is a resource for communicating mathematical reasoning, making sense of mathematical meanings, and learning with understanding (Moschkovich, 2013a, 2013b). One promising instructional strategy is for teachers to hear how students use everyday language to communicate mathematical ideas and then build bridges from everyday language to more formal ways of talking (Pinnow and Chval, 2014). Teachers can build on the language students use by “revoicing” student contributions using more formal ways of talking (see Box 4-4), asking for clarification (Moschkovich, 1999), and probing for students’ thinking (Herbel-Eisenmann, Steele, and Cirillo, 2013).

Civil and Hunter (2015) focused on relationships, use of home language, humor, and generalized cultural ways of being as resources to teach mathematics to ELs, claiming that “as we think of how to develop environments that support non-dominant students’ participation in mathematical argumentation, we may want to learn from and build on students’ cultural ways of being” (p. 308). Civil (2011, 2012) pointed to the richness of mathematical discussions when ELs are able to use their home languages but also the complexity when students are in situations where the language policy does not support the use of home languages. As Planas and Civil (2013) wrote, “students . . . have agency to use their home language as a resource in their learning of mathematics, while at the same time experiencing the political dimension of language when, for instance, they switch to English to report their mathematical thinking” (p. 370).

However, all too often, these intellectual and cultural resources are undervalued because teachers do not easily recognize them as being relevant or valuable (Moje et al., 2001). For example, in a paired study of 3rd-through 5th-grade ELs and their teachers, Buxton and colleagues (2013) found that ELs at all levels of English proficiency were able to provide a range of examples from home experiences that were directly connected to school science standards on topics ranging from measurement to energy transfer to the changing seasons. However, the majority of their science teachers, when viewing video recordings of the students discussing these science topics, were more likely to highlight linguistic or conceptual limitations than to focus on the relevant experiences that could be leveraged to support science learning. These studies concluded that recognition of ELs’ academic strengths as well as limitations related to their prior knowledge

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

is critical in enabling ELs to better gain the high status knowledge that is valued in school science.

Exploring ELs’ science learning from another perspective, a body of literature highlights how the cultural beliefs and practices prevalent in some communities, including communities with sizable numbers of ELs, are sometimes discontinuous with Western scientific practices (Aikenhead, 2001; Bang, 2015; Riggs, 2005). This literature has shown that learning to recognize and value diverse views of the natural world can simultaneously promote academic achievement and strengthen ELs’ cultural and linguistic identities in secondary schools.

Provide Some Explicit Focus on How Language Functions in the Discipline

In addition to supporting concept learning over time and enabling learners to draw on multiple meaning-making resources in interaction in a variety of ways, good instruction for ELs also includes attention to language that goes beyond a focus on “words.” Richardson Bruna, Vann, and Perales Escudero (2007) showed how a 9th-grade “EL Science” course teacher who sees her main goal as building vocabulary can constrain learning opportunities for ELs. Working with vocabulary alone meant that students were not engaged conceptually with the earth science knowledge at stake. The vocabulary-focused tasks tightly constrained classroom discourse, preventing ELs not only from talking like scientists, but also from thinking like scientists, and the teacher did not help students understand the relationships between the concepts being taught or provide students with new linguistic resources for conceptual understanding. The teacher’s simplified understanding of her role as language instructor led to simplified science talk in the classroom, and simplified science learning by her EL students. The authors pointed out that integrating language and content instruction “means taking what is known about quality science education and infusing into those goals of cognitive development corollary goals of language development” (p. 52). That is, while studies have shown robust effects for the inclusion of vocabulary instruction in science learning, it is crucial that teachers provide opportunities for ELs to develop meaning by participating in disciplinary practices and by enabling students to learn not only individual words, but also their meaning, how to use them, and how to use them to construct claims and participate in further meaning-making and disciplinary practices.

