Jessica Thompson

In Washington's Highline School District, as many as 25 languages can be spoken in a single classroom. That presents a serious challenge to educators who want to provide English learners with rigorous, grade-level appropriate curriculum.

Responding to that difficulty, University of Washington researcher Jessica Thompson and her colleagues have focused their attention on helping Highline's EL teacher leaders collaborate with secondary science teachers to improve instruction. Thompson shared lessons from that work during the American Educational Research Association's annual meeting earlier this month.

Conversations about teaching science typically have been separated from EL tools and practice, Thompson said, leaving those students behind. 

With support from the UW College of Education research team, Highline's science and EL teachers/coaches came together and began intentionally planning lessons for EL students, embedding specific EL-related knowledge into science instructional tools.

"We observed more in-depth conversation when we did structured talk, for instance, where EL students had a conversation about why a scientific phenomenon occurred," Thompson said. "It became a really important planning tool for coaches to help teachers plan lessons."

Thompson said Highline's EL facilitators developed collaborative relationships with secondary science coaches, fostering new conversations about science teaching for the district's English learners.

That success offers a model for other schools as more culturally and linguistically diverse students enter mainstream classrooms.

Learn more about UW's work to advance science teaching practices for EL students:

Thompson's presentation "English Learner–Focused Teacher Leaders Advancing Ambitious Science Teaching Practices" took place as part of the AERA panel "Developing Formal Structures to Facilitate Teacher Leadership in Job-Embedded Professional Development."


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