Supporting Academic Language Development in Elementary Science: A Classroom Teaching Experiment

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Supporting Academic Language Development in Elementary Science: A Classroom Teaching Experiment

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Academic language is the language that students must engage in while participating in the teaching and learning that takes place in school (Schleppegrell, 2012) and science as a content area presents specific challenges and opportunities for students to engage with language (Buxton & Lee, 2014; Gee, 2005). In order for students to engage authentically and fully in the science learning that will take place in their classrooms, it is important that they develop their abilities to use science academic language (National Research Council, 2012). For this to occur, teachers must provide support to their students in developing the science academic language they will encounter in their classrooms. Unfortunately, this type of support remains a challenge for many teachers (Baecher, Farnsworth, & Ediger, 2014; Bigelow, 2010; Fisher & Frey, 2010) and teachers must receive professional development that supports their abilities to provide instruction that supports and scaffolds students’ science academic language use and development. This study investigates an elementary science teacher’s engagement in an instructional coaching partnership to explore how that teacher planned and implemented scaffolds for science academic language. Using a theoretical framework that combines the literature on scaffolding (Bunch, Walqui, & Kibler, 2015; Gibbons, 2015; Sharpe, 2001/2006) and instructional coaching (Knight, 2007/2009), this study sought to understand how an elementary science teacher plans and implements scaffolds for science academic language, and the resources that assisted the teacher in planning those scaffolds. The overarching goal of this work is to understand how elementary science teachers can scaffold language in their classroom, and how they can be supported in that work. Using a classroom teaching experiment methodology (Cobb, 2000) and constructivist grounded theory methods (Charmaz, 2014) for analysis, this study examined coaching conversations and classroom instruction to identify and understand what scaffolds are planned and implemented, and how that planning and implementation occurred through an instructional coaching partnership. Findings from this study showed the elementary science teacher planned and implemented a number of scaffolds for science academic language, focusing primarily on the use of sentence starters as a scaffolding strategy. The findings also indicated that the instructional coaching partnership played a vital role as the main resource that assisted the planning of scaffolds. These findings provide insights into the types of scaffolds that elementary science teachers can implement to scaffold science academic language, and the role that instructional coaching can play in supporting teachers as they work to provide instruction that scaffolds their students’ language use and development.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. July 2017. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisors: Bhaskar Upadhyay, Julie Brown. 1 computer file (PDF); xi, 180 pages.

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Jung, Karl. (2017). Supporting Academic Language Development in Elementary Science: A Classroom Teaching Experiment. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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