by Laura Chris Green, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • February 1995

The ability of any nation to compete successfully in a global market today depends on the scientific and mathematical literacy of its citizens. In the case of the United States, this literacy has been called into question by the poor showing of U.S. students in mathematics and science assessments in both national and international studies (Clewell, Anderson and Thorpe, 1992).

Unless US students acquire scientific and mathematical literacy today they will become the “techno-peasants” of tomorrow. Of particular concern is the fact that we are doing a poor job of reaching minority, especially language minority, students. Math and science knowledge can open the doors of opportunity for thousands of students, providing them with exciting, well-paying and self-fulfilling careers. Lack of math and science knowledge, on the other hand, can relegate them to continuing cycles of poverty and despair.

The Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) has crafted a project called Young Scientists Acquiring English (YSAE) to counter this trend. The goal of this Title VII project is to accelerate the content area achievement of middle school students who are acquiring English (English language learners). A three-year teacher training program in three inner-city middle schools will be the vehicle for achieving this goal. This article will provide the rationale for the project, describe the training and technical assistance model being used and outline the content of the workshop sessions for the first year.

A Need for Teacher Professional Development

Major barriers to minority student achievement can be found in the area of teacher preparation and expectations. Shirley Malcom found that in schools with high minority representations, teachers are less trained, classrooms lack equipment, and courses lack rigor and relevance (Malcom et al., 1976). Gerald Maben surveyed teachers nationally and found that more than two-thirds of them perceived deficiencies in science content and science teaching methods (1980). Math and science are seen as higher-order disciplines, and teachers often see minority students as genetically or otherwise predisposed to low achievement and send messages that these disciplines are more suitable for White males (Beane, 1988).

Further, the instructional strategies used by most math and science teachers do not complement the learning styles of minority students (Gilligan, 1982). This contributes to minority students’ low self-concepts for math and science achievement. Michael Coles and Peg Griffen found that minority students are exposed far less often to higher-order thinking activities than are their White peers (1987). Instead, minority students spend all or most of their instructional time in lower-order drill-and-practice activities.

An effective science program includes an emphasis on both content and process skills that help students learn how to learn. Comparisons of minority students in elementary activity-based programs to those in more static teacher/text-based programs showed substantial improvement in science process skills, science content, creativity, perception, logic, language development, math concepts and attitudes toward science for the active children (Bredderman, 1982). Economically and educationally disadvantaged students showed the highest gains.

For English language learners, mismatches between the language of the classroom and that of these students can hamper math and science achievement. L. Smith, in writing about Navajo students, suggested that the style of a language influences the student’s approach to learning and applying mathematical concepts (1981). If the student has a culture or language that differs from the mainstream culture, linguistic bias in the classroom seems inevitable.

Several studies have shown that Spanish-speaking elementary children taught bilingually score higher on mathematics assessments than those taught only in English (Coffland and Cuevas, 1979; De Avila and Duncan, 1979). Imelda Rodríguez and Lorrell Bethel (1983) found that an English as a second language (ESL)/inquiry approach to the teaching of science improved the oral communication and classification skills of bilingual third graders, reinforcing Bredderman’s findings regarding the efficacy of activity-based science programs.

At the secondary level, English language learners who are newcomers to the United States usually spend an hour or two daily in special ESL classes learning to speak, read and write English. The rest of the day they spend in regular English-speaking classrooms where they must struggle with new concepts and content at the same time they struggle with linguistic barriers. This process can consume instructional time and contribute to a lowered self-concept for these students.

English language learners who have been in the United States awhile (about two or more years) usually are mainstreamed into regular classrooms for all periods of their instructional day. Although linguistic barriers tend to be fewer for them than for newcomers, many still lack the academic language and literacy skills necessary for functioning in typical secondary content area classrooms. Because they have basic oral proficiency, their teachers are often unaware that linguistic factors can negatively affect their content area achievement.

As a result of this mainstreaming of English language learners, all secondary teachers – not just ESL teachers – usually have language minority students in their classrooms, but they rarely receive the specialized training that can help them meet the special needs of their students. Many of these often committed and competent teachers feel they must choose between “watering down” their curriculum or leaving their English language learners behind as they move ahead conceptually with the rest of their students.

The IDRA Young Scientists Acquiring English project is designed to help content area teachers maintain high expectations for the cognitive achievements of all their students as they simultaneously learn to make challenging subject matter comprehensible and accessible to all.

Project Design

The teachers in the YSAE project are math, science, social studies, reading, English and ESL teachers at the middle school level. All are assigned to an academic team except for the ESL teachers who serve all beginner-level English language learners on their campuses. Most of the teachers cannot speak a language other than English, and have never had ESL training of any kind. The ESL teachers are currently implementing traditional ESL language programs rather than content-based ESL programs.

Six workshop days will be supplemented by 30 days of technical assistance per year. Each workshop day is followed by one or two days per campus of on-site observations or demonstration lessons. The demonstration lessons are performed by IDRA consultants in project classrooms and are based on methods and techniques that have been modeled in the previous workshops. The consultants and the teachers meet later that same day for a “debriefing,” an opportunity for the teachers to ask questions and discuss how they can follow-up with future lessons on their own. The observations will occur later in the spring when teachers feel ready to demonstrate the project’s methods and techniques for the IDRA consultants and/or other teachers. These observations will be followed with individual coaching sessions in which the consultants can give the teacher feedback on his or her performance.

Technical assistance will also be provided by facilitating the work of a task force on each campus that will examine all aspects of the school, identify the organizational changes needed to achieve the project objectives, and restructure the school accordingly. The task forces will be guided by the project vision statement created by the project teachers at the first workshop (see box at below).