A key tool for drawing attention to patterns of language is metalanguage, language about language. Metalanguage supports educational practice by offering a means of being explicit about how language presents the knowledge to be learned (Schleppegrell, 2013). Metalanguage can be

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

both talk about language and technical terms for referring to language. Both forms of metalanguage can raise students’ language awareness in relation to the purposes for which language is being used and the goals of the speakers/writers. Students can learn to recognize patterns in language and relate the patterns to the meanings they present, helping them recognize linguistic choices they can make in different contexts. Teachers can talk about language in relation to the demands of the curriculum; for example, by modeling how to write or speak in valued ways, or by deconstructing what is said or written to help learners recognize what it means (see Box 4-6). Meaningful metalanguage supports students to explore the ways speakers and writers use language, analyzing dense text to recognize how the wording means what it does. This kind of talk about text supports students in reading for comprehension as well as in engaging in critical ways with the texts they read and write (O’Hallaron, Palincsar, and Schleppegrell, 2015; Palincsar and Schleppegrell, 2014; Symons, 2017).

Paugh and Moran (2013) reported on how 3rd-grade students in an urban classroom, including ELs, used meaningful metalanguage in activities that involved speaking, reading, and writing as they engaged in a garden project in science. The teachers frequently asked students, “What do you notice about the language?” and made a focus on language an integral part of the activities. As the teachers looked closely at the seed packets they were asking students to read, they noticed that there were three different purposes represented: writing to describe and report about carrots; writing to persuade that carrots are good to eat; and writing to instruct how to plant the seeds. The children’s attention was drawn to these different genre patterns as they identified the ways the authors used “how to verbs” (imperative mood) to tell them what to do as they read instructions for planting the garden, for example. Teachers also drew students’ attention to language students could use when they wrote in their garden journals; for example, “sequence words” to recount the processes they had engaged in to prepare the garden. The class also focused on when they could best use “words about feelings” to report on their gardening experiences. The authors described the ways verb tense, pronouns, and time expressions can be in focus and be modeled for learners as they write a particular type of text. As this example shows, it is not necessary that linguistic meta-language be highly technical; the key criterion for use of language about language is that it is meaningful and enables learners to connect language and meaning to recognize how English works in presenting meanings of various kinds.

Symons (2017) showed how close attention to language features commonly found in informational science texts can support 4th-grade ELs in identifying and evaluating evidence. She illustrated how, using the metalanguage of usuality and likelihood, a teacher can facilitate discussions about the language choices that indicate the authors’ level of certainty in

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

the texts they read; this in turn supported students’ evaluation of evidence. Symons also pointed to potential pitfalls of using metalanguage without clear understanding of the goals for science learning, as degrees of uncertainty expressed by an author do not make evidence inherently strong or weak, but relate to the claim being made. Symons noted that “[b]y explicitly highlighting features, forms, and patterns of language in texts as they are characterized and typified by genres, disciplines, and content, teachers encourage the linguistic consciousness-raising and attention needed to develop language (Ellis and Larsen-Freeman, 2006).” O’Hallaron, Palincsar, and Schleppegrell (2015) described new insights elementary grade teachers gained from thinking about how an author’s perspective is infused into science texts, considering how an author can be cautious in making claims, and recognizing how an author positions the reader in particular ways through language choices. Teachers in that study reported that the insight that authors of informational texts present attitudes and judgments led to lively discussion in their classrooms with ELs.

As students engage with the new concepts they learn at school, attention to patterns in language can provide them with insights into the linguistic choices they can make to help them achieve the learning goals. This perspective also means that learners should not be restricted to simplified texts. Instead, teachers can help learners deconstruct challenging texts as they read and offer proactive support for making choices in writing. As an example, a teacher focused students on the way an author develops information in a science text in Gebhard, Chen, and Britton’s (2014, p. 118) report on a 3rd-grade teacher helping the students analyze a model text about polar ice caps. The students’ attention was drawn to the words are melting in the sentence Polar ice caps are melting. The next sentence used the notion of melting to introduce the effect of this process: This meltingis causing the sea level to rise. In continuing to analyze the language, students noted that the next sentence also drew on words from the previous sentence: As a result of this rising, animals are losing their habitats. The teacher drew students’ attention to the ways this pattern of nominalization (are melting -> This melting; to rise -> this rising) enables the author to develop the topic over several sentences, helping students recognize how a sentence can take up information from a previous sentence and recast it in a way that helps the author develop a scientific explanation. This focus on language and use of metalanguage can be infused into instruction that engages students in activity, interaction, reading, and writing, providing support for ELs to learn how English works.

