Learning science, especially under the rigorous new Next Generation Science Standards, comes with complex linguistic demands for students.
For English language learners (ELLs) and their teachers, those demands can present a barrier to engaging in complex forms of scientific sense-making and decrease students’ future opportunities in STEM disciplines.
In response to this challenge, the University of Washington’s Jessica Thompson is collaborating with Highline Public Schools to bring together English language and science instruction and develop hybrid teaching practices that better serve culturally and linguistically diverse students. Over the past three years, UW researchers have established a network of teachers and coaches at six Highline schools to create the practices as part of a job-embedded professional development project.
“Oftentimes we work on science instruction and English learner instruction in silos,” said Thompson, an assistant professor in the UW College of Education. “By developing hybrid practices that are attentive to how ELLs are learning as well as opportunities to reason deeply with the science, we give schools and teachers a place to start in a way that is meaningful. Your work with English learners is already embedded into the work you’re doing in your science practice.”
Thompson presented findings of her paper “Starting and Sustaining Hybrid EL-Science Teaching Practices” during the 2016 meeting of the American Educational Research Association.
One of the promising practices Thompson and her colleagues identified is structured talk for how and why reasoning. Structured talk, a practice that comes out of the EL world, gives student partners equal air time in discussing a subject.
Thompson said structured talk provided opportunities for students to dive deeper into science and was so successful that it spread from one Highline school to the others through a networked improvement community of teachers, coaches and UW researchers who are involved in the project.
Networked improvement communities play an essential role in supporting ambitious and equitable teaching practices, Thompson said, and her new research offers insights into how these practices get developed and networked across schools and how they shape opportunities for students across schools.
“We want to push what’s possible in classrooms and what it’s like when students engage in deep intellectual work,” Thompson said. “Ultimately, I see these practices as a way to support students in taking on the challenges of our next generation because we need to diversify the ideas we’re bringing to those challenges."
Jessica Thompson, Assistant Professor of Education
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications