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Relationship Between “Form” and “Content” in Science Writing Among English Language Learners

by Okhee Lee, Randall D. Penfield & Cory A. Buxton - 2011

Background/Context: While different instructional approaches have been proposed to integrate academic content and English proficiency for English language learning (ELL) students, studies examining the magnitude of the relationship are non-existent. This study examined the relationship between the “form” (i.e., conventions, organization, and style/voice) and “content” (i.e., specific knowledge and understanding of science) of expository science writing among third grade ELL students in the beginning and at the end of each year during the three-year implementation of the intervention.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The study is part of a larger five-year research and development project aimed at improving science and literacy achievement of ELL students in urban elementary schools in a large school district.

Research Design: The intervention was comprised of curriculum units for students and teachers and professional development workshops for teachers throughout the school year. As a school-wide initiative, all third grade teachers and their students from six treatment schools participated. The study involved 683 third graders during the first year, 661 third graders during the second year, and 676 third graders during the third year. Approximately half of the students were Hispanic and the other half were Black, including Haitians and Caribbean Islanders. A writing sample was used as a measure of English proficiency and ability to explain science concepts in writing. At the beginning and end of each school year, teachers administered the writing prompt to their students. Data were analyzed using a hierarchical linear modeling approach.

Findings/Results: The results indicated significant relationships between writing form and content at both pretest and posttest, with a stronger relationship at posttest. The effect of English proficiency on the magnitude of the relationship was significant only at posttest, for which the relationship was stronger for non-ELL students. The results suggest that through our intervention over the course of the school year, students with greater English proficiency learned science content and developed English literacy simultaneously, whereas students with lower English proficiency did not show this simultaneous growth to the same degree.

Conclusions: Thus, interventions such as ours, which primarily present science curriculum and instruction in English, might be expected to have limited positive effects for ELL students at the beginning and intermediate levels of English proficiency. The results point out potential conflicts in current educational policies, including high-stakes testing and accountability and English-only policies, which affect ELL students.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 7, 2011, p. 1401-1434
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16073, Date Accessed: 9/24/2021 2:13:50 AM

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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.
  • Randall Penfield
    University of Miami, Florida
    E-mail Author
    RANDALL D. PENFIELD is a professor in the School of Education, University of Miami, Florida. His research interests include educational measurement and fairness in high-stakes testing.
  • Cory Buxton
    University of Georgia
    E-mail Author
    CORY A. BUXTON is an associate professor in the Department of Elementary and Social Studies Education at the University of Georgia. His research interests include teaching science and academic language to English language learners, student and teacher reasoning, and place-based education. Recent publications include: Buxton, C., Lee, O., & Mahotiere, M. (2009). The role of language in academic and social transition of Haitian children and their parents to urban U.S. schools, Bilingual Research Journal, 31(1&2), 47-74.
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