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Integrating Language and Content: How Three Biology Teachers Work with Non-English Speaking Students

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Abstract

Facing the rapidly increasing non-native English speaking students in public schools, all teachers are challenged by an urgent need for developing ways to make their instruction responsive to these students' needs. This article reports on a year long study on three biology teachers' language integrated biology teaching to non-native English speaking students. Using extensive classroom observations and interviews the study provides portraits of these three teachers' working with multilingual, multicultural, and multilevel students. The findings suggest that subject matter area teachers should and can extend their teaching competencies to be sensitive to these students' language and cultural needs and to integrate their instruction for the second language development with their curricular objectives.
Integrating Language and Content: How
Three Biology Teachers Work with
Non-English Speaking Students
Yu Ren Dong
Department of Secondary Education and Youth Service, Queens College, City
University of New York, Flushing NY 11367, USA
Facing the rapidly increasing non-native English speaking students in public schools,
all teachers are challenged by an urgent need for developing ways to make their
instruction responsive to these studentsneeds.This articlereports on a year long study
on three biology teacherslanguage integrated biology teaching to non-native English
speaking students. Using extensive classroom observations and interviews the study
provides portraits of these three teachers’ working with multilingual, multicultural,
and multilevel students. The findings suggest that subject matter area teachers should
and can extend their teaching competencies to be sensitive to these students’ language
and cultural needs and to integrate their instruction for the second language develop-
ment with their curricular objectives.
Introduction
In recent years, public schools in the United States have experienced a
dramatic increase in the number of non-native English speaking students.
According to a report from New York City Board of Education, there has been a
more than 60% increase in the number of students who were limited English
proficient (LEP), from 95,000 in 1988 to about 160,000 in 1999. Facing the rapidly
increasing non-native English speaking student population in public schools
across the nation in general, and in New York City in particular, all teachers are
challenged by an urgent need for developing ways to make their instruction
more effective and responsive to these English language learners’ needs (ELL).
Today’s students with limited English proficiency struggle to keep up with their
peers in mainstream classes. In middle and high schools, many of them spend
two or three periods with English as a second language (ESL) teachers and the
rest of their school day with subject matter area teachers who often have limited
knowledge about their backgrounds and needs and lack strategies used to work
with them effectively. The situation was often exacerbated with the increasing
demands and graduation standards. Examining the 1998–1999 school year
Regents Biology Exam results in New York City high schools,non-native English
speaking students had only half of the average passing rate compared to their
native English speaking peers (an average passing rate for the native English
speaking students was 43.5%). Therefore, there is an urgent need for all teachers
to be informed of the principles of second language acquisition and learning and
trained to use ESL oriented methods and techniques to include these students
both physically and academically in their classroom instruction. This paper will
examine specific ways how three biology teachers worked with non-native
1367-0050/02/01 0040-18 $20.00/0 ©2002 Y. Ren Dong
International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism Vol. 5, No. 1, 2002
40
Integrating Language and Content
English speaking students in their sheltered ESL biology classes during the
school year 1997–1998.
Challenges for Non-native English Speaking High School Students
to Learn Biology
Because of the curriculum set-up in high schools in New York City, biology is
often the first course for non-native English speaking students to begin their
science learning careers in high schools. The high school biology curriculum,
which consists of students developing comprehensive vocabulary and literacy
skills in reading, writing, and critical thinking and understanding of biology
concepts, poses a tremendous challenge for all students, especially for
non-native English speaking students. Students have to not only understand the
concept behind specific biology terminology, but also are able to articulate their
understanding in reading and writing. Researchers have voiced concerns about
the sheer size of specialised vocabulary to be acquired by high school students in
biology. According to this line of research (Anderson, 1990; Gibbs & Lawson,
1992; Leonard & Penick, 1993; Lumpe & Beck, 1996), a number of close to 10,000
words to be learned in a high school biology textbook makes it hard for native
English speaking students, let alone for non-native English speaking students.
Often the high school biology textbook is written in a way oriented toward
native English speaking students (Atwater, 1994; Hodson, 1993). The examples
and the illustrations are based on the assumptions that readers grow up in this
culture. As a result, teachers have to deal not only with students lack of knowl-
edge base, but also possible mismatches in interpretations of the issues and the
knowledge base and learning and teaching styles that are different from that of
the students schooling back home in teaching of reading, writing, and critical
thinking skills used in biology learning. For example, Gao (1998: 2) reported that
to ‘students in China, learning is not only a means for knowing and understand-
ing, but also for personal perfection, family honor, and social development’.
Coming from Confucian traditions, Chinese people view teachers as ‘models of
good conduct and learning’ (p. 4). As a result, a frequent use of questions, the
technique that American teachers use to promote students’ thinking and assess
their learning, is often misconstrued by Chinese students. Students dare not and
will not ask questions even though they might not understand what is going on
in the lesson due to the respect for the teacher (Scarcella, 1992). Therefore, teach-
ing linguistically and culturally diverse students is more involved in
cross-cultural understanding and creating responsive teaching strategies in
addressing these differences (Banks & Banks, 1997; Carrasquilllo & Rodriguez,
1995).
