Ramirez-Marin, F., & Clark, D. B. (2013). Scaffolding Academic Language in Science for English Learners. In M. B. Arias & C. J. Faltis (Eds.), Academic Language in Second Language Learning (pp. 171–199). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
This chapter reviews literature in science education related to cultural and linguistic diversity, including English language learners, in the United States. Further, two prevalent frameworks for teacher preparation and development in science education (the instructional congruence framework and the effective science teaching for English language learners framework) are broadly described with the purpose of illustrating the theoretical and pedagogical practices advocated by researchers for content, language, and literacy learning in science education. Based on the literature reviewed, we argue that the systemic functional linguistic (SFL) approach to the study oflanguage (Halliday, 1973, 1980, 1994) could synergistically augment these models for science education.
p. 172: While there is general agreement on the need for high standards and achievement expectations for all students in core curriculum, there is also strong disagreement on how best to bring about high academic achievement for English language learners (ELLs) (Crawford, 2004).
p. 172: Based on what research indicates, Hart and Lee (2003) conclude that there may be a lack of the support and time that teachers need to develop the complex set of beliefs and practices that will enable them to assist ELLs in attaining challenging academic standards while developing English language and literacy (Garda, 1999; McLaughlin, Shepard, & O'Day, 1995).
p. 173: SFL has not been widely considered in the science education literature, but SFL can provide teachers with a clear understanding of what academic language entails and at the same time highlight the importance of providing students with access to the specialized language embedded in the practices through which scientific knowledge is construed and represented. We also argue that SFL as a framework is extremely useful for teachers to identify the potential linguistic demands of school language and literacy. SFL, therefore, offers great potential for augmenting exemplary approaches in science education for supporting teachers of English language learners.
SCIENCE EDUCATION AND CULTURAL AND LINGUISTIC DIVERSITY IN THE UNITED STATES
p. 173: Lemke (2001) explains that science, as a cooperative activity, is only possible because people grow up and live within social organizations or institutions (family, school, church, research lab, etc.) that provide meaningmaking tools, such as language, beliefs systems, discourse practices, representational systems, and other specialized practices that constitute the culture of a community (e.g., American scientists).
INTEGRATION OF SCIENCE TEACHING, LANGUAGE, AND LITERACY
p. 175: Two prevalent frameworks for teacher preparation to support diverse students studying science are: 1) the instructional congruence framework; and (2) the effective science teaching for English language learners framework (ESTELL)
The Instructional Congruence Framework
p. 175: The instructional congruence (IC) model (Lee & Fradd, 1998, 2001) builds on theoretical views of cultural discontinuity. The IC framework is grounded on the tenet that it is essential to incorporate ELL students' home languages and cultures in the educational process to provide meaningful context for the construction of new understandings. Lee and Fradd (1998, 2001) argue that effective science education incorporates students' prior linguistic and cultural knowledge in relation to science disciplines. Thus, the researchers propose the IC framework as a way to integrate specific scaffolding for language and literacy into standards-based science inquiry and learning.
According to Lee and Fradd (1998, 2001), teachers make academic content and inquiry (e.g., science) accessible, meaningful, and relevant for diverse students (e.g. linguistically diverse students) through instructional congruence. To achieve effective science and literacy instruction within the IC framework, "teachers need to integrate knowledge of (a) the students' language and cultural experiences, (b) science learning, and (c) literacy development" (Lee & l<radd, 2001, p. Ill). Through instructional congruence, teachers make academic content and inquiry (e.g., science) accessible, meaningful, and relevant for diverse students (e.g., linguistically diverse students).
The Effective Science Teaching for English Language Learners (ESTELL) Framework
p. 177: A second prominent framework is the effective science teaching for English language learners (ESTELL) framework (Stoddart, Solis, Tolbert, & Bravo, 2010). ESTELL is an instructional approach that integrates the teaching of scientific inquiry, science discourse, and language and literacy development in a contextualized curriculum that is culturally, socially, and linguistically responsive.
p.179: The common driving principles under which these body of research and development studies is that the relationship between science learning and language and literacy learning is reciprocal and synergistic.
p. 180: The ESTELL framework conceptualizes language in this framework in sociocultural terms as a (symbolic) tool that mediates and structures the ways in which scientists think and communicate with one another. The use of this mediating symbolic tool is realized within particular cultural contexts in which communities of people realize specialized practices (i.e., scientists doing science). In this context, academic language is better characterized through the concept of "discourse" (see Lemke, 1990; Gee, 1996, 2008). Stoddart et al. (2010), for example, cite Cervetti et al.'s (2007) assertion that "science activities are achieved through a social process where the language used for competent participation requires specialized ways of talking, writing, and thinking about the world in scientific ways" (p. 164). Thus, the language used by scientist is better described as discourse.
p. 181: From ESTELL's perspective, teacher talk within instructional conversations is a pedagogical practice through which teachers engage students in scientific discourse and the instructional conversation is the means by which teachers and students relate formal, schooled knowledge to the student's individual, community, and family knowledge.