A key implication of this research is that although teachers of STEM content may not initially see language instruction as their purview, they can be motivated to learn to talk about discipline-specific language tied to achieving their broader instructional goals, and when they do so, they are

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×
Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×
Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

able to offer their ELs opportunities to learn language and content simultaneously. ELs learn the language of STEM subjects as they participate in STEM learning, especially when they are challenged and develop awareness about the ways language works to construct and present knowledge. Accomplishing this goal calls for the development of teachers’ knowledge about language and STEM content in ways that rarely occur.

This is especially true of secondary school teachers of STEM subjects, as the culture of secondary school positions teachers as disciplinary experts, leading them in many cases to resist taking on instructional responsibility for issues such as language development that may seem to fall outside of their disciplinary mandate (for discussion, see Arkoudis, 2006). Secondary teachers are, understandably, highly focused on teaching their subject areas. At the same time, the language and concepts students are learning become increasingly complex and specialized, so teachers are best positioned to provide effective instruction in the uses of language specific to the disciplines. Lee and Buxton (2013) and Quinn, Lee, and Valdés (2012) pointed out that teachers can attend to both the disciplinary content and language demands inherent in the work students do and provide language support that helps learners respond to those demands. STEM content teachers and language teachers in K–12 classrooms can support the ongoing language development of ELs through a focus on patterns of language in their subject areas, offering their students opportunities to engage in noticing and attending to the ways the language works, comparing and contrasting language for different audiences and purposes, and broadening their linguistic repertoires for participation in learning.

Word Problems: A Special Case for Mathematics

Mathematical word problems are a particular genre that deserves attention during instruction. Researchers in mathematics education have examined topics relevant to word problems, for example mathematical texts (O’Halloran, 2005), polysemy (Pimm, 1987), and differences between school mathematical discourse and mathematical discourse at home (Walkerdine, 1988). Especially relevant to word problems is the shift from seeing the mathematics register as merely technical mathematical language. The following word problem illustrates how challenges for learning do not just come from technical vocabulary:

A boat in a river with a current of 3 mph can travel 16 miles downstream in the same amount of time it can go 10 miles upstream. Find the speed of the boat in still water.

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

The complexity involved in making sense of this word problem may not only be at the level of technical mathematical vocabulary but also may lie principally in the background knowledge (Martiniello and Wolf, 2012) for understanding and imagining the context or situation for the problem. In this case, the reader needs to imagine and understand that there is a boat traveling up and down a river, that the speed of the boat increases (by the speed of the current) when going downstream, decreases (by the speed of the current) when going upstream, and that the speed can be calculated as if it is being measured in still water (presumably a lake). The complexity lies not in understanding mathematical terms but in having the background knowledge to imagine the situation and knowing how to work with the information provided (Bunch, Walqui, and Pearson, 2014).

Although the vocabulary indexes background knowledge, that vocabulary is not specific to mathematics nor is it limited to what might be called mathematical terms. While words and phrases like current, downstream, same amount, upstream, and still water may be challenging for ELs (or for native speakers), these words would not typically be considered part of the specialized mathematics lexicon. The implications for mathematics instruction is that teachers cannot just teach what is perceived to be “mathematics” vocabulary and expect that to be sufficient for supporting ELs in learning how to solve word problems; they need to support students to make sense of problem situations. There is substantial research to support this recommendation and the importance of supporting students to make sense of problem situations albeit not specific to ELs (see, e.g., Jackson et al., 2013).

A glossary for non-mathematics words such as upstream, downstream, and the phrase “in still water” would certainly help. However, much of the linguistic complexity is not at the word level, but at the sentence level; in this example, in the use of multiple prepositional phrases (in a river with a current of 3 mph) and embedded constructions (in the same amount of time [that] it can go 10 miles upstream). Taking time to deconstruct a sentence like this to examine its meaningful segments can support learners in developing strategies for engaging with problems like this (Schleppegrell, 2007).

Martiniello (2008, 2010) found that understanding word problems that involve polysemous words (words with different meanings or connotations, deepening on the context provided by the text or discourse) can be challenging for ELs. Martiniello gave the following example: “Find the amount of money each fourth-grade class raised for an animal shelter using the table below.” The word “raised” here refers to collecting funds. Other meanings are “raise your hands,” “raise the volume,” “raising the rent,” or “receiving a raise.” Martiniello found that “ELs tended to interpret the word raise as increase” and did not understand the connotation of raise in fund raising.