ESL Oriented Biology Instruction
Studies in second language acquisition have repeatedly shown that second
language is best learned through content when students have a real purpose for
learning and when language use is authentic, rich, and meaningful to students
(Chamot & O’Malley, 1994; Enright & McCloskey, 1988; Swain & Carroll, 1987).
Several studies (Adamson, 1990; Chamot & O’Malley, 1994; Enright &
McCloskey, 1988) have found that non-native English speaking students will
Integrating Language and Content 41
benefit more from learning the second language and academic content knowl-
edge simultaneously rather than separately. One of the best ways of learning a
new language is to learn it in the target language and in the real context of disci-
plinary specific language use, such as biology, social studies, maths, etc.
Language learning in meaningful content stimulates motivation and provides
real socialpurposes for speaking, listening, reading,writing and thinking. With a
change of the student body in many public schools and where many ESL learners
spend a great amount of time with their subject matter area teachers during the
day, there is a need for a change in pedagogy for all teachers to integrate
language and content instruction and create rich and authentic contexts for
language learning (Genesee, 1993). Therefore, content area teachers must join in
the effort to educate ESL students with ESL/bilingual teachers by becoming
knowledgeable about issues related to second language learning, learning
specific ways of communicating with ESL learners, and providing language and
content integrated instruction.
One way of making content area teachers’ instruction accessible to ESL
students is to modify their teaching to make it comprehensible for ESL students
who might be at different levels of English proficiency. Conceptual knowledge of
academic content is best learned through teachers providing comprehensible
input (Krashen, 1985). The input can be made comprehensible by using more
visual aids, audio aids, gestures, body movements, and facial expressions. Also,
comprehension can be greatly enhanced if the teacher engages the students into
active questioning, dialoguing, and writing through which the new knowledge
becomes meaningful and internalized (Freeman & Freeman, 1998;Gersten, 1996;
Snow
et al.
, 1989).
Research findings have demonstrated that many school-aged second
language learners had had rich life experiences and prior education on the
subject matter knowledge before coming to America. Identifying and making
good use of the student’s previous life and educational experiences can enhance
both language learning and the academic content learning (Cummins, 1994;
Freeman & Freeman, 1998). Second language learners’ experiences and knowl-
edge gained in their schooling back home can be transferred into the new learn-
ing situation with appropriate prodding and scaffolding. For example, even
though the students may not know the English word for photosynthesis, they
may have already had the concept established in their native language. So once
the subject matter teacher identifies what students know and helps them to make
the connection between what they are learning now and what they have already
known, content specific concept learning speeds up because students only need
to learn a new way of saying the old concept. Therefore, instead of focusing on
what the second language learners do not know, the content teacher should seek
what the students do know and build on an understanding of the new knowl-
edge from there (Chamot & O’Malley, 1994;Freeman & Freeman, 1998; Gonzalez
& Schallert, 1999).
Despite an increasing discussion in the literature for responsive science
instruction and integrated language and content instruction in dealing with
non-native English speaking students (Bernhart
et al.
, 1996; Chamot & O’Malley,
1994; Krashen, 1985; Long & Porter, 1985; Pica & Doughty, 1985; Rupp, 1992),
research on effective teaching methods and techniques in teaching biology
42 Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
concepts to ESL students is sparse (Lee & Fradd, 1996). No research has been
done systematically to investigate how these principles are applied to actual
teaching practice and what responsive and effective biology instruction looks
like. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to compile responsive and effective
teaching strategies through a year long observation of three biology teachers
instruction and a series of interviews with both the teachers and 18 students from
these teachers’ classes. The study was guided by the following questions:
(1) How do biology teachers make biology concepts comprehensible to cultur-
ally and linguistically diverse students?
(2) What are some of the effective teaching strategies and techniques that lead
to student academic and language learning?
Data Collection
Two schools and biology curriculum
Located in Queens, a diverse borough of New York City, two New York City
high schools chosen for the study had ESL student population composed of
one-third of the total student body for one school and two-thirds for the other.
Two Science Department Assistant Principals (AP) (Kelly and Sarah are pseud-
onyms) were both open to the new ideas and concerned about their ESL students
success in science. Collaborating with other science professionals, they had their
teachers compile a detailed guideline for teaching biology to ESL students and
bilingual glossaries in biology. They both strongly encouraged their faculty to
implement these materials in their teaching. In addition, both of them assigned
time for ESL Department chairs to come to do a workshop at one of their staff
developmental meetings during the semester. Finally, the two invited the faculty
to share teaching ideas and swap lesson plans and test designs to promote their
professional growth and effective teaching.
The science departments in the two high schools adopted the New York State
Regents Biology Variance curriculum at the time of the study. The curriculum
used a thematic approach to content knowledge and focused on conceptual
development and inquiry in learning biology. Both native and non-native
English speaking students in these two high schools were placed in the Regents
Biology Variance classes. In addition to their lab work and Regents exam,
students in these classes were required to compile a biology portfolio that
included four research and creative biology projects and to complete two in-class
free response essays during the school year. This curriculum, according to both
the science chairs and the teachers, though still very limited, was better than the
previous curriculum in that it offered more chances and on-going process for
students both native and non-native English speaking to succeed than relying on
the Regents exam alone in the end.