Summary: General Agreement in Science Education Research on Core Issues for Supporting Diverse Students (p. 182)
Across these science education frameworks and studies, several points of consensus arise in terms of scaffolding ELLs studying science:
1. There is a need to provide language minority students, including ELLs, with pedagogical approaches that promote ELL's achievement in content areas while simultaneously developing literacy and language proficiency in English (e.g., Lee & Fradd, 1998; Rosebery, Warren, & Conant, 1992; Stoddart 1999, 2005; Stoddart et al., 2002; Tharp, 1997; Tharp et. al, 2000).
2. Content-area instruction provides a meaningful context for English language and literatcy development, while the language processes provide the medium for analysis and communication of subject matter knowledge (e.g., Casteel & Isom, 1994; Hart & Lee, 2003; Lee & Fradd, 1996; Stoddart et al., 2002).
3. Hands-on and inquiry-based science instruction can help students develop scientific understanding and engage in inquiry practices while also supporting academic language and literacy development (e.g., Lee, 2002; Lee & Fradd, 1998; Rosebery, Warren & Conant, 1992).
4. Integrating language and literacy research into contextualized science inquiry instruction has a positive effect for ELL students (e.g., Lee, 2005; Stoddart et al., 2010).
SUPPORTING ACADEMIC LANGUAGE: CHALLENGES FOR SCIENCE TEACHERS (p. 182)
Teachers need support to conceptualize academic language as a discourse type. Traditional language professional development or/and teacher training practices do not provide this support. More specifically, academic language is "a socially accepted association among ways of using language, other symbolic expressions, and artifacts of thinking, feeling, believing, valuing, and acting that can be used to identity oneself as a member of a socially meaningful group or social network, or to signal (that one is playing) a socially meaningful role. (Gee, 1996, p. 131)"
(p. 183) While the instructional congruence, ESTELL, and other science frameworks
outlined above provide a solid foundation for supporting diverse
students learning science, science teachers need further support so that
they can scaffold their students into these discipline specific discourse
types and registers.
POSSIBLE SOLUTION: THE SYSTEMIC FUNCTIONAL LINGUimCS APPROACH TO LANGUAGE
(p. 185) In light of these challenges, science teachers need further theoretical and instructional support in terms of academic language to augment the supports provided by the instructional congruence, ESTELL, and other science education frameworks. Essentially, the instructional congruence, ESTELL, and other related science education frameworks provide an excellent foundation, but teachers also require explicit supports in terms of academic language.
Research on systemic functional linguistics (Halliday, 1978, 1980; Schleppegrell, 2001, 2004) could provide specific approaches to such language supports that would synergistically augment and enhance the current frameworks in science education, such as the IC and ESTELL frameworks. The systemic functional linguistics (SFL) approach to language analysis would provide significant assistance to content-area teachers and English language learners in identifying linguistic features common to "school language."
p. 186: In her work, Schleppegrell demonstrates how particular linguistic features are used in science texts to display knowledge, organize information, and to convey an authoritative voice, all of which comprises features of scientific discourse.
Schleppegrell: (1) the development of academic registers typically does not occur unscaffolded in students' ordinary language development; (2) approaches to content-based language instruction can be enriched through an understanding that language and content are never separate; (3) approaches to teaching content while developing language and literacy with English learners should emphasize the use of academic registers to help students understand new ways of using language.
p.187: In terms of instructional practices drawing on SFL, important work is already underway. de Oliveira and Dodds (2010), for example, provide specific instructional sequences used to assist ELL students identifY challenges they can encounter, specifically when reading science textbooks. de Oliveira and Dodds demonstrate that a language dissection approach in science can be applied in teaching science to ELLs.
p. 188: Oliveira argues that there is a need to pay explicit attention to language in elementary science methods science, so that both teachers and students develop linguistic awareness of some typical discourse features of science. SFL would provide this foundation to support students throughout their K-12 experience.
RECOMMENDATIONS AND FINAL THOUGHTS
p. 188: Learning academic language involves linguistic and social processes that are not separated from particular social practices (Schleppegrell, 2004); rather, linguistic resources are used within those practices to construe and represent new knowledge (Halliday, 1978). SFL can synergistically complement the Instructional Congruence, ESTELL, and other science education frameworks toward these goals.
p.190: In order for teachers to support students in the ways pointed out above, science teacher preparation and development programs need to incorporate theoretical and conceptual views of language consistent with the research that supports instructional frameworks found in the literature for the teaching of science with culturally and linguistically diverse students.
As a result, it is necessary to provide teachers with a clear understanding of what "academic language" entails and how it is intrinsically tied to learning the content of academic disciplines and their specialized practices and language conventions.