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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Learning Science and English: How School Reform Advances Scientific Learning for Limited English Proficient Middle School Students

  • Author(s): Minicucci, Catherine
  • et al.

This article presents findings from the School Reform and Student Diversity Study, a 4-year project to locate and analyze schools offering exemplary science and mathematics programs to middle school students with limited proficiency in English. In contrast to the vast majority of schools, the four schools described in this article give these students access to stimulating science and mathematics curricula by instructing them either in the students' primary language or in English using sheltered techniques. These schools have overcome the usual barriers to including students with limited English proficiency (LEP) in grade level science and mathematics courses, particularly the belief of many teachers and administrators that fluency in English is a prerequisite to learning other academic subjects.

How have these schools been able to offer innovative science and mathematics programs to students who are not yet proficient in English? First, these programs were manifestations of larger national and state level efforts to improve science and mathematics instruction. External partners connected the schools to these larger reform efforts and aided teachers in developing thematic instruction, providing hands-on experiential learning opportunities, and fostering students' construction of meaning. Second, the exemplary science and mathematics programs took place in a broader context of school restructuring, such as school-based decision making in regard to allocation of resources, creation of smaller school units for learning, innovative uses of time that protected and extended LEP students' time to learn, and teacher collaboration. Finally, well-conceived and well-implemented language development programs for LEP students were crucial to the programs' success. The availability of qualified faculty, the creation of multiple-program pathways for transition to English, and support for transitioning students to all-English instruction provided the foundation for giving LEP students access to innovative science and mathematics programs.

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