Teachers, school and students
After an initial contact and trial observations of eight biology teachers recom-
mended by the science department chairs from four high schools, three biology
teachers (their pseudonyms are Lisa, Sally and Mike) from two high schools were
selected because of their successful experiences in teaching biology to ESL
Integrating Language and Content 43
students. These three teachers’ teachingexperiences varied from two to six years.
At the time, they were all teaching the ESL biology class, a sheltered biology class
composed of all ESL students from various language, cultural, and literacy back-
grounds and at different English proficiency levels. The three teachers, one male
and two females, were in their late twenties and early thirties, two had already
earned their master’s degrees in general science and biology, and one was work-
ing on getting a master’s degree at the time of the study. They all had the New
York State teaching certification. However, only Sally had taken second
language teaching and learning courses prior to the study.
Students from these three teachers’ classes came from 15 countries and speak-
ing 14 languages. Everyday, besides one period biology class, students attended
two periods of ESL classes, one period of ESL global studies class,one period of a
mainstream math class, one period gym, and other. Students varied in their
knowledge of English and biology. Some had already learned biology for several
years in their home countries before coming here; some had learned general
science in their middle schools back home; other just started learning. Their
English proficiency levels were also varied, ranging from level two, a beginning
level to level six, an advanced level of English proficiency.
Between the 1997 and 1998 school year, I observed each of the three teachers
once a week for a total of 24 weeks. Classroom observations were audio taped
and then transcribed. Teaching materials, such as handouts and the textbooks,
were gathered. Students’ work, portfolios and tests were collected. Near the end
of each term, I interviewed each teacher (Each lasted for an hour) for their reflec-
tions on their teaching strategies and perceived ESL students’ difficulties with
biology learning. In addition, I also selected six students from each class for an
interview (each lasted forhalf an hour) to gain insights into the students’learning
of biology and their perspectives of their teachers’ teaching.
Results/Discussion
Results from the observations and the interviews revealed that the three biol-
ogy teachers appeared to provide responsive and effective instruction to
non-native English speaking students that were supported by research and
welcomed by their students. Their successful teaching focused on the following
areas:
providing comprehensible input and integrating language and biology
instruction;
promoting language use and scientific thinking through group work;
explicitly teaching learning skills;
ackowledging cultural differences and using a modified classroom talk;
appreciating diversity and using students’ prior knowledge in biology
instruction;
enriching the curriculum and providing a rich language use environment.
Providing comprehensible input and integrating language and biology
instruction
Sally often said that teaching ESL students was different from teaching regu-
lar students in that you cannot take things for granted, assuming students would
44 Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
have known basic words.She often began her introduction of a new concept with
what her students called ‘a story’. For each new vocabulary item that she was
introducing, she would elicit from the students the words with a similar meaning
and write them on the board next to the new word in the parenthesis. She wrote
complete sentences on the board to facilitate students’understanding and their
later study of their notes. Sally talked about her approach to providing compre-
hensible input at the interview during the interviews.
You can see for example, the crayfish, for students who may never see cray-
fish or know crayfish. If a textbook never supplements the picture of cray-
fish, I, the teacher have to first to define a crayfish: What does it look like?
What’s the color?… So there are certain things that we take for granted, for
example, we would say a blue jay and a sparrow, like common things that
children would see on the curb when they grow up here. But for these chil-
dren they may never see these things before since they are new to this coun-
try. So you really have to think backwards. If the child never saw the item,
let alone the internal structure before, the first thing you have to introduce
what it is and how it is and then you can teach biology.
In her efforts to make the content comprehensible and accessible to her
students, Sally used modified or elaborated definitions of the new words, physi-
cal movements to create a mentalpicture of the meaning, and examples and anal-
ogies from students’ daily life to provide the contexts for students scientific
knowledge building. The following is an example of these techniques at work:
Teacher: Number ten is a large vacuole (wrote on the board). A vacuole stores
the water and other substances for the cell. The vacuole in the animal
cell is tiny because the animal can go and get water, right? But the
trees cannot grow legs. So it has to absorb the water and holds the
water in the cell and hold on to it (used gestures and physical move-
ments).
Student: Like camels, they hold up their water.
Teacher: You got it. Same idea.
In this excerpt, Sally painted a clear mental picture of the word ‘vacuole’ by
using simple language, physical movements, and a humorous comparison
between an animal cell and a plant cell. After this, students were asked to draw
both the animal cell and the plant cell and color them and explain them in writing
in terms of the function and the structure of each organelle.
Facing the difficulty with biology concepts and vocabulary with all high
school students in general, with non-native English speaking students in particu-
lar, Mike focused his teaching on stimulating students’ curiosity of science and
creating an understanding of biology concepts. He talked about his views on
diverse students abilities of learning science.