A five-day summer institute will be used for the development of interdisciplinary units. Teams of teachers will choose the topic of their units and use the lesson planning tools, instructional techniques and assessment methods they have learned during the previous workshops for the creation of their units. The units will then be used for instruction during the second year of the project, refined and revised for inclusion in a project curriculum guide.

Workshop Content

An analysis of the literature on recommended teaching practices for all subject areas indicates that practitioners and theorists alike advocate constructivist, learner-centered models of teaching and learning. Common themes are: active hands-on learning, higher order thinking, integration of the curriculum and depth versus breadth of coverage.

The Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA) to ESL developed by Anna Chamot and Michael O’Malley was chosen to serve as the basic ESL model for the project (1994). The Project 2061 approach to science education was chosen for the science half of the equation (AAAS, 1993). The figure below provides a merged model for both CALLA and Project 2061 that is being used to design the training workshops and the lessons taught to students. Other sources of inspiration from the professional literature include Spencer Kagan’s Cooperative Learning (1992), Robin Fogarty’s and Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ models for curriculum integration (1991; 1989), and models from various reading researchers such as reciprocal teaching (Palincsar and Brown, 1984), question and answer relationships (Raphael, 1986), semantic feature analysis (Johnson and Pearson, 1984), and effective cognitive strategies for language minority students (Padrón, 1992).

Young Scientists Acquiring English: Vision Statement

The Young Scientists Acquiring English Title VII project is a process for student mastery of challenging subject matter in science, math, reading, English and social studies…


  • Increases staff expertise regarding instructional strategies that foster cognitive and linguistic development;
  • Supports the learning styles and cultures of all students through cooperative learning and appreciation for diversity;
  • Helps students make connections through the integration of the curriculum within and across disciplines;
  • Improves school-wide communication horizontally and vertically through effective academic teams;
  • Provides teachers with easy access to high-quality books, supplies, equipment and instructional technology;
  • Aligns curriculum and assessment such that learning is authentically documented; and
  • Increases the support of parents and the business and general school community…

So that…

All students, including English language learners, will experience success in critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills across the curriculum.

IDRA Training Model Merging Approaches to ESL and Science Education


This model merges the Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA) to ESL (Chamot & O’Malley, 1994) with the Project 2061 approach to science education (AAAS, 1993).


American Association for the Advancement of Science. Benchmarks for Science Literacy (N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1993).

Beane, D.B. Mathematics and Science: Critical Filters for the Future of Minority Students. (Washington, D.C.: The Mid-Atlantic Equity Center, The American University, 1988).

Bredderman, T. “What Research Says: Activity Science – The Evidence Shows it Matters,” Science and Children (1982), 1, pp. 39-41.

Cárdenas, José A. “Science and Math Equity in the Schools,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, March 1991) pp. 1-6.

Chamot, A.U. and J.M. O’Malley. The CALLA Handbook: Implementing the Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach, (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1994).

Clewell, B.C., Anderson, B.T., And M.E. Thorpe. Breaking the Barriers: Helping Female and Minority Students Succeed In Mathematics and Science (San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass Publisher, 1992), p. XI.

Coffland, J. and G. Cuevas. Children’s Learning of Numbers and Numerating Concepts: A Final Report. NIE Contract No. 400-77-0074 (Bethesda, Md.: ERIC Document Reproduction Service, ED 198 199, 1979).

Coles, M. and P. Griffen (eds.). Contextual Factors in Education: Improving Science and Mathematics Education for Minorities and Mathematics Education for Minorities and Women (Madison, Wis.: Center for Education Research, 1987).

De Avila, E. and S. Duncan. Predicting the Academic Success of Language Minority Students from Developmental, Cognitive Style, Linguistic and Teacher Perceptions Measures (Austin, Texas: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, 1979).

Fogarty, R. How to Integrate the Curricula: The Mindful School (Palatine, Ill.: Skylight Publishing, 1991).

Gilligan, C. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982).

Jacobs, H. H. (ed.). (1989). Interdisciplinary Curriculum: Design and Implementation (Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1989).

Johnson, D.D. and P.D. Pearson. Teaching Reading Vocabulary, Second Edition ( NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1984).

Kagan, S. Cooperative Learning (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.: Resources for Teachers, 1992).

Maben, G.W. “Is There Hope for School Science in 1980s,” The National Elementary Principal (1980), 59, pp. 37-43.

Malcom, S., Hall, P., and J. Brown. The Double Bind: The Price of Being a Minority Woman in Science, Report No. 76-R-3 (Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1976).

Padrón, Y.N. “The Effect of Strategy Instruction on Bilingual Students’ Cognitive Strategy Use in Reading,” Bilingual Research Journal (1992), 16(3-4), pp. 35-51.

Palincsar, A.S. “Reciprocal Teaching of Comprehension Fostering and Comprehension Monitoring Activities,” Cognition and Instruction (1984), 2, pp. 117-175.

Raphael, T. “Teaching Question Answer Relationships, Revisited,” The Reading Teacher (1986), 39, pp. 516-522.

Rodríguez, I. and L. Bethel. “An Inquiry Approach to Science and Language Teaching,” Journal of Research in Science Teaching (1983), 20, pp. 291-296.

Smith, L. Mathematics Education in an American Indian Culture (Tempe, Ariz.: Arizona State University, 1981).

Sosa, Alicia Salinas. “20 Years After Lau,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, January 1995) pp. 1, 19, 22-23.

Dr. Laura Chris Green is an Education Associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at

[©1995, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 1995 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]