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The Language-Content-Technology Intersection: Mrs. B Teaches Biology to English Learners

Resource Type
  • Meskill, Carla (State University of New York, Albany)
  • Nilsen, Jennifer (State University of New York. University at Albany)
  • Oliveira, Alan (State University of New York. University at Albany)
Publication Date
Funding Reference
  • This study was supported in part by the U.S. Department of Education Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) Program Grant No. T365Z120266.
    • Award Number: T365Z120266
  • Abstract

    The challenges inherent in mastering academic content in a new language are many. When it comes to learning science in U.S. high schools, English learners (ELs) confront these on a daily basis. In an effort to document expert language/content instructional strategies, we analyze Mrs. B’s sheltered high school biology class, made up of ELs from around the world and representing varying stages of emerging bilingualism. The aim of this 2-year case study was to detail effective teaching patterns in a high-functioning multicultural science class—a class where the myriad linguistic, cultural, and affective needs of students are expertly met—and to subsequently suggest a model for understanding and undertaking powerful language and content learning supported by multimodal referents. From a rich data set comprising class recordings, interviews, reflections from Mrs. B, course documents, student work, and survey responses emerged a model of the language/content multimodal interface for teaching ELs.
  • Technical Information

    Response Rates:
    he StudyGrounded in a social interactionist view of learning new language and content with multimodal supports, and given the priorities and outcomes of the extant literature, the overarching question driving our inquiry became the following:What multimodal-supported teaching patterns lead to language/content acquisition opportunities in a sheltered high school biology class for ELs?A parallel research focus originally developed as part of a larger, 5-year, federally funded initiative that examined the language/content teaching strategies devised by 40 paired ESOL and science and math educators. This portion of the study is a 2-year, detailed case study of a midsized, postindustrial Upstate New York high school biology class. Its selection was based on constant comparison with like and unlike classrooms using a system of multimodal amplification coding to determine patterns in the quality and effectiveness of teaching math and science content to ELs (Kolb, 2012). Data are composed of nine video-recorded classes, teacher-written reflections on these recorded classes, and recorded planning and debrief sessions with professional development staff. All recordings were transcribed and stored as text documents, the content of which was initially grouped by emerging themes and patterns using simple concordancing. In addition, our focal teacher completed two lengthy questionnaires. The first one pertained to her background, teaching philosophies, and the recorded classes, and the second contained in-depth follow-up questions regarding her multimodal practices (Appendices A and B). Mrs. B’s lesson plans, her written reflections about recorded lessons, two presentations on her work at two statewide professional development institutes, a multimodality questionnaire completed by Mrs. B’s students, and class artifacts make up the remainder of the case data set.Using simple concordancing software, transcriptions were first analyzed to determine the contexts in which target science vocabulary co-occurred with multimodal referents. These contextualized instances were compiled, compared, and used to (a) illustrate the predominant pattern represented in our model and (b) construct. These were continually discussed with Mrs. B as part of these processes (Appendices A and B). The language—both verbal and gestural—used to describe her multimodal mediation strategies comprised in vivo coding that later led to specific, detailed patterns of the recorded instructional conversations (Yin, 2009). The breadth of our recorded data allows for a sense of the pacing, frequency, and the pervasiveness of the distinct conversational patterns of classroom interaction—the teaching patterns—that emerged. Iterative analysis of these contextualized patterns developed into our emerging model of what constitutes expertly taught language/content for ELs that capitalizes on carefully integrated multimodal referents. A detailed portrayal of Mrs. B’s instructional strategies, as well as the development of a fine-grained model for multimodal language and science learning for ELs, follows.Context and ParticipantsOur focal high school class is in an Upstate New York district where 16% of the district’s students are classified as ELs. One of the district’s many strategies to support immigrant and refugee families is to provide “sheltered” instruction. A sheltered content class here refers to EL-only classes where language and content are explicitly taught intensively and at the same time. It is a temporary, transitional learning space designed to make mainstream curricula accessible and comprehensible to ELs by offering them a safe, productive, and low-anxiety environment with many language supports (Fritzen, 2011). Mrs. B’s biology class is composed of 13 students from Yemen, Sudan, Libya, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Bhutan, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and the Ukraine. Their English proficiency varies from three students not having literacy in their home language to the “emerging” and “entering” levels as determined by state assessments. These are the lowest two levels of English proficiency on the New Language Arts Progressions recently adopted by New York State. This policy conceives of student acquisition of a new language (not spoken at home) as a gradual progression along a sequence of five distinct developmental stages, namely, entering, emerging, transitioning, expanding, and commanding (New York State Education Department, 2012a, 2012b).

Update Metadata: 2019-08-23 | Issue Number: 1 | Registration Date: 2019-08-23

Meskill, Carla; Nilsen, Jennifer; Oliveira, Alan (2019): The Language-Content-Technology Intersection: Mrs. B Teaches Biology to English Learners. Version: 1. ICPSR - Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research. Dataset.