I can get an idea by looking at those eyes. What’s going on behind those
eyes. Curiosity is usually a good indication of that. My opinion is if the kids
are at least curious, that tells me that there is a function of ability in some
language that they can think in that language… I had kids who cannot
Integrating Language and Content 45
speak English at all, but I can tell there is something going on, they just
don’t know what you are saying.
Mike’s ESL biology class was characterised by stimulating and challenging
questions and an effective use of visual aids to create a context for learning. An
excitement about science came through his teaching when he began each lesson
with a combination of visual aids and questions. Firmly believing in inquiry
oriented science learning, Mike designed his lesson in such a way that abstract
concepts were all transformed into concrete daily problems to solve. He would
first pose open-ended questions based on daily life observations. These ques-
tions were invigorating and invited a wide range of reactions from the students
which led his students to a meaningful and challenging learning process imme-
diately. Students in his class did not passively learn the definition of the word,
but the meaning behind it by asking questions and participating in doing, seeing,
touching, listening, smelling, and talking about science. Mike talked about his
approach to teaching biology to ESL students.
When I teach the ESL classes, I am more in tuned to their language abilities.
I would be more apt to ask questions, asking them about the words that
they don’t understand and take a little more time to go over the language…
Whatever the concept that I teach I try to be as illustrative as possible with
things that the students can do… I know the word ‘cell’ is just a kind of an
abstract idea. But if they look into the microscope and find all those boxes.
Then I will say, what is it made of? They say little boxes. I say, yeah, that’s
what they are made of. OK, we call them cells… Once you get the concept,
then the vocabulary is easy because they can relate to something.
A class ritual was established. Mike would begin his lesson with a question or
a problem along with his demonstration using manipulatives and realias for
students to grapple with and to come up with their own questions that were the
topic of the lesson on that day. Here is an example.
Teacher: Okay we have two beakers of water up here and one has a rock
and one has some beans. OK, if I leave these things alone, say for
one day, I come back and look at them tomorrow, how will they
change?
Student 1: The bean will grow.
Teacher: Possibly the bean might grow some roots.
Student 2: The rock might get weaker.
Student 3: What happen to it?
Teacher: The rock? So if this was in a river, right, rocks sitting on the
bottom of the river. Would the rock be breaking up?
Student 3: No.
Teacher: That is because that water is moving, this water is not moving.
What happens to beans when you leave it in water?
Student 4: It gets soft.
Teacher: It gets what?
Student 4: Soft.
Teacher: Did everybody hear that? Say it again.
Student 4: The bean gets soft.
46 Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
Teacher: What about the rock? Will it get soft?
Student 4: No.
Teacher: Probably not. What question would we ask today?
Student 5: What is the difference between the two?
Student 6: How can water change living things?
Teacher: That is very good. (Writes on the board the question: How can
water change living things?)
In the above episode, we see how Mike used the manipulative and open-ended
questions to provoke students’ thinking and to generate questions about the
topic of the day, osmosis. Right after this demonstration, students were broken
into groups of five to observe the change of the onion cell, comparing when it is
soaked with water versus when it is soaked in the salt water.Students were asked
to draw what they saw and describe the process. They were also encouraged to
write down questions while comparing and contrasting. The class ended with
Mike summarising the key points about osmosisand writing them on the board.
Compared to other teachers, Mike was most notable in providing a rich
sensory engaging class. Throughout the school year, he used charts,
manipulatives, overhead transparencies, pictures, posters, diagrams, etc.
During my year long observations, for each lesson, he employed visual aids,
ranging from three to ten, and did demonstrations and hands-on activities to
create a rich context for students to comprehend the concept. According to him,
teaching through multiple senses can not only make the abstract concept easier to
visualise, but also keep the students’ concentration and motivation high. Here
are few students comments at interviews about Mike’s teaching.
His way of teaching is good because he gets everything understandable. I
like biology.
Everyday I look forward to his biology class because you don’t know what
kind of stuff he is going to bring. He uses a lot of visual aids and that makes
learning much easier and fun.
I really like his questions to make us think. We are all involved in class by
his questions. We can find each others ideas too.
I prefer his questions. If he asks a question and you answer, then you know
what you are learning. Also the group activities like we did yesterday are
much better.
Promoting language use and scientific thinking through group work
Believing in cooperative and experiential learning, Lisa regularly used group
work and hands-on activities to help students with the understanding of the
abstract concepts. These activities, using the idea of the Zone of Proximal Devel-
opment, where the teacher supported, aided, and prodded for students’ own
exploration of meaning through oral interaction, fostered students’ language
acquisition and content knowledge development. Students’ talking about the
task also enhanced their language learning through authentic and meaningful
communication with each other. The following is an episode taken from an activ-
ity where students learned how a sickle cell disease was inherited, a topic of
Integrating Language and Content 47
genetics, by randomly choosing two beans from the mix of the red and white
beans representing sickle and normal cell alleles repeatedly. Notice near the end
Lisa made sure that not only students generated more conversations among
themselves and had fun in doing the activity, but also comprehended an impor-
tant concept: that is how and why the sickle cell alleles, represented by red beans
decreased as the population reproduced itself from one generation to another.
