By: Alexis Rutt, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, University of Mary Washington
One in 10 students in our public schools are emergent bilingual students (EBs), tasked with learning science even as they are still developing their English (National Center for Education Statistics, 2019). It is becoming more likely, therefore, that all science teachers will have the opportunity at some point in their careers to teach science to students who are still learning the language of instruction. The EBs, also termed English Learners, are defined here as students identified by federally-mandated, standardized K-12 language proficiency assessments as learning English as an additional language in schools. This linguistically diverse student body enriches and strengthens science classrooms, yet it also offers challenges to pre-service teachers (PSTs) who seek to engage students with unique linguistic assets and needs in rigorous science instruction. Indeed, few teachers feel prepared to teach EBs (Durgunoglu & Hughes, 2010). This might be due in part to the minimal training they receive in teacher preparation programs on teaching EBs, with state requirements for content teachers varying widely (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine [NASEM], 2018). Further, though there is general agreement about how to best teach EBs (Buxton & Lee, 2014), how to prepare PSTs to do so is less clear.
In response to this dearth of knowledge, research is emerging that addresses how to prepare PSTs to teach science in linguistically diverse classrooms. In a recent article in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, we outline and assess the current state of the field using a framework developed at the intersection of language development, science education, and teacher preparation. For full results, please see Rutt, Mumba, and Kibler (2020). We highlight the main themes below.
The purpose of our literature review was to examine interventions designed to prepare PSTs to teach science in linguistically diverse classrooms. Though we recognize the value of previous literature reviews that have synthesized research on preparing PSTs to teach EBs in content areas inclusive of science (e.g., Janzen, 2008; Villegas et al., 2018) and those that have summarized research on in-service teacher training to teach science to EBs (e.g., Lee, 2005), we argue that attention to the development of PSTs’ abilities to teach science in linguistically diverse classrooms is warranted. In particular, we highlight the intersections of science and language learning, focusing specifically on interventions for preparing PSTs to teach in science classrooms inclusive of EBs.
Using a researcher-developed framework (see below), we examined studies fitting these criteria to determine the ways the interventions’ structure and focal tasks for learning contributed to PSTs’ learning and implementation of what we term language- and literacy-integrated science instruction, that is, science instruction in which language and literacy are key components of learning and doing science. In particular, we sought to answer the following research question: What are the variations in the structure and tasks for learning in interventions designed to prepare PSTs for language- and literacy-integrated science instruction, and to what extent do they support outcomes for PST learning and implementation of language- and literacy-integrated science instruction?
Framework for Analysis
To guide our analysis of the research studies, we developed a Framework for Preparing PSTs to Teach in Linguistically Diverse Science Classrooms. This framework builds on the work of Feiman-Nemser (2001) and Lucas and Villegas (2013) to consider the unique intersection of science and language instruction and teacher preparation. The framework is visually depicted as two concentric circles. The inner circle represents five tasks we argue PSTs should achieve in preparation to teach science in linguistically diverse classrooms. The outer circle highlights the structural components of teacher preparation programs that support this preparation. Table 1 briefly explains each task and structural component. Further details, and research supporting each component, can be found in Rutt et al. (2020).
Our search resulted in 14 interventions that addressed PST preparation for linguistically diverse science classrooms. Detailed analyses of each study using our framework can be found in Rutt et al. (2020). However, several themes emerged across studies for each framework element, which are described below by component and task.
The duration of the 14 interventions varied from a few hours to multiple semesters, with most interventions lasting for one semester. Echoing research suggesting that extended durations can better support teacher learning (Desimone, 2009), the authors of two of the longer-duration studies highlighted the extended duration as a driver of successful outcomes. However, a comparison of two comparable (though not identical) studies found that similar challenges persisted regardless of intervention duration, suggesting that simply extending the length of an intervention does not necessarily lead to better outcomes.
In all of the interventions reviewed, PSTs had the opportunity to experience and/or enact language- and literacy-integrated science instruction through modeling by science methods instructors and mentor teachers and through opportunities to plan for or implement integrated instruction. Though content varied by intervention, themes emerged across interventions, including attention to rigor, scaffolds for language development, integration of students’ funds of knowledge (González et al., 2005), a focus on disciplinary discourses, and student collaboration. For most studies, outcomes were positive but limited, especially when considering PSTs’ implementation of integrated instruction.
Field Experience and Mentoring
All interventions but one took place in conjunction with a field experience where PSTs could apply learned instructional methods or consider specific contexts as they developed instructional materials. In line with research suggesting the importance of cohesion between teacher preparation programs and field placements (Darling-Hammond et al., 2005), many researchers in the studies reviewed suggested that field experiences were key to understanding positive and negative intervention outcomes. In particular, they argued that engaging in linguistically diverse classrooms where mentor teachers’ instruction aligned with instructional methods taught in preparation courses was critical for PSTs’ understanding and implementation of targeted instructional practices. Mentor teacher training might serve to create important links between university-based coursework and observed instruction in field placements.
