110. I teach integrated sciences for the 7th and 8th grades as well as Biology.  How do I modify science for the non-English speaking student?

One of the key ideas I have discussed in many answers to questions about ALL curricular fields is the idea that students must PERCEIVE the reality:
the object,
the "thing,"
the concept,
the abstraction,
the topic(s) of the lesson while they listen to the NEW vocabulary words, the new language needed to talk about this new reality they are just perceiving in the content areas. THIS IS THE ABSOLUTELY VERY FIRST STEP in teaching: Perception while listening to the new words that name the "reality" in what is perceived.

Unfortunately, sometimes our educational system FAILS --and commercially produced textbooks also fail-- to note that ALL students --English ONLY speakers and non-English speakers-- need to begin with the very same FIRST STEP since, usually, the language of the content areas is not the language used at home for conversation.

Lucky students whose parents talk about science and help them perceive what science concepts refer to in reality, come to school with this very first step already mastered. Most other students do not have the needed perceptions or the needed language as part of their previous experiences or previous knowledge.

Thus, BEFORE you begin to TEACH science, the needed perceptions and the needed content area language MUST become part of the students' background knowledge and experience. This is especially necessary for students who do not understand nor speak English fluently.

Thus, how to modify science:
A. You must work very closely with the English-As-A-Second Language (ESL) teacher.
B. You must provide for the ESL teacher the pictures, transparencies, posters, manipulatives, realia, whatever may be needed to help students perceive the concept(s) or topic(s) in the science lesson.
C. You must provide for the ESL teacher lists of the new vocabulary the students WILL LISTEN, SPEAK, READ, and WRITE about in YOUR science lesson. A., B., and C., above, should occur BEFORE you teach your science lesson.
D. With this information, the ESL teacher should design LANGUAGE ACQUISITION AND DEVELOPMENT lessons --NOT SCIENCE lessons-- for ESL students to master the language of the content area BEFORE they attend your science lesson.
E. NOW --AFTER mastering the perceptions and the language-- the non-English speaking students attend your lesson and -- I assure you-- THEY WILL SUCCEED gloriously!!!!

Of course, you might say, your school does not have --or you do not work with-- an ESL teacher.  Well, you can do two things:

FIRST, you must impress upon your administrators that for your non-English speaking students TO SUCCEED academically in the core curriculum the above-indicated modifications are absolutely necessary, and that to fail to provide these modifications may result in your ESL students' failure to be provided with equal access to the core curriculum at your school, and failure to be provided with an equal educational opportunity to learn.

When ESL students fail, the SCHOOL PROGRAM FAILS. Thus, a different program MUST be designed since the program you have, as currently implemented, is NOT resulting in academic success for the students, especially the non-English-speaking students.

SECOND, you must begin to incorporate these modifications into your lessons for ALL your students since, when teaching a new topic or new concepts, ALL students need to begin with the same FIRST STEP: Perception while listening to the NEW vocabulary. Thus, YOU can do SCIENCE language development lessons as part of your DAILY lessons. In your classroom, POST the pictures, post the new language, point to the pictures and the new language while you are teaching your lessons so that ALL students know exactly what you are talking about. Then have students point to ALL the new words in the readings they will do. READ to the students while they identify the posted words. WRITE about the topic TOGETHER so ALL students can begin to use the language.

ALL teachers must become, whether they wish to do so or not, LANGUAGE teachers because students who cannot speak science do not understand science. And if a student cannot speak science, (s)he can NOT read science or write science.

How do I test for these students?

One of the key ideas I have discussed in many answers to questions about testing and assessment is the idea that testing/assessment must include different types of questions. Science is just about the PERFECT content area to include many types of questions in assessment instruments. For example:

How about questions relating to perceptions? In a laboratory setting within the classroom, with as many "lab" stations as there are students in the class, students may be asked to "look" at pictures, transparencies, some real objects, etc., located at each testing station.  Students then read questions printed on index cards or on the test booklet, and answer each question --as they rotate from station to station-- by choosing the correct choice or by writing a response.

These "hands-on" questions and answers can be made as simple as possible or as complicated as needed by controlling the language in the question or in the response. Some questions may require a YES/NO answer. Others a TRUE/FALSE. For others the students may be required to AGREE/DISAGREE, other responses may require writing a word, or reading multiple answers and choosing the best response, others may require students to write a description, etc.

Not all testing instruments need to be pencil-and-paper with open-ended questions. Students may be required to conduct a brief experiment, place in order or write the steps of the experiment in order, write the results of the experiment, etc. Students can work individually or in pairs.

LET YOUR IMAGINATION SHINE when it comes to testing!!! The key idea is that, in any and all tests, there should be many DIFFERENT types of questions to assess the same concept. The questions and the responses MUST include PERCEPTION. The language of each question and the language required to produce a response determine the level of difficulty of each question.  Include simple questions/answers and more complicated questions/answers ABOUT THE SAME TOPIC.  Thus, whichever question the students answer ABOUT ONE SPECIFIC TOPIC --the hard one(s) or the less difficult one(s), YOU the teacher can ascertain mastery of the concept.



For more in-depth information, classroom demonstrations, and "coaching" of new and/or experienced teachers, Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK offers:

1. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
2. Cross Cultural Diversity - Multicultural Strategies
3. Effective Instruction for English Learners (L.E.P. students) Parts 1, 2, 3, 4
4. Promoting Academic Success in Language Minority Students
5. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
6. Oral Language / Literacy Skills / Higher Order Thinking Skills
7. 50/50 Dual Language Programs: design, planning and implementation
8. The Structure of English / The Structure of Spanish
9. Transition: Introduction to English Reading

Web Site Programs for Teachers: Numbers 1, 5, 7, 8, and 9.
Web Site Programs for
Paraprofessionals: Number 3.
Web Site Programs for
New Teachers:
Enhanced Cultural Sensitivity - The Challenge of Students Diversity
Identifying / Responding to Students' Language Needs
Phonemic Awareness: Teaching English phonics to L.E.P. students
Relationship Between Reading, Writing and Spelling
Improving Reading Performance -- Building Oral Language Skills)

Write and e-mail any additional questions you may have, and Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will establish with you, your school or district a Technical Assistance Service Contract. Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will answer all your questions promptly and to your satisfaction.


For information and credentials please click on the link below or contact directly:


Educational Consultant, Program Evaluator

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Certification (12/2006)

3113 Malcolm Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90034-3406

Phone and Fax: (310) 474-5605

E-mail:  csssadek@gte.net