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Language Acquisition Through Science Inquiry

author: Language Acquisition in Science Education for Rural Schools (LASERS)
submitter: Language Acquisition in Science Education for Rural Schools (LASERS)
description: Symposium presentation at the American Educational Research Association (AERA), Montreal, Quebec, April 19-23, 1999.
published: 02/18/1999
posted to site: 02/18/1999

Multiple-Presentation Submission Proposal

Language Acquisition Through Science Inquiry

The number of English Language Learners (ELL) in K-12 classrooms is increasing rapidly. Over the last decade, the ELL student population in California increased by over 220 percent (Walton, Stoddart and Inouye, 1997). The majority of ELL students in California speak Spanish; Hispanic students now make up 40 percent of the state's school age population. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, 1986) shows that Hispanic students score significantly below White and Asian students in science. The low academic achievement of Hispanic students is not just an educational problem, it has serious social and economic consequences. In the 21st century many higher paying jobs will require expertise in science and technology. Individuals who do not have these skills will be relegated to low skill, minimum wage occupations. Without access to rigorous instruction in science and other subjects, large numbers of Hispanic ELL students will be relegated to the economic underclass.

This symposium describes a National Science Foundation Local Systemic Change project that focuses on improving the teaching of science to ELL elementary students. It is based on the concept that inquiry based science teaching is an excellent vehicle for English language development as well as the enhanced acquisition of a first language. LASERS (Language Acquisition Through Science Education in Rural Schools) involves a collaboration between seven school districts in rural Central California, Life Lab science program and the University of California, Santa Cruz. The project is based in 51 elementary schools where 66 percent of the students are Hispanic, 48 percent of the students are limited English speakers and 33 percent of the students are children of migrant agricultural workers. The papers presented in this symposium present the conceptual framework, methodology and findings of research conducted on the LASERS Project.

Chair: Stephanie Dalton, OERI, US Office of Education

Discussant: Maria Lopez-Freeman, California Science Project

Integrating Science Learning and Language Development.
Trish Stoddart, University of California, Santa Cruz

This paper presents the theoretical framework and research findings which demonstrate that inquiry based science teaching is an excellent vehicle for English language development. As children engage in scientific activities, they use and learn academic language that accomplishes a range of scientific purposes, e.g., description, formulating scientific hypothesis, proposing alternatives, classifying, inferring, interpreting, predicting and generalizing. In addition inquiry based science environments provide children with a meaningful and engaging context for learning language. Two data sources will be used to demonstrate that science instruction improves language development. 1) Data is presented on 164 K-6 ELL students who were assessed on the ADEPT test, a standardized measure of oral English language proficiency. There was a statistically significant growth in students' ADEPT scores over the course of a science summer school. Students showed an average of five months language growth in a four week period (t=8.07, p<.0001). 2) Analysis of language use in a performance based science assessment given to 80 LASERS students at the beginning and the end of the 1997/98 academic year shows significant gains in both their use of language generally and their use of science vocabulary in particular (t=5.12, p<.0001).

The Relationship Between Methods Used to Assess Language Development in Science Inquiry.
Michelle Erai, Erika Gasper, Robert Abrams, University of California, Santa Cruz.

This presentation describes the four methods used by LASERS researchers to assess students language development in science classes. These included both standardized language assessment and qualitative measures. Multiple language measures were used to assess everyday and academic language and to explore the relationship between the language assessments and student learning. Four language assessment measures will be described: 1) the ADEPT, a district designed measure of expressive and receptive oral language, 2) the Woodcock/Munoz, designed to measure cognitive-academic language proficiency (CALP) in English and Spanish, 3) Into English, a curriculum based alternative assessment developed for teachers to assess oral and written language development, and 4) concept maps which assess students' science concepts and the use of scientific vocabulary. Data will be presented that shows the shifts in students language acquisition across these measures.

The Relationship Between Student Views of Language and Their Achievement.
Efren Ponce, Jade Ryan, Matt Clinton and Leticia Duarte, University of California, Santa Cruz.

This presentation looks at the relationship between students' views of their language status and language preference, and their achievement scores on the language assessment measures. Survey data is presented on 100 students and interview data from 40 students. The analysis looks at the relationship between students self assessment of their language use, comfort and preference in English and Spanish, and their language assessments in English and Spanish. Preliminary analysis indicates that students who rate themselves as more comfortable in using a particular language, who value that language more than the other and who use it more frequently, score higher on standardized language assessment in that language. There is therefore a strong correlation between student language attitudes and language achievement in both English and Spanish.

Teacher's Knowledge and Beliefs About Integrating Language and Science Instruction.
America Pinales, Marcia Latzke and Dana Canaday, University of California, Santa Cruz.

This presentation describes the development of LASERS teachers' ability to integrate science and language instruction. Data is drawn from longitudinal surveys of 200 teacher's knowledge and beliefs and ten case studies of teacher's beliefs and practice conducted between 1995 and 1998. Both data sources indicate that at the beginning of the project teachers viewed science instruction and language development as discrete subjects. Most viewed themselves as either a bilingual teacher or a science teacher, none viewed themselves as being both. They had few ideas about how to integrate the two domains. At the end of three years in the project there are significant shifts in teachers understanding of science instruction as a vehicle for language development. Science teachers demonstrate an understanding of the use of discourse, and bilingual teachers demonstrate an understanding of the use of observation, recording and inquiry in academic language development.

Contextualization and Connectedness in Instruction.
Sue Lasky, OISE - University of Toronto, and Dana Canaday, University of California, Santa Cruz.

Research on LASERS classrooms has indicated that a key component in developing language through science inquiry is the teachers' ability to contextualize and connect instruction. This paper describes the protocols used to measure these variables in teacher interviews and classroom observation data and provides instructional examples from case study data. Contextualization is defined as activities that incorporate student experience and knowledge from outside the classroom or school into classroom activity settings. This is operationalized in three ways: 1) informal conversations between teachers and students which draw on personal interests, community events and family information, 2) responsive teaching and responsive assistance during which a teacher relates instruction to students' personal experience, and 3) explicit connections between a school concept and a real world situation. Connectedness is defined as activities which link current instruction to previous classroom and school knowledge. These examples form the framework for an explicit instructional methodology to promote the development of academic language.

The Relationship between Teaching Practice and Student Learning Outcomes.
Trish Stoddart, University of California, Santa Cruz.

This paper analyzes student and teacher data collected in three case study classrooms and begins to make connections between instructional practice and student achievement. Teacher data includes; in-depth semi structured interviews and periodic debriefings, videotaped classroom observation data of a complete science unit. Student achievement was measured by a science performance assessment which included scores for both science concepts and language development. Teaching practice was categorized along four dimensions: 1) planned/spontaneous, 2) teacher directed/student centered, 3) degree of connectedness to the academic curriculum, and 4) degree of contextualization to students' socio and cultural backgrounds. Student achievement was measured along three dimensions: 1) science concepts, 2) everyday language, and 3) science language. Distinct relationships emerged between the four dimensions of practice and student learning outcomes. Social language development was highly correlated with student centered, contextualized instruction. Academic science language development was correlated with structure, academic connections and student centered curriculum. Science concept development is correlated with structure and academic connectedness.


Walton, Pricilla, Stoddart, Trish and Inouye, Kiyome, Teacher Education and Credentialing for Student Diversity: The Case in California, UC Santa Cruz, 1997

National Assessment of Educational Progress, US Department of Education, Washington, DC, 1986