New Pedagogical Approaches for Teaching Elementary Science to Limited English Proficient Students

Article excerpt

Recently, I happened to attend a public hearing on academic issues related to English language learners (ELL). The essential question posed by education policy makers and elected officials was "How are English language learners (ELLs) doing in California public schools? Currently, in California, lawmakers and education policy makers are gathering public information from various sources, including public testimonies from classroom teachers, parents, students, university professors, and other experts in the educational field, to help them reframe the academic standards for ELLs. Amazingly, no one seemed to know the answers to their question.

Senate Bill 2042 and Assembly Bill 1059 have failed to address academic issues that ELLs face each and every day in public schools. Instead, these two bills have eliminated instructional resources needed for CLAD (cross-cultural language acquisition development) and BCLAD (bilingual cross-cultural language acquisition development) teachers to assist ELLs and leave the academic responsibilities to classroom teachers, school districts, and teacher preparation programs to find ways to design academic supportive services for socio-economically disadvantaged students.

In addition, Proposition 227, "The Unz Initiative for English Only Instruction," has also had little impact on English proficiency levels of ELLs in public schools. Of course, focusing on English proficiency alone is not a sufficient condition in determining academic achievement for ELLs. Perhaps, these students may have academic proficiency in other areas such as science and physical education.

Research indicates that second-language learners fare better in math and science classes than language arts and social studies courses. Many who study the issue believe that limited English proficient (LEP) students do well in math and science because these subjects require fewer English skills. Others feel that the differential success is a result of the different pedagogical approaches used to teach these subjects to LEP students. The academic debate on sheltered instruction is still a pressing issue in the classroom today.

Math and science teachers seem to accommodate different styles of student learning and communication better than other teachers do. Perhaps this is because math and science teachers engage students in hands-on and minds-on activities more than language and social studies teachers. Still, as a teacher myself, I have seen many LEP students struggling in science and math classes because they lack language skills needed for academic tasks.

Teaching science to LEP students is a challenging task for many teachers. It often requires extracurricular effort and frequently demands bilingual instruction. All too often teachers bypass LEP students without allowing them time to assimilate information, complete their thought processes, and decipher scientific implications. Moreover, LEP students often receive inferior academic curricula and watered-down instruction. These kinds of curricular approaches leave many LEP students in academic limbo since usually they do not have adequate backgrounds in scientific thinking.

Throughout the years, I have learned new ideas from textbooks and teaching science, and I have developed some strategies that have been successful in teaching elementary science to LEP students. I would like to share these proven ideas with teachers who are trying to deal with LEP students' special needs. Both teaching science and learning science should be fun, exciting, entertaining, and thought provoking. I agree with researchers who conclude when teachers enjoy teaching, their students are cognitively open to learning new ideas and are more likely to retain the information taught.

In order to enjoy their calling and perform its tasks effectively, teachers may need to go back to the basics of teaching and learning. I often ask my college students, who are preparing to become credentialed teachers, to define teaching and learning. …