This exploratory study develops and pilot-tests a model for improving science teaching and learning with middle school ELLs. Study goals include: (1) clarifying pedagogical constructs of language-rich science inquiry and the academic language of science and their relationships across the learning contexts of middle school science classrooms, teacher professional development and family science workshops, (2) developing and refining instruments to study these constructs in context, and (3) conducting pilot tests of the model and instruments.
This exploratory study develops, pilot-tests, and refines a model for improving middle school English Language Learners' (ELLs) science learning. The model incorporates two pedagogical constructs (language-rich science inquiry and academic language development); and three learning settings (teacher professional development workshops, middle school science classrooms, and parent-student-teacher science workshops). The specific objectives of the study are: (1) to clarify the two pedagogical constructs and their relationships across the three learning contexts, (2) to develop and refine instruments that will be useful for the study of these constructs in these learning contexts, and (3) to conduct pilot tests of the model and instruments.
The study's development phase consists of the production, adaptation, and pilot testing of instructional strategies for teachers and learning materials for students. Instructional strategies for teachers are centered on three key inquiry practices: (a) coordinating theory and evidence, (b) controlling variables, and (c) cause and effect reasoning across 6th grade earth science, 7th grade life science, and 8th grade physical science. Learning materials for students consist of lessons in a workbook with units highlighting the study of academic language. Also, this phase of the study includes the development of resources to support parents' participation and measurement instruments to gather data during the research phase of the study.
The research phase of the study consists of pilot testing of the model. Two research questions guide the study: (1 What is the value for ELL students, their teachers and their parents of an instructional model that highlights language-rich science inquiry practices and academic language development strategies?; and (2)What is the value for ELL students, their teachers and their parents of an instructional model that is enacted in the contexts of middle school science classrooms, student-parent-teacher science workshops, and teacher professional development workshops? Assuming a quasi-experimental, pretest-posttest design, a power analysis defined a sample size of 1,000 middle school students (800 for the treatment group, and 200 for the control group) in 40 classrooms of three middle schools in the state of Georgia. A total of 12 teachers (8 science teachers and 2 English for Students of Other Languages teachers) were selected using a targeted strategy; and 40 randomly selected parents constitute the remaining population sample. The intervention consists of the use of teacher instructional strategies focused on exploring and elaborating cause-effect relationships, differentiating between evidence and theory, and identifying and controlling variables; students' use of instructional materials on academic language; and exploration of parents' science funds of knowledge. Data gathering strategies employ five instruments: (a) a teacher-focus-group interview protocol, (b) a teacher observation protocol, (c) a parent-student interview protocol, (d) a student academic language writing test, and (e) a student-constructed-response science inquiry test. Data interpretation strategies include qualitative analysis using narrative and semantic structure analysis and statistical analyses. An advisory board and an evaluator conduct the evaluation component of the study, inclusive of formative and summative aspects.
The outcome of this study is a research-informed and field-tested science instructional model focused on the improved learning of ELLs and a set of valid and reliable measuring instruments.