Science Teaching and Learning in Linguistically Super-Diverse Multicultural Classrooms

American schools are becoming more linguistically diverse as immigrants and resettled refugees who speak various languages and dialects arrive at the United States from around the world. This demographic change shifts US classrooms toward super-diversity as the new norm or mainstream in all grade levels (Enright 2011; Park, Zong and Batalova 2018; Vertovec 2007). In super-diverse classroom contexts, students come from varied migration channels, immigration statuses, languages, countries of origin, and religions, which contribute to new and complex social configurations of the classroom. Super-diversity thus encourages educators and researchers to draw on nuanced understandings of the complexity that it brings to bear in educational settings and reconsider instructional approaches that we have believed to be effective. This chapter provides an insight into the complexity of teaching science in linguistically super-diverse classrooms with the case of Riverview High School. Riverview High is located on the outskirts of a metropolitan city in the Midwest. In the past decade, Riverview High has been a popular destination for many immigrants, many of whom are former refugees, from various countries, including but not limited to Myanmar, Congo, Syria, and Honduras, among others. As a result, students at Riverview High speak more than 30 different languages to include languages of Myanmar, such as Burmese, Hakha, Zomi, Zophei, Falam, and Lautu, Spanish, Kurdish, and Arabic. Over an academic year, we collected ethnographic data through interviews of emergent multilingual students who are classified by the school as limited English proficient, teachers who teach science and English as a New Language (ENL) classes, and school administrative personnel, as well as participant observations of science and ENL classrooms. In this chapter, we first review the literature on science education for emergent multilingual learners to provide a knowledge base as to which instructional practices and curricular features are recommended in supporting their science learning. Then, we present findings of our data collected from Riverview High focusing on (1) what are instructional practices that science teachers implement to facilitate emergent multilingual students’ science learning, (2) how those implemented instructional practices support or do not support their learning, and (3) what are new challenges that existing literature does not sufficiently address. Our findings show that teachers at Riverview High adopted several research-recommended teaching practices to provide linguistic support for emergent multilingual students; however, some students reported needing additional or different forms of support, especially those who use languages not commonly spoken in the United States. Additionally, some classroom practices intended as support had unintended or negative impacts on students’ sense of belonging. By juxtaposing research recommendations and a case of super-diverse classrooms, we aim to address a gap that exists in the science education literature and provide a nuanced understanding of the complexity that super-diversity may bring to science classrooms. Based on our findings, we suggest several directions for curricular and school cultural reforms. These reforms should include developing curriculum, assessments, and activities that center students’ sense-making and a nurturing school culture in which all students view their emergent multilingual peers from asset-oriented perspectives. In addition, we call for more research on science teaching practices that facilitate emergent multilingual students’ learning and empower them in multilingual and multicultural classrooms.

Ricketts, A., Ryu, M., Nardo, J. E., Tuvilla, M. R. S., & Love, C. G. (2022). Science teaching and learning in linguistically superdiverse multicultural classrooms. In M. M. Atwater (Ed.), International Handbook of Research on Multicultural Science Education (pp. 573-599). Springer.