Student 1: I got AA. (meaning two white beans)
Student 2: Yeah, I got SS. (meaning two red beans)
Student 3: Oh, cool, she got SS. What did you get?
Student 4: SS.
Student 3: Put them back.
Student 1: You screw up, you cannot put these beans back. These are with
sickle diseases. They are dead already. What did you get? (the
one did not close his eyes in picking)
Student 3: AA.
Student 4: All right, let’s count them.
Student 3: (report to the teacher) We got 15 AAs, 2 SSs, and 4 ASs.
Teacher: Why are there always more white beans than red beans in this
population?
Student 3: Because we have more white beans.
Teacher: Why do we have more white beans?
Student 2: Because white is dominant.
Teacher: Why is it dominant?
Student 1: Because they don’t have disease and they are going to live
longer.
Teacher: That’s it, that’s it. Does everybody hear that? If you have two
SSs, the individuals are going to die and not to pass their genes
on. So therefore, that number of SSs is going to decrease in the
population.
In this group activity, Lisa intentionally withdrew herself first from the
teacher’s role and designed a task which students had to work with each other
and converse in order to solve the problem. Pay attention to the group members
interaction; obviously the anxiety to speak in front of the whole class was
reduced and they focused more on the task and the meaning rather than on the
accurate form of language structure. They used more turns and everyone had a
chance to speak. Also, they spoke in a dialogue fashion, revealing several func-
tions of language use, such as asking questions, clarifying, commenting, joking,
demanding, etc. This rich language use very often did not occur with the teacher
and the student interaction; as shown in the above, once Lisa came to check for
their understanding of the topic of the lesson, the students responses returned
back to typical classroom talks.
Explicitly teaching learning skills
Lisa also believed that ESL students needed an explicit instruction on certain
learning skills such as dictionary use and strategies for reading comprehension.
She periodically brought in dictionaries and bilingual glossaries and required
every student in her class to bring a bilingual dictionaryto her biology class. Here
48 Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
is an example of Lisas bringing students’ attention to use dictionaries to find the
meaning of the new words and effective ways of reading:
Teacher: What does accessorymean? Who has a dictionary? The question
says: what are the accessory organs of the digestive system?
What does accessory mean?
Student: A job.
Teacher: Who has a dictionary? What does accessory mean?
Student 1: (looked into the dictionary) Accessory means additional.
Teacher: Additional (wrote on the board ‘additional’ besides accessory).
What about your bilingual dictionaries, what did it say about
accessory? (Students called out the definitions in their native
languages) OK, good. Once you find out the meaning of the
word, put down the meaning on the side of accessory. Then
continue reading. (paused and gave students time to take notes
from their dictionaries) Any questions?
Student 2: Does it also mean main?
Teacher: There is a difference between accessory and main. Accessory
means there are parts of the digestive system that are important
but they are not the main part of the digestive system. So acces-
sory means the top of the stomach (drew a stomach on the
board). Are we all clear? Remember, you put stars next to these
important parts so later on you can come back and review.
In this observation, Lisa was teaching her students not only the content but also
the reading skills. She not only told but also modelled for her students how to
approach a new word in the reading and how to highlight key concepts for read-
ing comprehension and review. She paused to let her students take notes and
follow through the procedure. Students all liked Lisa’s way of teaching as they
said the following at the interviews:
[Lisa] explains things very clearly and patiently to make sure that everyone
understands.
When I was first placed in the ESL biology class,I thought it must be a dumb
class. Now, I know these students in that class and they are smart. Our
teacher made us talk and have fun in the biology class.
[Lisa] really teaches us things we need for school. For example, she
demands we have our bilingual dictionary and later buy an
English-English dictionary. I learned new words from these dictionaries
and my reading has improved.
Acknowledging culturally varied ways of schooling and using a
modified classroom talk
Recognising that some of his students were not used to participating in class
discussions and tending to defer to the teacher as an authority in their schooling
back home, Mike used varied strategies to constantly train his students to talk
about science in class. Mike’s lecture was loud and clear. He used wait time when
he asked a question.He did not only call on those who raised their hands, but also
Integrating Language and Content 49
those who kept silent once he sensed they were ready. For example, knowing
that one of his Chinese students had been in his biology class for almost a year,
but still did not speak a word in class, he tried to urge her to join in class
discussion.
Teacher: So another reflex is blinking. Everybody blinks, you blink your
eye. It is not voluntary. Reflexes are involuntary. How does
blinking protect you? Do you know what protect means?
Student 1: To keep you from harm.
Teacher: OK, so how does that protect you? How are you doing this with
your eye, opening and closing? How is that protection? Win
Xiang?
Win Xiang: (didn’t answer)
Teacher: Want to help her out? (pointed to her neighbour)
Student 3: Keeping it from [becoming] dry.
Teacher: Did you hear what she said? (asked Win Xiang again)
Win Xiang: (nodded her head but still didn’t answer verbally).
