Chao Wang, University of Colorado Boulder
Participating in the 2010 DR K-12 PI meeting was an informative, inspiring, and unforgettable experience. I have never been so actively involved in an academic conference. I had numerous opportunities to interact with professionals of diverse research backgrounds of STEM education in various meaningful ways. What I heard and saw in the meeting have pushed me to think hard about the meaning and role of knowledge, language, and learner in STEM educational research projects.
First, I wonder how we should view and treat the existing knowledge generated by our research. What is our most current knowledge about STEM education? How many kinds of knowledge have been explored? To what extent does this body of knowledge have a positive influence on real teaching and learning? How should both researchers and policymakers respond with knowledge to challenges grown within certain social, cultural, and historical contexts? How should teacher preparation and education programs utilize this knowledge?
Second, I wonder what could be the fairest way to view and treat children who are not yet proficient in English in the STEM research studies. How we view these children can significantly affect the reasons why we include them in our research, and how the findings will be interpreted and implemented. Throughout the history of education, a variety of terms have been used to describe or characterize these students, such as limited English proficient (LEP), language-minority, culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD), English as a second language (ESL), second language learners (SLLs), heritage language speakers, bilinguals, and emerging bilinguals. In NSF-funded projects, they are usually referred to as English language learners (ELLs). However, the term ELLs carries negative connotations. It consists of “English” and “learners,” which tends to lead people to think of ELLs as “one-dimensional on the basis of their limited English proficiency” (Short & Echevarria, 2004/2005, p.9) and simultaneously to ignore the fact that those children usually are emerging bilinguals, representing myriad national, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds with a huge range of abilities and needs.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.