CSTA Classroom Science

Pathways for Multilingual Learners in Science

By Diana Velez, Tricia Poelstra and Claudio Vargas

Visualize a small group of third graders sitting on the rug with their teacher practicing the process of asking questions.

Using visuals with question starters, students excitedly take turns asking What, Where, Why, When, and How questions about an image of a race car on a track. “What will make the car go faster? Where will the car slow down? Why do they have such fat wheels?”  

These students are receiving Designated English Language Development (DELD) instruction that uses their science curriculum as the context for English language development (ELD). They are at the Expanding level in their trajectory towards English fluency. Their peers are receiving the same lesson with another teacher but slightly differentiated for their level of English proficiency, with more scaffolding for Emerging and less scaffolding for Bridging. All are practicing language routines that will help them engage in the science practice of asking questions, which they will be doing in their next science lesson investigating variables that will make their previously designed carts go farther. 

The students are from Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD). A few years ago, SBUSD decided to use the science based ELD resources developed by FOSS (Full Option Science System™) at the Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California, Berkeley, to provide their Emergent Multilingual Learners (EMLs) with engaging and rigorous language learning experiences anchored in science and engineering content. The district collaborated with the FOSS Project curriculum developers at The Lawrence to make this happen. FOSS staff, Delta/School Specialty educational consultants, SBUSD leaders, and science and ELD coordinators created a district-wide TK-6th grade program for science-based DELD. The goal ???? to provide comprehensive lessons for teachers to use in small group instruction aligned with the California ELD standards and their district-adopted science curriculum.

Why science? SBUSD instructional leaders recognized the rich learning experiences that science provides for students to collaborate, discuss, and make meaningful connections together naturally. While the district had made some headway with integrated ELD in content areas, it struggled to adequately support EMLs, especially with designated ELD. Teachers needed more support in understanding and providing language development instruction. Emergent Multilingual Learners were being overidentified into special education services and were generally underserved. Something needed to change.
The district’s instructional leaders wanted a DELD curriculum connected to what students were learning, recognizing that language is acquired by use and practice. It is also essential to lower students’ affective filter and anxiety because language learning, by nature, is a risk-taking venture. Because students find science fun and engaging, they naturally get excited and are, therefore, motivated to communicate about what they are observing, experiencing, and learning.

District-wide implementation began in 2020, and the benefits to students were evident immediately. The small group size by proficiency level means more active participation and risk-taking for students. Teachers note that EMLs are more engaged in science learning, actively participating with oral language at higher levels because they can practice relevant language functions and skills before the science lessons. This, coupled with integrated ELD scaffolds and strategies during science class, elevates all students’ ability to express themselves, actively participate, and interact with each other more effectively. Students are highly motivated to learn and apply the language in the rich context of science. Teachers also see the benefits:

 “DELD is now my favorite time of the day!” 5th grade teacher
 “I really like teaching DELD because it really boosts their confidence/comfort level.” 6th grade teacher

For more information about:
●      FOSS designated ELD instructional materials and professional learning opportunities, contact Diana Velez at dvelez@berkeley.edu. 
●      District models for implementing DELD, contact Tricia Poelestra at tpoelstra@sbunified.org. 
●      General ELD and science teaching and learning, contact Claudio Vargas at carielvargasb@gmail.com

About the Authors:
Diana Velez: Curriculum and Professional Learning Specialist for the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley; Tricia Poelstra : Emergent Multilingual Instructional Support Specialist for Santa Barbara Unified School District: Claudio Vargas: Educational Consultant for Sci-Lingual Education




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