Academic journal article Science Scope

Linguistically Diverse Students: In an Era of Science Education Reform

Academic journal article Science Scope

Linguistically Diverse Students: In an Era of Science Education Reform

Article excerpt

Once again, the nation's science teachers are rallying around high-profile education reforms. On the heels of Project 2061, the National Science Education Standards, and No Child Left Behind come the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards. Each previous reform effort has informed our collective vision and brought us a greater understanding of what excellence in science teaching looks like. While past school reforms represent a variety of foci (e.g., the creation of exemplary curricula, informing teacher knowledge, developing effective classroom management systems, and connecting teachers and students to historically relevant and current research findings), today's teachers find themselves in a tug-of-war between high-stakes, standards-based education and the expectation that all students will succeed in science regardless of their cultural, linguistic, or socioeconomic background. Today's reform rhetoric calls upon science teachers to connect science curricula to children's lives in culturally, linguistically, and sociologically significant ways.

If we're honest, most of us science teachers find ourselves doing much more on a daily basis than just conveying science content knowledge, and the teacher knowledge required to address all of our students' needs can be daunting. This is especially true when we consider the challenges of teaching certain specific groups of students, such as English language learners (Lee and Buxton 2011; Arkoudis 2003) (see the sidebar for a list of terms used in this article and their definitions). As science educators, we have yet to address where current or future teachers will obtain the kind of knowledge needed to address the wealth of linguistically diverse learners showing up in middle school science classrooms (NCELA 2011), but education policy and legislation in many states falsely assume that we are already well equipped to teach in such ways. Though districts admit students of all cultures and backgrounds and track their progress, it is very difficult to predict the linguistic diversity of science classrooms and prepare teachers to address the needs of all children. In fact, in many urban districts, refugee or immigrant populations with low English proficiency may appear with little or no notice to districts or their teachers. Teachers often feel unprepared and unsupported in their attempts to meet the needs of these students and, in general, they are having limited success. Research has demonstrated the consistent inequitable achievement of ethnically and linguistically diverse students in school (Delpit and Dowdy 2010; Gay 2010), and national and international studies on science achievement have found consistent achievement gaps between mainstream and nonmainstream students within the United States (Lee and Buxton 2011). These gaps indicate a growing national failure to meet the needs of linguistically diverse children.

A variety of strategies have been promoted in public schools nationwide to alleviate such gaps, including English language learner (ELL) pull-out programs, structured English immersion, bilingual programs of various types, and a plethora of other options. Pull-out programs are popular responses, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. Programs of this kind give a false sense that someone else is responsible for the success of ELL students in science and can create an undesirable situation where the student who is pulled out of science class does not engage with that same science content in the English-as-a-second-language (ESL) setting (Dove and Honigsfeld 2010). While this solution may seem desirable on the surface to an already over-whelmed faculty, pull-out programs often cannot meet content needs, particularly in academically demanding subjects such as science (Wright 2004). Structured English immersion for ELLs places students in classrooms where significant amounts of the school day are dedicated to the explicit teaching of the English language and where English language is the main content of instruction (Clark 2009). …

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