A shift is needed in how science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects are taught to students in grades K-12 who are learning English, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Educators should recognize the assets that English learners (ELs) bring to the classroom and understand that student performance is affected significantly by access to adequate program models and instruction. Opening avenues to success in STEM for the nation’s ELs offers opportunities to students and their families, and confers benefits to society, the report says.
“All students, including English learners, should have opportunities to participate in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics learning,” says David Francis, Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor at the University of Houston and chair of the committee that wrote the report. “Organizing schools and preparing teachers so all students can reach their full potential in STEM can transform the lives of individual students as well as the lives of teachers, schools, and society as a whole.”
According to the federal definition, an English learner is a student who is aged three through 21; enrolled in an elementary or secondary school; whose native language is a language other than English; and whose proficiency in speaking, reading, writing, or understanding the English language may be sufficient to deny the individual the ability to successfully achieve in classrooms where the language of instruction is English. These students are taught under a variety of different program models - including English as a second language approaches as well as bilingual approaches - intended to support both language and content learning. English learners comprise a diverse and multi-talented pool of learners that is persistently increasing, both in absolute size and as a percentage of the U.S. school population, the report says.