Tasks for Learning to Teach
Analyzing Beliefs and Forming New Visions of Science Instruction and Linguistic Diversity
While opportunities for PSTs to examine beliefs and develop new visions for science instruction and linguistic diversity were present in most interventions, outcomes for this task for learning were present in only half of the studies. These studies investigated PSTs’ beliefs and visions about EBs and instruction for EBs. Interestingly, the few studies that addressed the connection between PSTs’ beliefs and visions and their own instructional implementation found that PSTs sometimes struggled to implement their visions in classroom contexts. More research should address how PSTs’ beliefs are expressed through their instruction and identify the factors that make possible instruction aligned with beliefs about EBs and instruction for EBs.
Developing Scientific Knowledge and Understanding Language Demands
Most of the interventions reviewed focused primarily on assessing PSTs’ understanding of and instructional planning or implementation for the language demands and practices of science instruction, and less so on the development of PSTs’ scientific content knowledge. This attention to language in science varied in scope, ranging from fostering PSTs’ abilities to identify and develop supports for scientific academic language demands to developing PSTs’ understanding of how scientific discourse and literacy play a role in science teaching and learning. Given the greater attention to language in science, it is not surprising that multiple studies found the greatest growth in PSTs’ understanding and implementation of language-related instructional methods. However, more research is needed to understand how language- and literacy-integrated science interventions might also foster PSTs’ science content knowledge, particularly at the elementary level where teachers might be less confident in the content.
Forming Understandings of Diverse Learners and Science and Language Learning
Most of the interventions reviewed helped PSTs develop understandings of their linguistically diverse learners by training them to identify and, in some studies, integrate their students’ funds of knowledge into instruction. However, this was one of the most challenging areas of implementation for many PSTs, even as they recognized its importance. Integrating students’ funds of knowledge into science instruction for EBs remains an important area of research for teacher educators.
In relation to understandings of science and language learning, in many studies initial attention to theories and practices of language learning occurred in companion language methods courses. The content from these courses was then reinforced in the science methods courses at the center of interventions. Developing understandings of science learning was more nuanced and often occurred as guiding frameworks (e.g., inquiry or sociocultural learning theories) for the interventions. More research needs to consider how teacher preparation programs as a whole are helping PSTs develop understandings of language and science learning.
Growing a Beginning Repertoire for Science Instruction and Linguistic Support
In nearly all studies, PSTs were provided opportunities to grow repertoires for science instruction and linguistic support through observing and engaging in language- and literacy-integrated science practices as students and then applying those practices to their own instructional planning or implementation. In alignment with instructional outcomes for other beliefs and practices taught in pre-service courses, many studies found that, even as PSTs developed a strong understanding of key language- and literacy-integrated science instructional practices, they struggled to transfer those understandings to their instruction. Perhaps not surprising, however, was that PSTs tended to enact in their own instruction the practices modeled most consistently in their methods courses, highlighting the importance of clear modeling of practices during teacher preparation. More research needs to be done to consider how to better support PSTs in transferring their knowledge of reform-oriented practices to classrooms settings.
Identifying Tools to Study Science Instruction and its Impact on all Students’ Learning
In all interventions, PSTs had the opportunity to identify and approximate tools for studying science instruction and student learning through ample opportunities to reflect on their own or others’ instruction. This occurred most commonly through class discussion and was focused on identifying the effectiveness and outcomes of targeted language- and literacy-integrated practices.
These findings have implications for teacher educators and researchers, which we enumerate below.
- Methods courses that position language and literacy as key components of rigorous science teaching and learning are beneficial for developing PSTs’ abilities to provide language- and literacy-integrated science instruction in their own linguistically diverse science classrooms. Training for science teacher educators and/or collaboration with English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher educators, as well as cohesion across teacher preparation programs and PSTs’ field experiences, are important for effective language- and literacy-integrated science methods instruction.
- Opportunities to observe language- and literacy-integrated science instruction in methods courses and K-12 classrooms support PSTs’ implementation of targeted practices. Identifying or training mentor teachers in language- and literacy-integrated science practices can provide additional opportunities for PSTs to observe key instructional practices in action in K-12 contexts.
- PSTs need more opportunities to practice identifying students’ culturally and linguistically-specific funds of knowledge and considering how those funds of knowledge can be used to drive science instruction. This should be modeled in science methods courses and practiced in K-12 contexts.
- While the studies in this review provide a strong starting pointing for future research, the limited number of studies, many of which are qualitative with small sample sizes, means that more work is needed to understand how each of the structures and tasks of teacher education programs can best support PSTs in developing their own language- and literacy-integrated science instruction.
- While most interventions showed positive results for PST planning for or implementation of language- and literacy-integrated science instruction following the intervention, gains were modest, with PSTs implementing key practices only at a beginning level. More research is needed to address how to support PSTs in transferring their understandings of language- and literacy-integrated science instruction into instructional planning and implementation, particularly within unique K-12 classroom contexts.
- Longitudinal research is needed to identify if and how language- and literacy-integrated science interventions in teacher preparation programs inform teacher instruction in the first years of teaching.
As science classrooms become increasingly linguistically diverse, it is more critical than ever that pre-service teachers be prepared to teach age-appropriate, rigorous science in a way that supports the English language development of their EBs. The studies highlighted above provide a strong foundation for teacher educators and researchers to draw from, while also making evident that there is still much to be learned.