Teacher: Did you hear what she said just now? Can you repeat what you
said? (asked the whole class)
Student 4: Keeping it from [becoming] dry.
Teacher: Can you repeat what he just said? (walked to Win Xiang and
asked her for the third time)
Win Xiang: Keeping it from dry weather [sic].
Teacher: Good. Can somebody repeat what Win Xiang said loud so that
everyone can hear it?
Student 5: When your eyes are dry you blink to moisten it [sic].
Teacher: Guys, did you hear that now? It keeps it from drying and keeps
dirt from getting into the eye, so it protects it.
Here we see an example of Mike using several turns to get a quiet Chinese
student to participate in the class discussion. Two interesting elements in the
teaching comes out. First, instead of leaving the quiet student alone, Mike held a
high expectation for her. At the same time he elicited responses from other
students first to set up a non-threatening environment to prompt her to speak up
in the end. This incident turned out to be a turning point for this Chinese student.
After that I noticed an obvious change in her that she participated frequently in
class.
Appreciating diversity and using studentsprior knowledge in biology
teaching
Having taken courses in multicultural education and second language learn-
ing and teaching in her master’s programme, Sally was keenly aware of her
students language and cultural backgrounds and the struggle they went
through in learning the new language and the new culture. This understanding
led her to approach ESL students differently from the way that she approached
her native English students as she remarked at the interview.
There are so many cultures in my class.Even Pakistani children from differ-
ent areas of Pakistan take different foods. And we have Bengali students
50 Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
and students from India, they are from one part of the world, but they are so
different. And there are Chinese children and they are different all over,
which makes it rich, but also at the same time it can make them feel left out if
you don’t talk about something related to them I am trying to get them to
feel comfortableno matter what their answer is, its a good answer. We will
work from there and we will use it as a base, maybe not the answer that I am
looking for, maybe it’s just the stepping stone. So they feel comfortable
enough to take risks and I think that helps the learning process…
Observing Sally’s class, one finds her bringing in students’ prior knowledge
and home cultural and educational experiences to the learning task whenever it
was possible. Sally’s class was never quiet, instead, students were active partici-
pants in class discussion, asking questions and responding to a problem.
Students’ questions and opinions were not ignored or dismissed but listened,
validated, and appreciated by the teacher. In her class, even the newcomers were
not left alone. They were arranged to sit with the students who spoke the same
language so that they could translate the lesson to them in the first few weeks or
they were assigned to sit close to the teacher so that she could give extra help and
checking on their understanding constantly.
Sally believed that the challenge for her students in learning biology was to
make sense of the concepts that they were learning through actively participat-
ing the learning process. Sally wanted her lesson to build on what students
already knew, the cultural and educational backgrounds that they brought with
them through class discussion about science. Because of her efforts and a sincere
and positive attitude, her students felt comfortable to ask a question, to respond
to her questions, and to communicate for the real purpose of learning biology. In
a lesson on female menstrual cycle, an active dialogue was initiated by the
student and an interaction between the student andthe teacher dealing with biol-
ogy is shown in the following class observation excerpt.
Student 1: Miss, I have a question.
Teacher: Go ahead.
Student 1: When does the female cycle start?
Teacher: When does the female menstrual cycle start in an average girl?
Remember the article I brought you in earlier. It could start as
early as 8 or 9, or it could start at 13 or 14.
Student 2: Even 19.
Teacher: What made you say that?
Student 2: My mom said they can have babies in that age [19].
Teacher: Oh, that’s true. The female menstrual cycle can begin as early as
8 years or as late as 19 years of age. It is individual. For every
single girl it is different. One girl may startsay 10 years of age, 11
years of age and yet her sister may start at 15. Every girl is a little
different.
Here we see students take many linguistic risks by contributing to a meaningful
discussion. Students’ genuine questions about the topic and their perspectives
gained from home were well accepted and validated. Building on that under-
standing, Sally elaborated and reinforced the key concept. Sally’s sensitivity to
Integrating Language and Content 51
students cultural knowledge was also reflected on her flexibility in allowing her
students to include their home cultural component in the projects and home-
work. For example, several of her students used their home country diets to
make a food pyramid. Also, many students had interviews with doctors or
nurses from their own countries for their science projects.
Students in Sally’s class all liked her way of teaching biology, and many
students noted that she was their best teacher among all teachers in that school.
Here are few excerpts from students’ interview responses:
She is my best in this school. She once brought in a crayfish for us to look at.
That makes me remember. Yesterday she brought in a model of the cell
membrane of a human’sbrain. It’s exciting. Biology is my favoritesubject.
[Sally] is funny and she is nice to foreign students.
[Sally] explains things very clearly so that everyone understands. Also, she
answers all the questions that we ask.
I think the best way for a teacher to teach is like her. She is talking biology
like giving us a story about biology. I am so interested in listening to her
stories about biology and getting to ask or answer questions about them.
Enriching the curriculum and providing a rich language use
environment
Students taught from the Regents Biology Variance curriculum conducted
four science projects related to the topics that they learned throughout the year.
