Okhee Lee, Ph.D., Professor, New York University
Scott E. Grapin, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, University of Miami
Alison Haas, Ph.D., Director of Development and Implementation, SAIL Research Lab, New York University
A Framework for K-12 Science Education (National Research Council, 2012) served as the foundation for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS; NGSS Lead States, 2013a). During the past decade, 20 states and the District of Columbia adopted the NGSS, and 28 additional states developed their own standards based on the Framework. The NGSS are expected of all students, hence “all standards, all students” with a focus on equity (NGSS Lead States, 2013b).
In the NGSS science classroom, student agency is at the center, as students make sense of phenomena in science and design solutions to problems in engineering. But how can educators ensure all students experience the agency that the standards are intended to promote, especially minoritized student groups, such as multilingual learners? These students include both recently arrived students, who are learning English as a new language, as well as U.S.-born English learners, who represent more than half of students currently classified as “English learners” in U.S. public schools (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, & Medicine, 2018).
In this blog, we describe our professional development (PD) program with elementary science teachers, which is grounded in contemporary conceptions of science learning, language learning, and science and language integration with all students, especially multilingual learners. First, we describe shifts in conceptions of content and language. These conceptual shifts build on an asset-oriented view of multilingual learners to leverage the mutually supportive nature of content and language learning. Then, we describe our curriculum-based PD program with fifth-grade teachers of multilingual learners. Our PD program is guided by three design principles: (a) students bring assets, teachers bring assets; (b) students figure out, teachers figure out; and (c) students develop understanding over time, teachers develop understanding over time.
Conceptions of Content and Language with Multilingual Learners
A deficit-oriented view of language learners has long dominated language education and content area education (Lee, 2021; Lee & Stephens, 2020). Traditional conceptions focused on what language learners were lacking, as exemplified by the term “limited English proficient” students in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Based on this deficit view, traditional conceptions focused on how the education system could fix this problem, for example, by pre-teaching and frontloading vocabulary or providing sentence frames, both of which position English language proficiency as a precursor or prerequisite to participate in content learning (Grapin et al., 2021). With a shift to an asset-oriented view, as exemplified by the term “multilingual learners” in the latest English language proficiency standards (WIDA Consortium, 2020), contemporary conceptions focus on the meaning-making resources that students do bring for engaging in disciplinary practices and communicating their ideas regardless of their English proficiency.
Shifts in conceptions of content and language with multilingual learners have occurred in parallel. In content area education, traditional conceptions focused on individual learners’ mastery of discrete elements of content, whereas contemporary conceptions emphasize that students engage in disciplinary practices of content areas. Because contemporary conceptions involve using and applying knowledge for a purpose, they have been referred to as knowledge-in-use (Harris et al., 2019). In language education, traditional conceptions focused on discrete elements of vocabulary (lexicon) and grammar (syntax) to be internalized by individual learners, whereas contemporary conceptions emphasize that language is a dynamic set of meaning-making practices learned through participation in social contexts (García & Li, 2014; Grapin, 2019; Valdés et al., 2014). Because contemporary conceptions involve using language and other meaning-making resources (e.g., gestures, visuals) for a purpose, they have been referred to as language-in-use (Lee et al., 2013). Across content area education and language education, conceptual shifts are mutually supportive in promoting rigorous content learning and rich language use (see Table 1 below; for details, see Buxton & Lee, in press). In science education with multilingual learners, we refer to this as “doing science, using language” (Lee et al., 2019).
Shifts From Traditional to Contemporary Conceptions of Science and Language with Multilingual Learners
Professional Development Programs Integrating Science and Language with Multilingual Learners
Since the release of the NGSS in 2013, we have been working toward building consensus among research (Lee et al., 2013), policy through science standards (e.g., NGSS) and English language proficiency standards (e.g., WIDA Consortium, 2020), and practice. In our previous project, in collaboration with elementary school teachers, we developed a fifth-grade NGSS-based curriculum called the Science And Integrated Language (SAIL) curriculum (Haas et al., 2021; Lee et al., 2019), which is available as an open educational resource. Currently, we are developing a curriculum-based PD program (Haas et al., 2023; Lee et al., 2023). Our PD program is grounded in three sources: (a) conceptual shifts for content and language described above, (b) findings from our previous curriculum development project (Haas et al., 2021; Lee et al., 2019), and (c) literature reviews on professional learning and PD programs in science education and language education (Lee et al., 2023). Given that the literature is in its infancy, we draw heavily from our previous curriculum development project.
Our PD program is grounded in the notion of symmetry in professional learning, which is defined as “giving adults opportunities to learn in ways that parallel how students learn” (Mehta & Fine, 2019, p. 484). As shifts from traditional to contemporary conceptions to meet the vision of the Framework and the NGSS present both opportunities and demands not only for students but also for teachers, professional learning experiences should be symmetrical to student learning experiences such that teachers experience learning like the students they will teach and learn to adapt their instruction for their students. With our focus on science and language integration with multilingual learners, we emphasize three design principles.
Teachers bring rich knowledge and experiences, both personal and professional, to PD, just as their students bring rich knowledge and experiences to the science classroom. In PD, we adopt an asset-oriented approach that positions teachers as valued collaborators and contributors. At one level of symmetry, we cultivate the assets teachers bring by engaging them in the curriculum as students do. At another level, we cultivate the assets that teachers bring to help them make sense of our conceptual approach to asset-oriented instruction with multilingual learners.
Teachers “figure out” in PD in parallel with how their students “figure out” in the science classroom. In PD, we engage teachers in three-dimensional learning while also supporting them to figure out new ways of teaching the NGSS with multilingual learners. At one level of symmetry, teachers figure out phenomena by engaging in three-dimensional learning as students do. At another level, by reflecting on their own process of figuring out phenomena, teachers figure out our conceptual approach to promoting science and language learning with multilingual learners.
Teachers, like their students, develop understanding over time. We structure PD so that teachers develop both science understanding and instructional practices to promote their students’ science understanding and language use over lessons and units. At one level of symmetry, over the course of the school year or multiple years, teachers develop more coherent understanding by engaging in the curriculum as students do. At another level, over the course of the school year or multiple years, teachers develop understanding of our conceptual approach to PD with teachers of multilingual learners.
The NGSS call for shifts in teachers’ instructional practices, especially in linguistically diverse science classrooms. PD that is symmetrical to student learning is one way to prepare teachers for this vision of science instruction. All learning, whether with children or adults, involves cultivating assets, figuring things out, and developing understanding over time. As teachers engage in symmetrical professional learning experiences, they will not only be prepared to teach, but they will also enjoy the professional learning process, rekindling a love for science and developing a deeper understanding of students’ diverse experiences, including those of multilingual learners.
Blog author Okhee Lee is a 2023 ARISE blog series editor. Read one of her blog choices by a team from Georgia Tech’s CEISMC, Co-Constructing “Good Trouble:” Understanding and Supporting Teacher Practices for Rightful Presence in STEAM Classrooms and watch for an upcoming blog by Dr. Natalie King, Georgia State University.