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Martiniello and Shaftel both found that 4th-grade students struggled with specific categories of vocabulary. These included words with multiple meanings, slang or conversation words, and words learned in an English-speaking home (Martiniello, 2008; Shaftel et al., 2006). Martiniello (2008) concluded “it is important to distinguish between school and home related vocabulary as a potential source of differential difficulty for ELs.” She suggested that since ELs learn English primarily at school, school-related words (i.e., students, notepad, pencil, ruler, school, day, colors) are likely to be more familiar than words related to the home (her examples are raking leaves, chore, wash dishes, vacuum, dust, rake, and weed). Martiniello’s general recommendations for the assessment of word problems include avoiding unnecessary linguistic complexity not relevant to mathematics and addressing issues that are specific to ELs (e.g., home vocabulary, polysemy, familiarity). However, during initial instruction it may be important to carefully consider when and how to include different types of increasing linguistic complexity in more supportive settings in the classroom in order to provide ELs opportunities to learn to deal with particular aspects of linguistic complexity that is related to the mathematics content.

However, syntactic simplification of word problems is also problematic, as shortening sentences by eliminating words that establish connective relationships (e.g., because or therefore) can make text harder to read rather than easier (Davison and Kantor, 1982). In a study with Puerto Rican students learning English as a second language, researchers found that 8th-grade students’ comprehension benefited from longer sentences that showed relationships rather than choppy sentences with simple syntax. Thus, sentences like, “If the manufacturer and the market are a long distance apart, then it can be a big expense for the manufacturer to get goods to market” were easier to understand than “Manufacturers must get goods to market. Suppose that the manufacturer and the market are a long distance apart. This can be a big expense” (Blau, 1982, p. 518).

Engineering: A New Discipline Can Mean a Fresh Start

Though there is not yet research specific to ELs in K–12 engineering, research findings from other disciplines have the potential to inform engineering efforts. Educators can apply existing research about ELs in science and mathematics education (as well as other disciplines) to create engineering curricula, activities, and learning environments that embed effective classroom strategies from their inception. Design principles for inclusive curricula and lessons can be articulated to guide the development of engineering curricula and lessons that include and support ELs (Cunningham, 2018; Cunningham and Lachapelle, 2014). For example, ELs often benefit from a coherent narrative that ties activities together instead of participat-

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

ing in seemingly disjointed activities. Curricular units that provide a context and narrative thread can help ELs, and all students, navigate and connect the curricular activities to a relevant, larger purpose (Hammond, 2014). Similarly, designing curricula and activities to reduce up-front literacy demands can make engineering more accessible for children.

The three-dimensional learning described by the NGSS provides ample opportunities for language-rich classrooms in engineering and science. Using language in purposeful and meaningful ways, such as generating solutions to solve an engineering challenge, can help students develop facility with it. Engineering provides ways to accomplish three-dimensional learning by engaging students in authentic engineering (and science) practices, employing crosscutting concepts, and building understanding of disciplinary core ideas (Cunningham and Kelly, 2017). It can also be language intensive (Lee, Quinn, and Valdés, 2013)—well-designed engineering lessons will invite students to read, write, speak, and listen, as well as view and visually represent their ideas and designs. For example, as students design a water filter, they might research extant models and processes used around the world; share ideas for possible design features or solutions with their teammates verbally or through sketches; share ideas about which materials they would use, in what order, and why; come to consensus as a group and articulate a plan for their initial solution; draw and label a diagram they will use to construct the filter; interpret the data they collected and identify what worked well and what requires further development to achieve the desired goal; redesign and test their technology; and communicate with their classmates or a client about their recommended solution and the process they undertook to develop it.

CURRICULUM

Curriculum materials play a critical role in education reform (Ball and Cohen, 1996), influencing both the content that is covered and the instructional approaches that are used in classrooms in intended and unintended ways. Research suggests that access to high-quality curricula, instruction, and teachers are effective in supporting the academic success of ELs learning English and content (American Educational Research Association, 2004; Gutiérrez, 2009, 2012). General characteristics of such environments are curricula that provide “abundant and diverse opportunities for speaking, listening, reading, and writing” and instruction that encourages “students to take risks, construct meaning, and seek reinterpretations of knowledge within compatible social contexts” (Garcia and Gonzalez, 1995, p. 424).

