Academic journal article Technology and Engineering Teacher

Supporting Emergent Students in Technology and Engineering Classes: Students, Especially Those Who Speak Another Language, Come to the Classroom with a Wealth of Experiences and Knowledge That Can Enhance the Design Process

Academic journal article Technology and Engineering Teacher

Supporting Emergent Students in Technology and Engineering Classes: Students, Especially Those Who Speak Another Language, Come to the Classroom with a Wealth of Experiences and Knowledge That Can Enhance the Design Process

Article excerpt

Emergent bilingual students are a growing part of the student body across the United States. Statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) indicate that "the percentage of public school students in the United States who were English language learners (ELLs) was higher in school year 2014-15 (9.4 percent, or an estimated 4.6 million students) than in 2004-05 (9.1 percent, or an estimated 4.3 million students) and 2013-14 (9.3 percent, or an estimated 4.5 million students" (NCES 2017). The true number of students who could benefit from language instruction, however, may be higher because these numbers exclude those who did not participate in English as a Second Language programs, as well as students who were formerly identified as emergent bilingual students but later tested out of this designation (NCES 2017).

In light of linguistic diversity within many U.S. classrooms, it has become paramount that technology and engineering teachers provide accessible yet rigorous instruction that supports students' language development. One of the best ways to support emergent bilingual students is to provide rich and robust vocabulary instruction in English, while simultaneously welcoming and encouraging the development of home languages. Graves and colleagues (Graves, August, & Mancilla-Martinez, 2013) stated, "each of us have four vocabularies: Words we understand when we hear them, words we can read, words we use in our speech, and words we use in our writing" (p. 11). Given the complexity of the vocabulary words used in technology and engineering (TE) classrooms, TE teachers may believe that building all four vocabularies is a daunting task. This article addresses five promising practices that technology and engineering teachers can begin implementing right away to provide vocabulary supports for those who are learning English in addition to their home language.

Promising Practices

This article outlines five research-based practices that have the potential to support English-learners' vocabulary development. Using examples from teaching emergent bilingual students in middle and high school TE classes, the article illustrates what each principle might look like in practice.

1. Choose engineering design challenges that are relevant to students.

Technologies, including those taught in TE classes, are not neutral. Teachers can be aware of the cultural, classed, and political implications of engineering design challenges and then choose challenges that are interesting, relevant, and contextualized for their students. Even great ideas such as a t-shirt shooter at a ball game (Fantz & Grant, 2013) reflect the activities of a particular group of people: in this case, those who have the time, money, interest, and means of transportation to attend professional sports events.

To establish relevance, teachers might encourage students to choose design challenges related to problems they want to address, or teachers can situate design into their existing design challenges in students' local or international communities. For example, rather than asking students to design and build a model bridge that holds a specified amount of weight, teachers might consider contextualizing this challenge by asking students to build a model of a bridge to cross a local river at a needed area. Alternatively, emergent bilingual students might identify the criteria and constraints associated with a bridge near their former location (e.g., a specified area in rural Honduras) and design a model bridge for that context.

Regardless of the design challenge chosen, teachers can hold conversations by raising questions such as who would benefit from a product, who would not have access to using that product, how people from different cultures have used different approaches to solve similar problems, and how diverse people might use the designed product differently than intended. This approach would allow culturally and linguistically diverse students to share their own background experiences in the classroom. …

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