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Teaching and Learning the Language of Science: A Case Study of Academic Language Acquisition in a Dual Language Middle School

  • Author(s): Gose, Robin Margaretha
  • Advisor(s): Bailey, Alison
  • Durkin, Diane
  • et al.
Abstract

English language learners (EL) are the fastest growing sub-group of the student population in California, yet ELs also score the lowest on the science section of the California Standardized Tests. In the area of bilingual education, California has dramatically changed its approach to English learners since the passage of Proposition 227 in 1998, which called for most EL instruction to be conducted in English (Cummins, 2000; Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2008). In reality, this means that EL students are often placed in programs that focus on basic language skills rather than rigorous content, meaning that they are not getting access to grade level science content (Lee & Fradd, 1998). As a result, many EL students exit eighth grade without a strong foundation in science, and they continue to score below their English-speaking peers on standardized achievements.

While the usefulness of the academic language construct remains controversial (Bailey, 2012), the language used in science instruction is nevertheless often unfamiliar to both EL and English proficient students. The discourse is frequently specialized for discipline-specific interactions and activities (Bailey, 2007; Lemke, 1990). This qualitative case study examined academic language instruction in three middle school science classrooms at a dual language charter school. The goal was to understand how teachers integrate academic language and content for linguistically diverse students. The findings fom this study indicate that targeting language instruction in isolation from science content instruction prohibits students from engaging in the "doing of science" and scientific discourse, or the ability to think, reason, and communicate about science. The recommendations of this study support authentically embedding language development into rigorous science instruction in order to maximize opportunities for learning in both domains.

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