The design process for mathematics curriculum materials has not involved sufficient attention to language diversity and creating mathematical tasks and contexts that facilitate the participation of ELs (Chval, 2011).

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

Chval argued that the field needed to improve mathematics curriculum development and enhancement for ELs as “they [Latino students] also encounter barriers as they work with curriculum materials (Doerr and Chandler-Olcott, 2009)” (2011, p. 1).

Mathematics curriculum materials must include rich mathematical tasks and contexts that facilitate the participation of ELs and avoid reductionist approaches that do not sufficiently communicate mathematical complexity to ELs (Gutstein, 2003; Willey and Pitvorec, 2009). Yet, studies indicate that “curriculum materials incorporating these reforms may further disadvantage low-income, minority students, and Latinos specifically, and widen existing educational and social disparities between these students and middle-class White students (Lubienski, 2000, 2002; McCormick, 2005; Sconiers et al., 2003), especially if students are silent nonparticipants in the classroom” (Chval, 2011, p. 1).

Some researchers have investigated teachers’ use of curriculum materials—the implemented curriculum—in classrooms with ELs (Chval, Pinnow, and Thomas, 2015; Riordan and Noyce, 2001; Webb, 2003). Chval, Pinnow, and Thomas (2015) conducted a professional development intervention with a 3rd-grade teacher that introduced approaches for enhancing mathematics curriculum for ELs. In this case, the teacher created new curriculum materials so that the ELs in her classroom could further their language development, extend the curriculum context, and encourage metacognitive thinking about mathematics. Rather than using a variety of contextual situations at the beginning of a mathematical unit, the teacher made a decision to focus on one context for a minimum of 2 weeks. As the year progressed, she began to create curriculum materials that involved more than one context so that the ELs would be comfortable and successful with standardized tests and curriculum materials in future grade levels that would reflect multiple contexts.

A few studies have examined curricular effectiveness determined by mathematics achievement for Latinos and ELs. The studies that have been conducted have examined different grade levels and curriculum materials using different methodologies and measures of student achievement. Different comparisons have been used, including Latinos versus other ethnic groups, ELs versus non-ELs using a specified set of curriculum materials, and ELs using Curriculum X versus ELs not using Curriculum X. These studies have various limitations such as not examining Latino ELs specifically, not including a sufficient sample of Latinos, not including a representative sample of Latinos, and not considering textbook integrity (Chval et al., 2009).

Science curriculum projects have played a large role in science education reforms since the Cold War and the launch of the Soviet Sputnik satellite (Rudolph, 2002). As researchers and curriculum developers have sought

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

to better support teachers in using curriculum materials as intended, there has been a push toward the development of educative curriculum materials to help teachers more fully realize the intentions of the curriculum in promoting student understanding (Davis and Krajcik, 2005; Drake, Land, and Tyminski, 2014).

While high-quality science curriculum materials were difficult to find (Kesidou and Roseman, 2002), an added challenge involves how best to capitalize on the opportunities and meet the unique learning needs of ELs. For example, the National Science Foundation (1998) called for more “culturally and gender relevant curriculum materials” that recognize “diverse cultural perspectives and contributions so that through example and instruction, the contributions of all groups to science will be understood and valued” (p. 29). The fact that ELs are less likely to have access to such materials presents a barrier to equitable learning opportunities (Lee and Buxton, 2008).

Some studies focused on the development of curriculum materials with an explicit goal of better supporting science and language learning with ELs. August and colleagues (2009) designed and tested the Quality English and Science Teaching (QuEST) curriculum to simultaneously support the science knowledge and academic language development of middle-grade ELs. A controlled study of the QuEST intervention showed that use of the curriculum materials had a statistically significant positive effect on ELs’ science knowledge and science vocabulary development. Bravo and Cervetti (2014) reported the impact of the Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading program on science and literacy with ELs. Fourth- and 5th-grade ELs in the treatment condition outperformed ELs in the comparison group in science understanding and science vocabulary, but not in science reading. Treatment teachers used more strategies to support ELs than did comparison teachers (Cervetti, Kulikowich, and Bravo, 2015). Lee and colleagues (2008, 2009) developed a curriculum for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades, which reflected the evolution of the knowledge base of teaching science to ELs as well as the shifting policy contexts regarding ELs (e.g., English-only instructional policy) and science education (e.g., high-stakes testing and accountability policy). In later years of their research, effectiveness studies of the stand-alone, yearlong 5th-grade curriculum indicated positive effects on ELs’ science achievement as measured by both the researcher-developed assessment and the state high-stakes science assessment and narrowing of science achievement gaps between ELs and non-ELs (Llosa et al., 2016; Maerten-Rivera et al., 2016).

