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Proposing a Knowledge Base for Teaching Academic Content to English Language Learners: Disciplinary Linguistic Knowledge


by Sultan Turkan, Luciana C. De Oliveira, Okhee Lee & Geoffrey Phelps — 2014

Background/Context: The current research on teacher knowledge and teacher accountability falls short on information about what teacher knowledge base could guide preparation and accountability of the mainstream teachers for meeting the academic needs of English language learners (ELLs). Most recently, research on specialized knowledge for teaching has offered ways to understand the tasks of teaching that constitute the work of teaching a subject and a set of content-based problems. However, in this paper, we have argued that this domain does not address whether or not teaching academic content to ELLs involves any specialized knowledge for teaching. We sought to understand what specialized knowledge base for teaching, if any, is included in the work of teaching content to special student populations such as ELLs. In this exploration, we drew on the main perspectives from two lines of scholarship: Systemic Functional Linguistics and academic language.

Purpose: Grounding the theoretical argument based on these two areas of research, we propose the teachers’ use of Disciplinary Linguistic Knowledge (DLK) for academic discourse of a discipline or content area. DLK is proposed as the knowledge base needed to facilitate ELLs’ understanding of oral and written discourse within a discipline and their accurate use of language to engage them in the disciplinary discourse.

Findings/Results: DLK refers to teachers’ knowledge of a particular disciplinary discourse and involves knowledge for (a) identifying linguistic features of the disciplinary discourse and (b) modeling for ELLs how to communicate meaning in the discipline and engaging them in using the language of the discipline orally or in writing. We offer examples illustrating how teachers’ knowledge of Disciplinary Linguistic Knowledge might manifest itself when teachers engage in the work of teaching content to ELLs.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The use of DLK as a specialized knowledge base for teaching content to ELLs might help to further specify the role of teachers’ knowledge of students within the larger research area of content knowledge for teaching. Also, operationalizing DLK as an assessment construct could address the need for next generation teacher assessments that aim to measure teachers’ knowledge base for teaching content to ELLs.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 3, 2014, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17361, Date Accessed: 5/27/2017 7:43:59 AM

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About the Author
  • Sultan Turkan
    Educational Testing Services
    E-mail Author
    SULTAN TURKAN is an associate research scientist at the Center for Validity Research at ETS. Prior to joining ETS in 2010, Turkan was a doctoral candidate in the teaching and teacher education program at University of Arizona. Her research focuses on understanding and assessing the quality of teaching mathematics and science to English language learners, teacher education and professional development, and formative teacher assessments. Turkan’s research interests expand across understanding how to develop fair and valid content assessments for ELLs as well as valid accommodations on large-scale content assessments. Her recent publication include (a) Turkan, S., & Iddings Da Silva, C. (2012). “That child is a yellow”: The conceptual metaphors and English language ideologies of the NCLB Era. Theory into Practice, 51(1)1–9. (b) Turkan, S., & Liu, L. (2012). Differentiated performance of ELLs on inquiry science items. International Journal of Science Education, 34(15), 2343–2369. (c) Jones, N., Buzick, H., & Turkan, S. (in press). Including students with disabilities and English language learners in measures of educator effectiveness. Educational Researcher.
  • Luciana De Oliveira
    Purdue University
    E-mail Author
    LUCIANA C. DE OLIVEIRA is associate professor of literacy and language education and director of the English language learning licensure program in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at Purdue University. Her research focuses on the teaching and learning of English language learners in content areas; teacher education, advocacy and social justice; and nonnative English-speaking teachers in TESOL. Her recent publications include Knowing and Writing School History: The Language of Students’ Expository Writing and Teachers’ Expectations (2011, Information Age) and L2 Writing in Secondary Classrooms: Student Experiences, Academic Issues, and Teacher Education co-edited with T. Silva (Routledge, 2013).
  • Okhee Lee
    New York University
    E-mail Author
    OKHEE LEE is a professor in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University. Her research areas include science education, language and culture, and teacher education. Her recent publications include Lee, O., & Maerten-Rivera, J. (in press). Teacher change in elementary science instruction with English language learners: Results of a multi-year professional development intervention across multiple grades. Teachers College Record.
  • Geoffrey Phelps
    Educational Testing Services
    E-mail Author
    GEOFFREY PHELPS is a research scientist in the Understanding Teaching Quality Center at ETS. Prior to joining ETS in 2010, Phelps was an assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan where he studied the relationship between teaching practice and teacher knowledge in the elementary subjects of mathematics and English language arts. His interest in teaching quality, teacher development, and school improvement stems from eight years of teaching primary grades in Vermont. Recent publications include (a) Kelcey, B., & Phelps, G. (in press). Parameters for the design of group randomized trials with teacher outcomes. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. (b) Phelps, G., Corey, D., Ball, D. L., Demonte, J., & Harrison, D. (2012). Explaining variation in instructional time: An application of quantile regression. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 34(2), 146–163.
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