Responsive Instruction for Emergent Bilingual Learners in Biology Classrooms

This project seeks to support emergent bilingual students in high school biology classrooms. The project team will study how teachers make sense of and use an instructional model that builds on students' cultural and linguistic strengths to teach biology in ways that are responsive. The team will also study how such a model impacts emergent bilingual students' learning of biology and scientific language practices, as well as how it supports students' identities as knowers/doers of science.

Full Description: 

The population of students who are emergent bilinguals in the US is not only growing in number but also, historically, has been underrepresented in STEM fields. Emergent bilingual students have not had access to the same high-quality science education as their peers, despite bringing rich academic, linguistic and cultural strengths to their learning. Building on smaller pilot studies and ideas that have shown to be successful in supporting emergent bilingual students' learning of elementary science, this project seeks to support emergent bilingual students in high school biology classrooms. The project team will study how teachers make sense of and use an instructional model that builds on students' cultural and linguistic strengths to teach biology in ways that are responsive. The team will also study how such a model impacts emergent bilingual students' learning of biology and scientific language practices, as well as how it supports students' identities as knowers/doers of science. The collaboration will include two partner districts that will allow the project work to impact about 11,000 high school students and 30 biology teachers in Florida. Over time, the project team plans to enact and study three cohorts of teachers and students; use the information learned to improve the instructional model; and develop lessons, a website, and other materials that can be applied to other contexts to support emergent bilingual students' learning of biology. This project will increase emergent bilingual students' participation in biology classes, improve their achievement and engagement in science and engineering practices, extend current research-based practices, and document how to build on emergent bilingual students' strengths and prior experiences.

In two previous pilot studies through the collaboration of an interdisciplinary team, the project team developed an instructional model that they found supported emergent bilingual students to have high-quality opportunities for science learning. The model builds on research related to culturally responsive instruction; funds of knowledge (including work on identity affirmation and collaboration); and linguistically responsive instruction (including using students' home languages and multiple modalities, and explicit attention to academic language). Using design-based research, the project team will gather data from two primary settings: their professional development program and biology teachers' classrooms. They will use these data both to improve the instructional model and professional development for biology teachers. Additionally, the project team will study how teachers use the model to support emergent bilingual students' biology engagement and achievement, as well as study how biology teachers enact the instructional model in two school districts. The project will work toward three main outcomes: a) to develop new knowledge related to how diverse learners develop language and content knowledge in biology through engaging in science and engineering practices; b) to generate new knowledge about how biology teachers can adapt responsive instruction to local contexts and student populations; and c) to articulate an instructional model for biology teachers of emergent bilingual students that is rigorous, yet practical. The dissemination and sustainability include publishing and presenting findings at a range of conferences and journals; making available the refined instructional framework and professional development materials on a website; communication with district leaders and policymakers; and white papers that can be more widely distributed.

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