These four projects were a report on the visit to American Natural History
Museum, monthly journal entries on their observations of a natural phenome-
non or an experimental study with the plants and animals, reading report on a
specific medical science development in the magazines and newspapers, and
interview report on someone in the field of medical sciences. One student from
Albania who had been in the US for half a year interviewed her father andwrote,
I interviewed an Albanian doctor specialised in cardiology. He has been
working for 30 years at the medical field. I interviewed him because it was
my desire to recognise his interesting career, which is dedicated to human
service… At the end of this investigation I asked myself that do I want to
enter this career? My early childhood dream has been to be a doctor.Raised
in a family where my father is a doctor and looking to him and admiring
him for what he was doing, I always wondering what else can I be better
that being a doctor. Having this dream I have been working hard all these
years to gain a strong background in school.
One student from Indonesia who had been in the US for three years wrote
journal entries about her experiment with and observationof the two plants, one
with sunlight and the other without any light. Here is an excerpt from her
journal.
April 29, 1998
The plant [
Accent Carmine Impatiens
] in the shoe box is almost dying. The
unborn baby flower is all dead. Some of the leaves are already fallen apart.I
52 Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
could see the difference now between the second plant [and this one]. The
second plant [at the window] is still green. Most of its leaves are green and
little turn black… I give them water. The second plant looks very nice and
the leaves are wide like yesterday’s leaves. The branches are growing taller.
By now I could answer my own questions between the two plants that I
experimented…
Another student from Bosnia and who had been in the US for only half a year
wrote a letter to
The New York Times
editor to argue against cloning after reading
articles on cloning in that newspaper.
It’s not an easy thing to have a clear idea about something like cloning that
is new and seems to be interesting. By this entire picture that I gave, I think
that supporting and approving the idea of ‘cloning’ destroys the saintly
concept of the family is and a healthy family is more useful than ‘cloning’ is.
A third student from Bangladesh and living in the US for a year and half wrote
about his reflection on the trip to American Museum of Natural History to see an
exhibition on diversity and evolution.
I have learned a lot about earliest humans and their activities. I also learned
about our earliest ancestors and how were they like with us. I may never
would have learned it if didn’t go to the museum. Thanks once again to my
science teacher to gave me an opportunity to do my project about our
ancestors.
Although the above students’ writing has errors, the idea shines through. It
reveals that when students are challenged to learn in an authentic and meaning-
ful way, they will make leaps in developing both language and academic content
knowledge. The reading and writing experiences that these students had
extended their thinking and expressed their intelligence about biology in a rele-
vant and a new way. By linking biology learning with reading and writing activi-
ties, teachers fostered students both language and academic learning skills
simultaneously.
Connected with the teaching topics, all three teachers often assigned their
classes reading passages taken from popular science magazines and newspapers
and writing assignments based on the reading. For example, in learning about
environmental issues, students in Sally’s class were assigned to read a poem
about how our earth changed into only a ball a few feet in diameter, floating
around us (see Figure 1).
The reading to writing questions were:
(1) Do you agree with the author? Why or why not?
(2) Is the Earth a special place? Why or why not?
One student wrote:
Yes, I agree with the author because it is true. When the earth is small every-
body will take care of it. When it’s huge nobody can take care of it. They
cannot see whats happening to the world,how we are destroying the earth,
and how we are killing lots of living things for survive some people. I think
the earth is special because it’s very beauty and wonder. It has nature,
Integrating Language and Content 53
animals, people and most special about it is that it’s the only one. So as
future generations we just want to say People should take care of this
earth’. We should not only care for ourselves. We should also take care of
animals, trees, etc.
As shown in the above, a reading activity here was used as a content specific
activity and was introduced creatively and meaningfully to make connections
with the textbook concepts. Unlike the discursive discourse used in the textbook
writing, the poem was written using much personalised vocabulary and simple
sentence structures. Thus, students who had difficulty with reading the textbook
could easily read the poem for meaning. The poem was also used as a sound
board for reflection that facilitates thinking. By doing extra reading like this
students not only fully understood the concept, but also learned to express them-
selves in science.
Conclusion
The findings of the study offer implications for teachers to work effectively
with linguistically and culturally diverse students. The three teachers’
approaches to these students and the learning tasks they designed, though
varied, are still similar in principle in that they all strongly believed in the abili-
ties of their ESL students. They all verbalised and demonstrated their belief that
all students can learn. Those beliefs and expectations are conveyed through their
daily teaching. As Lisa, Sally and Mike have shown, when there is a language
barrier, when students lack background knowledge about a subject, and when
the new concept is abstract, instead of demanding students to figure it out, they
54 Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
If the earth were only
A few feet in diameter, floating a
few feet above a field somewhere, people
would come from everywhere to marvel at it.
people would walk around it, marveling at its big
pools of water, its little pools and the water flowing
between the pools. People would marvel at the bumps
on it, and the holes in it, and they would marvel at the
very thin layer of gas surrounding it and the water suspend
ed in the gas. The people would marvel at all the creatures
walking around the surface of the ball, and at the creature in
the water. The people would declare it precious because it
was the only one, and they would protect it so that it would
not be hurt. The ball would be the greatest wonder known
and people would come to behold it, to be healed, to
gain knowledge, to know beauty and to wonder how it
it could be. People would love it, and defend it with
their lives, because they would somehow know
that their lives, their own roundness, could
be nothing without it. If the earth
were only a few feet in
diameter
Figure 1 The Floating Earth - Author unknown (Winter, 1990)
adapt their teaching to create the maximum opportunity for learning. With the
rapidly growth of non-native English speaking students in science classrooms,
this kind of understanding, orientation, and effort becomes important.
