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Teaching Science to English Language Learners

reviewed by Frederick W. Freking - May 03, 2011

coverTitle: Teaching Science to English Language Learners
Author(s): Joyce Nutta, Nazan U. Bautista, and Malcolm B. Butler
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0415996252, Pages: 208, Year: 2010
Search for book at Amazon.com

The importance of understanding the language needs of ones students is essential to facilitating science learning. As a biology teacher, neuroscientist, and science teacher educator in Los Angeles, I have witnessed firsthand how science teachers struggle to provide science instruction that will lead to a deep understanding of science for all students. I have also observed attempts by both scientists and educators to improve science education independently. Teaching Science to English Language Learners by Joyce W. Nutta, Nazan U. Bautista, and Malcolm Butler is part of the series, Teaching English Language Learners Across the Curriculum, which brings together content, pedagogy, and language experts to produce an important resource for science teachers and science teacher educators to meet the needs of the millions of English Language Learners across the United States.  

The purpose of the book Teaching Science to English Language Learners is to provide science teachers with ideas on 1) how to promote ELLs English development through science instruction, and 2) how to teach science content to ELLs who are at different levels of English language proficiency (p. 58). The book is clearly organized into four parts, beginning with Understanding Your English Language Learner, followed by What We Know From Research, a Teaching Science section that includes examples from three science disciplines, and finally an invaluable section on Resources. The simple, practical approach presented by the authors helps science teachers to focus on key ideas for this unique student population.

The first part, Your English Language Learner, provides an Orientation that asks, Who are they and how do they come to be in our classroom? The authors provide research-based principles that outline the process of English language learning. This section concisely describes the types of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs in the United States, Cummins ideas for English Language Development, Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, and Strategies for Connecting to ELL Parents. The authors also present two more novel sections on the ELL and Specials Needs student and the Diversity within the ELL Population. The Aim of Part 1 of this book is to provide the reader with an overview of the linguistic mechanics of second language development (p. 4), and the authors meet this goal by providing clear and concise tables, vignettes, and bulleted lists of practical ideas that science teachers should consider to improve their understanding and instruction for their ELLs.

In Part 2, What We Know From Research, the authors acknowledge that the analysis of the intersection of ELL research and science content-based research is in its infancy (p. 37) and posit that, There will probably never be a formula for educating ELLs, just as there is no formula for educating students that already know English. What we can do is provide guidelines based on our strongest research about effective practices for teaching ELLs (Goldenberg, 2008, p. 40). I appreciate the authors directly addressing the one-size-fits-all mentality and their approach to provide key principles that science teachers should consider as they plan and implement instruction for their specific students. For example, principle six states that science is best learned when it is understood as a natural and important component of learners lived experiences (National Research Council) (p. 40). This fundamental principle is not intuitive to science teachers who often come from science learning experiences that have not connected science content to their lives. The authors provide a brief theoretical framework for second language acquisition and an overview of recent research on science instruction for ELLs. Part 2 concludes with an introduction to the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) to provide a framework for modifying science instruction to lessen the linguistic and cultural bias (p. 57). Some readers may need a more detailed description of these principles to inform their practice, especially the science teacher that is still learning how English language development improves access to science content knowledge.

In Part 3, Teaching Science, the authors apply the principles and practices highlighted in Part 2 to a Life Science, a Physical Science, and an Earth and Space Science lesson. Here, without being prescriptive, the authors effectively demonstrate how each of these lessons can be modified to meet the needs of ELLs. The authors contextualize these lessons with a discussion of how science content progresses in the K-12 National Science Education Standards and how English language development can be supported with the PreK-12 English Language Proficiency Standards. By viewing what students at each English proficiency level are capable of comprehending, expressing, and doing related to science, teachers can plan their accommodations accordingly (p. 72). Next, the authors briefly introduce the important ideas of culturally relevant teaching (CRT) and assessment ideas from Classroom Assessment and the National Science Education Standards. The authors also present sections on the National Science Education content standards that are not addressed in their lesson plans: Science as Inquiry, History and Nature of Science, Personal and Social Perspective in Science, Science and Technology, and Unifying Concepts and Processes in Science. Although each section provides meaningful examples of how these standards can be addressed with ELLs, there is a lost opportunity to demonstrate how these topics can be embedded into a science lesson plan. As a scientist and a science educator, I believe that inquiry is essential to all learners developing an understanding of science, but it is especially important for providing a rich context for ELLs. I would have appreciated more explicit connections between the inquiry standards and the science lesson plans presented. The accomplished science teacher will see inquiry in these lesson plans but a more explicit discussion to integrate content, technology, personal and social perspectives, and the history and nature of science into a science lesson plan would better serve the science education community and its ELLs.

In Part 4, Resources, the authors provide a comprehensive annotated list of key resources for Science Teachers of ELLs. The authors have organized these science ELL resources into Internet Resources for Teachers, Literature for Teachers, Materials for Teachers, and Materials for Students. This amazing collection of resources provides a launching point for readers to immerse themselves in ideas to improve their science instruction for all learners, but especially ELLs. The list of references is an excellent source that science teacher educators can use to inform their teacher preparation programs as the teaching landscape diversifies.

Teaching Science to English Language Learners is a good combination of theoretical background and practical ideas that will serve science teachers well. The authors concise presentation of key principles contextualized in science content will help science teachers reconsider how they reach their ELLs in their planning, instruction, and assessment. For the more accomplished reader, the authors provide a rich bibliography that identifies seminal pieces that will allow the reader to dig even deeper. As the United States becomes increasingly diverse, it is important that science teachers have the knowledge and skills to meet the needs of all students. Teaching Science to English Language Learners provides an important piece of this knowledge by effectively bringing together and contextualizing key principles that must be considered when teaching science to ELLs.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 03, 2011
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16401, Date Accessed: 10/16/2021 10:05:18 AM

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About the Author
  • Frederick Freking
    University of Southern California
    E-mail Author
    FREDERICK W. FREKING is an Associate Professor of Clinical Education in the USC Rossier School of Education. Dr. Freking began his career in Science Education as a Biology Major at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He earned his teaching credential at Azusa Pacific University and taught Biology and Human Anatomy and Physiology at Covina High School. His desire to learn science at a deeper level led him to the Physiological Science Department at the University of California, Los Angeles. He completed his thesis on The Synthesis and Metabolism of Androgen in a Songbird: A Study of the Tissue Expression of the Sex Steroid Synthetic and Metabolic Enzymes to earn his Ph.D. in the field of neuroscience. Dr. Freking then accepted a faculty position in the UCLA Science Teacher Education Program where he was able to combine his science teaching and science research experience to prepare future science teachers. During the past ten years, Dr. Freking has taught Genetics, Molecular Biology, and Human Anatomy and Physiology to undergraduates and Science Teaching Methods and Guided Practice to graduate education students. He has been a Co-PI on a NSF GK-12 Fellowship Grant and a NSF Robert Noyce Scholarship Grant. His research focuses on the impact of inquiry-based instruction in high needs secondary schools and the preparation of science teachers to meet the academic language needs of their students.
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