This mixed-methods longitudinal study examines the empirical connections between language and science identity development among culturally and linguistically diverse learners, widely known as English language learners. We draw on social positioning theory to study the relationship between language and science identity development.
Science learning is often conceived in terms of knowledge and skills. This research draws on theories that recognize students’ identities and agencies as critical aspects of learning. From this perspective, we consider students’ linguistic and cultural differences as fundamental to learning and work on transforming science learning ecologies accordingly.
This program is based on an intervention called social positioning. Social positioning is a two-pronged construct: it encompasses both the learner’s perception of who they are and their ability to engage in science and how others in their immediate environment recognize these performances. We hypothesize that when students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds are positioned as assets in their learning, this is likely to have a positive impact on their developing science identity. In contrast, when students’ backgrounds are positioned as a deficit, this impacts their self-perceptions and learning negatively. To test this hypothesis, we partnered with local schools, families, and university STEM faculty to design a two-week summer program, called STEAM Your Way To College. Close to 100 middle school students, who were identified as English language learners, will participate in this program for the next three years.
Our preliminary findings show that when students’ cultural and language backgrounds are positioned as strengths, they demonstrate a greater investment in science learning. We also see the impact of our findings not just with students but with teachers and mentors who share similar backgrounds. Specifically, we find that when teachers are trained to position students as linguistic and epistemic agents, and understand how to explicitly subvert deficit-based perspectives, they are more likely to see students' backgrounds as valuable assets. Most importantly, they see linguistic differences as strengths which do not hinder students from engaging in robust and complex science practices.