This project examines the empirical nexus between ELL students' language identity and science identity development. The project addresses the pressing need for empirical studies that combine theoretical perspectives from second language education, linguistics, and science education to understand science identity development among ELLs.
Over 5.4 million of the U.S. public school students are identified as English language learners (ELLs), with 4.4 million being Spanish-speaking. Despite the increasing ELL population and growing demands for STEM jobs, research has noted mounting disparities in ELLs' science achievement and their substantial underrepresentation in the STEM workforce. Addressing the growing disparities between ELLs and their counterparts in STEM fields remains a national priority. This CAREER project examines the empirical nexus between ELL students' language identity and science identity development. The project addresses the pressing need for empirical studies that combine theoretical perspectives from second language education, linguistics, and science education to understand science identity development among ELLs. Based on social positioning theory, the research argues that ELLs' disadvantaged positioning in their educational experiences (due to their limited language proficiencies) undermines their developing educational identities. The proposed research takes place at a STEM Summer Out-of-School (OST) Program in a university setting in Southern Massachusetts. The project includes ELL middle school students, who come from ethnically/racially, linguistically diverse and a low-income urban educational context from Gateway cities in Southern Massachusetts.
Using longitudinal mixed-methods and experimental research design, the project's central hypothesis is that interventions that support boosting ELLs' language identities, such as positioning them as cognitively advantaged, will positively interact with ELLs' learning and identifying with science, namely their science identities. The research will generate understandings about the role language-based perceptions have in ELLs' language identities, and more specifically, will measure the impact of advantaged positioning on ELLs' science identity development over time. Further, the project will formulate new and innovative methods teachers can use to recognize and promote competent science performance and language identity development among ELLs. Results will help educators, policy-makers, and researchers design effective instructional programs that support long-term educational achievement and identity development among ELLs.