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General Science and Teaching

Teaching Science to ELLs- Challenges

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Shmouni Danha Shmouni Danha 1635 Points

I have read many articles about teaching science to ELLs (since I am not currently teaching) and was wondering if a year in your science class is enough to make an impact or an educational leap for ELLs. Can a science teacher alone effectively grow an ELL in science without an aide in the class or any other specialists? I feel that with the demanding curriculum, a science teacher cannot grow an ELL alone and would need assistance from other specialist in order to grow students' scientific knowledge and skill set.

Most importantly, what sorts of strategies work best in a biology classroom to help ELLs understand concepts when an aide is unavailable (or available)? Are vocabulary reviews before or after school effective? What other scaffolding tools have you used that have been successful?


 Colburn, A., & Nguyen, H.T. (April 1, 2012). Every word you speak. The Science Teacher, 58-61.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 87033 Points

Hi Shmouni, You bring up an important consideration when teaching science to students with a first language other than English.  Their cultural backgrounds, familiarity with the English language,  individual confidences and interests, plus a host of other factors need to be considered as a teacher determines how to be culturally responsive  AND culturally relevant in his/her teaching.  I put together a collection of resources in the Learning Center that might be of interest to you.  There is a book that I think is extremely helpful in providing ideas on how to teach from students' strengths, how to teach academic language to ELLs, and how to see the create culturally responsive learning communities.  It is called, "Teaching Science to English Language Learners: Building on Students' Strengths" (by Cathy Amanti) and is available for purchase in the Learning Center.  I have also put together a collection of resources in the Learning Center that include a few book chapters from this book.  The collection is titled: Culture and Science Learning.  You can access it at:  http://learningcenter.nsta.org/mylibrary/collection.aspx?id=hs5scwFPUfY_E I would love to hear about specific strategies that others are using in their science classrooms to help our ELLs be successful in learning the language of science! Thanks for asking about this, Shmouni, and best wishes for a long and effective teaching career! Carolyn

Jessica Martinez Jessica Martinez 930 Points

I do think a teacher can grow an ELL student alone. The growth might be minimal, because there are so many students in one class, but there will be growth. I am a bilingual student teacher, so i don't have much experience but one thing that stuck with me in school was to build a relationship with your student and learn about them and their culture. That being said, i think you can help an ELL student grow if you take time to learn about them, what is the best way to help them, and maybe even learn a few words from their language, talk to the parents about what they think you could do to help him (just to find out more about the student, a teacher once told me parents are experts on their child so ask them for help).

Adaliz Gonzalez Adaliz Gonzalez 5032 Points

As an experienced bilingual science teacher myself, I can say it is possible to bring the teaching of literacy and science content into balance. Modeling, providing students with multiple dialogic opportunities, encouraging the use of domain-specific words, as well as providing constructive feedback in their writing, assist students tremendously.

Shmouni Danha Shmouni Danha 1635 Points

Thank you, Adaliz. Since this post I have started leaving feedback on my ELL assignments, and started breaking down words for everyone in the class so as not to directly single out any student(s).

[color=#575655][size=4][font='Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Roboto, Arial, sans-serif]Shmouni and Everyone,[/font][/size][/color] I had the great privilege to see and hear Dr.Okee Lee talk about  teaching science to ELLs and NGSS.  Many of the suggestions mentioned about modeling, vocabulary and being culturally in tune with your students are some of the things  she discussed in her presentation.   Here is a page from Understanding Language through Stanford University Department of Education.  A good read [color=#ae9175][size=5][font=Times]Language Demands and Opportunities in Relation to Next Generation Science Standards for ELLs[/font][/size][/color] [color=#6599cc][size=4][font=Times]http://ell.stanford.edu/publication/language-demands-and-opportunities-relation-next-generation-science-standards-ells[/font][/size][/color] [color=#242424][size=2][font=Verdana]"This paper highlights challenges and opportunities as English Language Learners engage with the Next Generation Science Standards. These new standards represent a major shift in science instruction, toward an explicit focus on scientific sense-making, language use, and scientific practices. These practices also place significance on developing explanations and argumentation from evidence as well as on language learning opportunities. The authors discuss in detail how four core science and engineering practices provide opportunities for ELLs:[/font][/size][/color] [ol] [li][color=#7e7e7e][size=1][font=Verdana]Developing and using models.[/font][/size][/color][/li] [li][color=#7e7e7e][size=1][font=Verdana]Developing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering).[/font][/size][/color][/li] [li][color=#7e7e7e][size=1][font=Verdana]Engaging in argument from evidence.[/font][/size][/color][/li] [li][color=#7e7e7e][size=1][font=Verdana]Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information."[/font][/size][/color][/li] [/ol] [color=#7e7e7e][size=1][font=Verdana]There is a video on this page of Dr Lee discussing these four areas:[/font][/size][/color] [color=#808080][size=3][font=Times]"Okhee Lee says that science and engineering [i]practices[/i] are an important new element in the Next Generation Science Standards. Understanding Language highlights four of the practices that are language-intensive: developing models, constructing explanations, evaluating and communicating information, and engaging in argument from evidence."[/font][/size][/color]

Tara Spitzer-List Tara Spitzer-List 60 Points

I do think so. I have had several groups of ELL's over the years, both mixed into my classes and in a more self-contained (ELL's only) setting. I think science can be a stronger area for ELL's due to the use of diagrams, models, and hands-on experiences. In many cases students haven't learned the scientific vocabulary in either language, so they can learn it in English, and can still grasp most of the concepts through hands-on with a lot of drawings and diagrams.

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