Improving Science and Literacy Learning for English Language Learners: Evidence from a Pre-service Teacher Preparation Intervention*
Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, Vol. 25, Issue 5, August 2014, p. 621–643
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This article present findings from a pre-service teacher development project that prepared novice teachers to promote English language and literacy development with inquiry-based science through a modified elementary science methods course and professional development for cooperating teachers.
The study was carried out in classrooms of nine first year elementary teachers (FYTs), who all participated in the project intervention. The FYTs all taught the same instructional science unit using a common curriculum. Each of the teachers adapted the curriculum unit to include the project’s teaching practices as they deemed appropriate.
Pre- and post-student achievement data (Science Concepts, Science Writing, Science Vocabulary) were collected on 191 3rd through 6th grade students in the nine FYT classrooms.
Preliminary results indicate that student learning improved across all categories (science concepts, writing, and vocabulary)—although the effect varied by category.
Furthermore, English Language Learner (ELL) learning gains were on par with nonELLs, with differences across proficiency levels for vocabulary gain scores.
Overall, these results offer some promise that the instruction provided by FYTs, and by extension the project’s intervention, can improve ELLs’ science and literacy learning, as well as learning for English only students.
This study makes an important contribution to the literature on preparing teachers to work with ELLs because it focuses on the impact of an intervention for pre-service science teachers on the learning of students in their classrooms.
There are two main findings reported in this paper that are important for research on improving the teaching and learning of ELLs and the preparation of the teachers who serve them. First, this study confirms the findings of previous research that the integration of science language and literacy practices can improve the achievement of ELL in science concepts, writing and vocabulary. The achievement gains of the ELLs in this study—at all levels of English Language Proficiency—were equivalent to that of native English speakers in all assessment domains. These are important findings because they indicate that the focus on developing academic language and literacy in the subject areas emphasized in the new Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards could result in positive learning outcomes for ELLs across subject areas.
Second, the study indicates that it is possible to begin to link the practices taught in pre-service teacher preparation to novice teacher practice and student learning outcomes. Associated with this linkage are two critical components of the ESTELL pre-service teacher education program: (1) the use of explicit models of practice, and (2) the development of coherence across program components. Such modeling of instructional practices helps pre-service teachers identify, analyze, and subsequently use new teaching strategies by focusing their attention on specific classroom events. The models also promote productive discourse for both individual and collaborative reflection, as well as help novice teachers more closely approximate the beliefs and behaviors of more experienced teachers.
The ESTELL project’s focus on language and literacy development in science instruction demonstrates the potential for significantly improving the preparation of novice teachers to teach the rapidly growing population of linguistic minority students.