Teaching science to students who are English Language learners can be very daunting as they are required to learn via a yet-un-mastered language. If students lack the required literacy development in English, then they will more than likely encounter academic learning difficulties that will impede their participation and ultimately their learning, in science lessons. Students in such environments may exhibit fatigue and frustration resulting in lack of retention, rote learning, and reduced critical thinking. It has been proposed that such students often experience reduced academic attainment in science when compared to their English-speaking peers.
Some of the strategies that have been proposed to teach science to English language learners include small group activities, which would afford structured opportunities for developing English proficiency in the context of meaningful dialogue about scientific knowledge. Another recommendation is to incorporate active-learning approaches that are less dependent on the formal mastery of language and therefore reduces the linguistic burden on students. Infusing technology in these types of science classrooms has been shown to be quite useful in this regard and has been well documented by many. Generally, it is believed that technology is able to:
- Increase student engagement.
- Enhance student understanding and competence.
- Stimulate critical and analytical reasoning.
- Provide prompt feedback
- Stimulate interest in learning science.
A few examples of the technology that I have used successfully include:
Simplemind (https://simplemind.eu) to construct mind maps. Mapping has been shown to assist students in summarising their lessons whilst making connections between the main ideas, and in so doing guide their own learning. Mapping is also not dependent on the use of complex sentence structures and would, therefore, be very effective for our language learners to grasp science-specific jargons. Instructors may also encourage students to use Google docs or Google slides to collaborate on summarises of lessons or to complete projects. These applications facilitate collaboration, problem-solving and information sharing amongst peers, whether synchronously or asynchronously in a ubiquitous environment.
Kahoot! (https://kahoot.it/) and Socrative (https://www.socrative.com/), are two applications which are able to administer formative assessments in a game-based approach, which incorporates colourful pictures and sounds but most importantly, facilitates giving students prompt feedback. It has been reported that using Socrative in higher education institutions, has generally resulted in an improvement in students’ learning and engagement and self-assessment of learning when compared to traditional methods. Also, students are less likely to feel fatigued and frustrated whilst working on solving complex problems, when working together in a gaming environment, such as Kahoot!, as they would, during traditional chalk and talk settings. Padlet (https://padlet.com/) is also a useful application in formative assessing students and giving feedback in science classes. The application may be considered as a digital sheet of paper on which students and instructors can collaborate with their projects, give opinions, answer questions, take notes, collect feedback or have discussions.
The use of technology in a systematic manner is sure to be an added benefit to our current crop of students, who can be considered to be true digital natives. In all of the above examples, my students were seen to spend increased time on task and were generally more actively engaged during the lessons. Using a game-based approach to formative assessments was very well received as the environment was non-threatening and relaxing. The technology affords quicker and easier access to information, anywhere anytime collaborations, increased engagement and participation and most importantly prompt feedback from the instructors. An article in The National newspaper reported that “Many pupils have ‘little intention’ of pursuing science or technology career”; using the technology may just be a way of enhancing students’ scientific literacy, which may result in getting them becoming motivated in wanting to choose a science career pathway.
- Blackburn, M. (2015). I am not a superhero but I do have secret weapons! Using technology in Higher Education teaching to redress the power balance. Journal of pedagogic development, 5(1).
- Hart, J. E., & Lee, O. (2003). Teacher professional development to improve the science and literacy achievement of English language learners. Bilingual Research Journal, 27(3), 475-501.
- Lee, O., & Fradd, S. H. (1996). Literacy skills in science learning among linguistically diverse students. Science Education, 80(6), 651-671.
- Mallon, M., & Bernsten, S. (2015). Collaborative Learning Technologies. Tips and Trends Winter 2015, ACRL American Library Association.
- Pennigton, R. (2017). Many pupils have ‘little intention’ of pursuing science or technology career, survey finds. The National. Retrieved from https://www.thenational.ae/uae/many-pupils-have-little-intention-of-pursuing-science-or-technology-career-survey-finds-1.129549
- Slavin, R. E. (1990). Cooperative learning: Theory, research, and practice: Prentice-Hall.
By: Kenesha S. Wilson
Kenesha Wilson (Ph.D., FHEA) is an Assistant Professor and Chair of the Interdisciplinary Studies Department in the University College at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, where she teaches General Education science courses. Dr Wilson has approximately 15 years of experience in higher education, having previously taught and coordinated various Chemistry courses in Jamaica.