Janzen, J. (2008). Teaching English language learners in the content areas. Review of Educational Research , 78 (4), 1010-1038.
ABSTRACT: This review examines current research on teaching English Language Learners (ELLs) in four content area subjects: history, math, English, and science. The following topics are examined in each content area: The linguistic, cognitive, and sociocultural features of academic literacy and how this literacy can be taught; general investigations of teaching; and professional development or teacher education issues. The article summarizes key findings in the literature, examining trends and discontinuities across the different content areas, and concludes with implications for teaching and suggestions for further research.
Through linguistic analysis, Schleppegrell and her colleagues demonstrate that
reading and writing in history make unique demands on students in general, and
that the language of history textbooks can be very difficult for ELLs in particular.
The authors recommend that social studies teachers explicitly teach their students
the grammatical features of history language to develop learner proficiency in
reading and writing.
Reppen (1994/1995) examined a fifth-grade social studies
classroom in which students were taught multiple genres (narrative, description,
persuasion, and exposition) through a combination of teacher modeling, explicit
teaching about the language and structure of individual genres, and joint construction
of texts. Reppen states that several types of assessment demonstrated that
this approach produced positive change in terms of student content knowledge,
writing proficiency, and attitudes toward social studies learning.
Zwiers (2006) emphasizes students’ functional use of academic
language in history. His techniques include word walls that focus on different types
of language and hand motions and chants to solidify student memory of specific
vocabulary. Zwiers provides evidence that suggests his approach had positive
effects: For example, in their final papers, students used academic language that
they had encountered in class.
A research review of the features of mathematics language (Schleppegrell,
2007) outlines a range of challenges that math can present in SFL [systemic functional linguistics] terms. These features
include the use of more than one semiotic system (symbolic notation, visual
displays such as graphs, written and spoken language); technical vocabulary; and
grammatical features including complex noun phrases. Schleppegrell suggests that
a focus on language is critical for student learning in the classroom, that both students
and teachers should use math language, and that instruction should assist
students to move from everyday language to the more formal register of math.
In one article focused solely on language issues, Ron (1999) observes that the
language of math and the language of everyday life can overlap, but that math language
is used to express concepts that are not necessary or important in everyday
usage. Additionally, mathematics may require specialized meanings for words. She
points out that one of the challenges for ELLs in learning mathematical language is
that it can only be acquired in school and not through conversational interaction.
In a study of an effective bilingual fifth grade
teacher, Khisty and Viego (1999) describe several teaching practices that
promote mathematical thinking, among them the teacher’s consistent and clear
use of math terminology combined with the teacher’s requirement that students
use math language in the same way. This behavior is in contrast to other contexts
observed by Khisty , in which teachers’ use of math language was
confusing or unhelpful.
Some of the articles reviewed recommend that teachers should pay
attention to classroom interaction and should give students opportunities to talk their
way through problems or make verbal explanations of their reasoning. When teachers
require oral language use, students can discover alternate approaches to problem
solving, and teachers can become more aware of what their students know or don’t
know. (Basurto, 1999; Bresser, 2003; Buchanan & Helman, 1997; Garrison, 1997;
H. Lee & Jung, 2004; Secada, 1998; Tevebaugh, 1998; Torres-Velasquez & Lobo, 2004/2005).
Several of the articles reviewed recommend that teachers use students’ knowledge
or interests to make connections to the math curriculum; alternatively, the
authors claim that math studies are more meaningful if they are linked to other content
areas (Basurto, 1999; Buchanan & Helman, 1997; Garrison, 1997; Tevebaugh,
1998; Torres-Velasquez & Lobo, 2004/2005).
Fradd and Lee have trained teachers to implement instructional
congruence in elementary school classrooms, and evaluations of this aspect of the
project indicate that instructional congruence has a positive effect on student performance
(Cuevas, Lee, Hart, & Deaktor, 2005; Fradd, Lee, Sutman, & Saxton,
2001; O. Lee, Deaktor, Hart, Cuevas, & Enders, 2005). In instructional congruence, students
are prepared to succeed according to the standards of the science discipline, but for
learning to take place, meaningful connections must be made to the knowledge,
perspectives, and behavior students bring to the classroom.
Gibbons (2003) states that use of
the checklist and discussion of it with the teachers being observed increased the
teachers’ use of desired instructional strategies.
Fradd and Lee’s research on teaching in elementary science
classrooms has also included a teacher education component. To assist teachers in
incorporating instructional congruence in their classrooms, the researchers developed
instructional units that include hands-on activities and discussion (Fradd
et al., 2001). The authors incorporated teacher feedback in the design of these units,
and teachers were taught to use them through a cycle of workshops, school-site
meetings, and focused conversations. Several studies measured change in teacher
belief and practices, two over the course of 1 year (Hart & Lee, 2003; Luykx,
Cuevas, Lambert, & Lee, 2005), the other over the course of 3 years (Lee, 2004).
The studies found positive changes in terms of teachers’ effectiveness at promoting
literacy skills and student understanding of science content, their greater
acceptance of students’ home languages and cultures, and their utilization of
instructional congruence in the classroom. However, the authors also note that
teachers require extensive support in changing their practices and that the change
takes a great deal of time.
Regarding professional development --
Several researchers have suggested that teachers need extended time for professional
development so that they can achieve a variety of objectives: (a) learn about the language
of their discipline in depth, (b) become accustomed to integrating language
and content instruction, (c) understand their attitudes toward cultural diversity and
their assumptions about ELLs, and (d) successfully adapt the knowledge base they
acquired in training to actual teaching.
A further challenge in the area of professional
development is that content-area teachers do not necessarily have either defined
obligations or opportunities to learn about working with ELLs. In school settings,
mechanisms may not exist for content-area teachers to receive training, and, even
when training occurs, teachers may not implement the accommodations they have
learned about, as one investigation found (Brown & Bentley, 2004). Power differentials
and different disciplinary epistemologies also prevent meaningful in-service
cooperation between ESOL and content-area teachers (Arkoudis, 2003; Creese,
2002), to the detriment of the students being served.