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Teacher Change in Elementary Science Instruction With English Language Learners: Results of a Multiyear Professional Development Intervention Across Multiple Grades


by Okhee Lee & Jaime Maerten-Rivera — 2012

Background: Current classroom practices have largely been shaped by changing student demographics, including English language learners (ELLs), and evolving accountability policies. The teacher professional development intervention in this study takes place against this backdrop.

Research Questions: This study examined change in teachers’ knowledge and practices while they participated in a 5-year teacher professional development intervention designed to improve science instruction while supporting literacy development of ELLs in the context of accountability policy in science. The study also examined whether teacher change was associated with predictor variables.

Setting and Participants: The study involved all science teachers (a total of 198 teachers) in Grades 3–5 from six urban elementary schools in a large school district. Over the 5-year period of the study, each teacher could participate in the intervention for 3 years, although there were high rates of teacher mobility.

Intervention: A series of curriculum units was developed that constituted the entire science curriculum for Grades 3–5 and replaced the district-adopted curriculum in the six participating schools. Over their 3-year participation in the intervention, teachers could attend a total of 14 full-day workshops during the summers and throughout the school years.

Research Design: The study used a longitudinal design over the 5-year intervention with a treatment group consisting of six elementary schools.

Data Collection and Analysis: Both questionnaire and classroom observations were used to measure reform-oriented practices in science and English for speakers of other languages (ESOL)/bilingual education in the following areas: (a) teacher knowledge of science content, (b) teaching practices to promote scientific understanding, (c) teaching practices to promote scientific inquiry, and (d) teaching practices to support English language development. During the 3-year period of their participation, teachers completed the questionnaire prior to beginning the intervention and at the end of each school year and were observed once in the fall and once in the spring each year. A series of multilevel models was used to examine change in the questionnaire and observation scales.

Conclusions: The results from the questionnaire (what teachers reported) and classroom observations (what teachers were observed doing) indicated some improvements in teachers’ knowledge and practices in teaching science to ELLs over the intervention. Grade taught was the most pronounced predictor variable and distinguished the fifth grade, the grade at which science counted toward the state accountability policy. Despite improvements, teachers’ knowledge and practices generally did not meet the goal of reform-oriented practices.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 8, 2012, p. 1-44
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16533, Date Accessed: 12/17/2014 11:00:00 PM

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About the Author
  • Okhee Lee
    University of Miami, Florida
    E-mail Author
    OKHEE LEE is a professor in the School of Education, University of Miami, Florida. Her research areas include science education, language and culture, and teacher education. Recent publications include: Lee, O. (2005). Science education and English language learners: Synthesis and research agenda. Review of Educational Research, 75(4), 491–530; and Lee, O., Penfield, R. D., & Buxton, C. A. (in press). Relationship between “form” and “content” in science writing among English language learners. Teachers College Record.
  • Jaime Maerten-Rivera
    University of Miami, Florida
    JAIME MAERTEN-RIVERA is a research associate in the School of Education, University of Miami, Florida. Her research interest is in the area of applied methodological issues, with a secondary focus on education issues, including diversity and accountability policies. Recent publications include: Maerten-Rivera, J., Myers, N., Lee, O., & Penfield, R. (2010). Student and school predictors of high-stakes assessment in science. Science Education, 94, 937–962; and Maerten-Rivera, J., Penfield, R., Myers, N., Lee, O., & Buxton, C. (2009). School and teacher predictors of science instruction practices with English language learners in urban elementary schools. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 15(2), 93–118.
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