While NGSS implementation requires high-quality instructional materials to meet the academic rigor for rapidly growing student diversity in the nation, developing such instructional materials presents challenges. The science education community is working to develop NGSS-aligned instruc-

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

tional materials. In addition to the evaluation guidelines that clarify key components and innovations for such materials (Achieve Inc., 2016, 2017; BSCS, 2017; Carnegie Corporation of New York, 2017), research-based NGSS-aligned instructional materials are being developed and shared.4 Despite these recent efforts, research-based NGSS-aligned instructional materials are limited. Considering the language-intensive nature of science and engineering practices, the Framework (National Research Council, 2012) and the NGSS offer new opportunities to develop science curriculum that can promote both science learning and language development with ELs (e.g., Lee, Valdés, and Llosa, 2015–2019).

Additional curriculum design efforts (for both supplementary and mainstream curriculum) must be prioritized to provide opportunities for linguistically diverse students to successfully learn STEM in U.S. classrooms. Furthermore, little is known about the curriculum design process for existing science and mathematics materials that have considered ELs during the design and testing phases. The development of future STEM curriculum materials needs to involve research at every phase and the knowledge that is generated through this process needs to be disseminated to the field (Clements, 2007).

SUMMARY

Teachers of STEM content to ELs are essential to ensuring that ELs learn STEM disciplinary concepts and practices, and, as such, they need to construct safe classroom communities that afford ELs with the opportunity to be successful in their STEM learning. To create these safe spaces, teachers need to be mindful of the beliefs that they may have with respect to ELs and STEM learning, as well as ensure that they positively position ELs in the classroom while drawing upon the rich experiences ELs bring to STEM. Moreover, as the newer content standards call for both sophistication in STEM learning as well as in English, the teacher needs to attend to both the content as well as the language. Collaboration with ESL teachers may play an important role in facilitating ELs progress as they engage in STEM subjects.

Given the committee’s stance that language and content are inextricable, the instructional strategies proposed to foster ELs’ learning of STEM disciplinary practices acknowledge this relationship. It is important to focus on engaging ELs in productive discourse as they are also engaging in the disciplinary practices. Teachers can focus on the language that is used in the disciplines to develop ELs’ ability to utilize multiple registers and modalities

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4 For more information, see https://www.nextgenscience.org/resources/examples-quality-ngss-design [June 2018].

Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
×

in the communication of their ideas. At the same time, this calls for leveraging the experiences that ELs bring to the classroom.

Overall, STEM subjects afford opportunities for ELs to simultaneously learn disciplinary content and develop language proficiency through engaging in the STEM disciplinary practices. By explicitly focusing on language in the teaching of STEM concepts and practices, teachers are able to encourage ELs to draw on their full range of linguistic and communicative competencies and use different modalities and representations to communicate their thinking, solutions, or arguments in STEM subjects.

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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Effective Instructional Strategies for STEM Learning and Language Development in English Learners." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25182.
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The imperative that all students, including English learners (ELs), achieve high academic standards and have opportunities to participate in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning has become even more urgent and complex given shifts in science and mathematics standards. As a group, these students are underrepresented in STEM fields in college and in the workforce at a time when the demand for workers and professionals in STEM fields is unmet and increasing. However, English learners bring a wealth of resources to STEM learning, including knowledge and interest in STEM-related content that is born out of their experiences in their homes and communities, home languages, variation in discourse practices, and, in some cases, experiences with schooling in other countries.

English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives examines the research on ELs’ learning, teaching, and assessment in STEM subjects and provides guidance on how to improve learning outcomes in STEM for these students. This report considers the complex social and academic use of language delineated in the new mathematics and science standards, the diversity of the population of ELs, and the integration of English as a second language instruction with core instructional programs in STEM.

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