In their creation of a positive and challenging biology learning environment,
the three teachers used a range of strategies consistent with the literature of
teaching diverse students in both second language teaching and science educa-
tion (Banks & Banks, 1997;Carrasquilllo & Rodriguez, 1995;Chamot & O’Malley,
1994; Enright & McCloskey, 1988; Freeman & Freeman, 1998; Gersten, 1996;
Krashen, 1985; Swain & Carroll, 1987). In working with diverse students whose
native language is not English, they are more attentive to their students’ back-
grounds and cultural differences (Freeman & Freeman, 1998; Scarcella, 1992).
They all took on the role of both a language teacher and a science teacher (Rich-
ard-Amato & Snow, 1992; Genesee, 1993; Spurlin, 1995). In their classrooms,
language and biology are not independent of each other but closely interwoven.
The three teachers all tailored their instruction to ease students’ difficulties with
content knowledge by adjusting their input and using various ways to convey
meaning (Enright & McCloskey, 1988;Krashen, 1985).When these teachers show
that they do care and bring content knowledge to a level that students can
comprehend, students do appreciate and learn.
Both the teachers and students in this study have articulated a need for more
enrichment and elaboration of the content knowledge rather than simplification.
Extra readings, more student and student interactions, and after school science
projects as demonstratedhere seem to be both promoting language development
and providing the intellectual challenge. Two major linguistic and cognitive
benefits of using these speaking, reading, and writing activities in biology learn-
ing are worthy noting. One, the experiences that these students had, such as
interviews with a scientist, a series of observations of a scientific problem, a
reflection on a museum visit and on reading a scientific article, have enabled
them to make the connection between science learning in school and in real life.
Two, teachers’ use of reading, writing, listening, and speaking activities,
specially Lisa’s group work, reduced speaking anxiety and enabled students to
communicate science and use speaking to do scientific reasoning. These activi-
ties provide the students with ample opportunities and rich contexts for active
language use and language and literacy skills development (Chamot & O’Mal-
ley, 1994; Freeman & Freeman, 1998; Snow
et al.
, 1989). All this shows that when
working with linguistically and culturally diverse students, subject matter area
teachers do have an important role to play to speed up these students’ second
language learning and their academic success.
The findings of this study points to the need in teacher education for more
exposure and practice of responsive teaching to linguistically and culturally
diverse students. In teacher training programmes, preservice teachers need not
only to learn about established research theories, but also field tested methods
and techniques for dealing with diverse learners. Surprisingly, among the three
teachers, only Sally had taken courses in second language teaching and learning
and multicultural education. It is essential for all teachers to have an understand-
ing of multicultural and multilingual issues and training in teaching practices for
dealing with linguistic and cultural differences before they go into the teaching
field. As has been shown by this study, at the high school level, facing demand-
Integrating Language and Content 55
ing subject matter standards, science teachers need more varied and detailed
pedagogical knowledge in order to tailor their lessons to their students’ needs.
Knowledge about second language learners and modelling of effective teaching
will benefit all teachers who are working with ESL students on a daily basis.
The effective strategies and techniques used by the three biology teachers
offer us models for effective teaching practices. As our public schools in the 21st
century are becoming more and more linguistically and culturally diverse, it
becomes incumbent for all the teachers to become sensitive toward these diverse
students backgrounds and needs and modify their instruction so that second
language students can succeed academically as they develop English
proficiency.
Correspondence
Any correspondence should be directed to Yu Ren Dong, Associate Professor
of Education, Department of Secondary Education, and Youth Services, Queens
College, City University of New York, Flushing, NY 11367 USA.
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Integrating Language and Content 57
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... Teachers' involvement in professional learning experiences can shift their knowledge and beliefs related to ELs and facilitate positive change in their practices (Chval & Chavez, 2011;Johnson & Bolshakova, 2015;Lee et al., 2016). This is important because when teachers view ELs as bringing valuable knowledge and experiences and see them as eager and capable learners, they are more likely to foster learning environments that engage and challenge ELs (Dong, 2002;Estapa, Pinnow, & Chval, 2016;Lewis et al., 2012). On the other hand, teachers with deficit-based views, who hold stereotypes related to their language, ethnicity, and/or country of origin, may employ practices that isolate ELs or fail to engage them in academic content (Chval & Pinnow, 2010;de Araujo et al., 2016;Durgunog˘lu & Hughes, 2010;Sharkey & Layzer, 2000). ...
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