Science For All
Supporting Translanguaging Practices in the Middle School Science Classroom
The United States is becoming increasingly more bilingual and multilingual, with more than 25% of school-age children speaking a language other than English at home (Zeigler and Camarota 2018). Science teachers, however, often aren’t provided with the tools or knowledge to best support emergent multilingual students in the challenging academic language demands of the middle school science classroom (Lee, Quinn, and 2013). Recent studies point to the potential benefits of translanguaging pedagogy as a means of promoting greater understanding and use of scientific language practices among multilingual students (Karlsson, Larsson, and Jakobsson 2019; Poza 2018). This article presents a collection of instructional technology tools that middle school science teachers can use to support translanguaging practices among emergent multilingual students.
Translanguaging pedagogy is grounded in the natural translanguaging practices of multilingual learners, who use their full linguistic repertoires to make meaning of new experiences or information. Translanguaging pedagogy centers the cultural and linguistic assets that multilingual students bring to formal and informal learning experiences and provides recommendations for how teachers can support students’ use of their full linguistic repertoires to develop conceptual and linguistic understanding. Unlike traditional English language learners (ELL) models that historically discourage students’ use of multiple languages in school settings, translanguaging pedagogy positions students’ use of their primary home language(s) as an asset that should be invited into the classroom setting to support understanding of school topics and emergent language use. For example, while subtractive approaches to multilingualism often discourage or punish students for using their home languages in the classroom, translanguaging teachers celebrate students’ multilingualism and offer opportunities for students to share and use their full linguistic repertoires to build conceptual knowledge of topics and support the class’s understanding of diverse languages. Teachers who incorporate translanguaging pedagogy seek to incorporate students’ full linguistic repertoires to promote students’ sense of school belonging and develop academic literacies and subject-matter knowledge (García and Wei 2014).
Recent research around translanguaging pedagogy shows that multilingual students who are taught using translanguaging methods report feeling an increased sense of belonging and personal connection to their teacher and classmates (DeNicolo 2019). Research also points to the effectiveness of translanguaging pedagogy in supporting students’ contextualization of key words and concepts and developing students’ metalinguistic awareness (García, Flores, and Woodley 2012; García and Leiva 2014).
Despite a growing body of research highlighting the benefits of translanguaging pedagogy in the general K–6 classroom and the 6–12 English classroom, there is limited evidence of teachers integrating this pedagogical approach in the secondary science classroom. Based on anecdotal data collected by the authors from pre-service and in-service secondary science teachers, many monolingual, English-speaking secondary science teachers feel intimidated by translanguaging pedagogy and the perceived amount of effort that it would take to integrate the pedagogy in their classroom.
In this article, we propose that technology can be integrated strategically to diminish monolingual, English-speaking science teachers’ intimidation of translanguaging approaches and support multilingual students’ full linguistic repertoires to better develop disciplinary science understanding. We discuss a collection of practices, tools, and resources that can support the integration of translanguaging pedagogy and collaborative engagement in scientific discourse and inquiry among multilingual students in the middle school science classroom. Note: Many of the technology applications in this article are available at no cost to teachers, at least on a limited basis. Some tools require a paid subscription, and we note this in our description.
Secondary science can be particularly challenging for emerging multilingual learners due to the high level of academic and disciplinary vocabulary used (Clark et al. 2012). As students transition into engaging in disciplinary-specific science discussions, it is important for students to have access to developmentally appropriate resources and the ability to meaningfully respond to those materials. Translational and multimedia response tools can provide important, two-way access to language for both students and teachers in the translanguaging classroom (Carhill-Poza 2017). Two technology platforms that can support this kind of work are described next.
Google Classroom is primarily used to support teachers in efficiently organizing and transferring resources to their students while also creating a digital workspace for learning and collaboration. However, there are a number of basic Google Classroom features and add-ons that can support teachers in modifying their current teaching to promote both translanguaging and scientific disciplinary literacy.
Many middle school science teachers are already using Google Classroom, which allows students to complete work in Google G Suite’s popular Google Docs and Google Slides applications. Science teachers may be less familiar with the Google Classroom “Tool Library,” which links to a variety of educational tools, including translation tools (see Figure 1). Google Classroom has a dictionary and voice-typing feature that can be particularly effective at scaffolding emerging multilingual learners’ use of academic vocabulary. Oral fluency in a language typically precedes written fluency, so voice typing can support multilingual students’ engagement in the argumentation required for scientific learning by recording their spoken word without additional spelling and grammatical challenges (Kim and García 2014; Tong et al. 2014). The recordings appear as typed text at the location of their cursor, allowing students to make connections between aural and written speech. Google Voice Typing supports 119 languages (as of the publication of this article), allowing students to easily switch between languages to describe their scientific observations. Science educators will find that when using the same menu, they can translate students’ speech, allowing them to assess and respond to the students’ ideas in whatever language the student prefers to share. Google Classroom’s Dictionary feature also allows students to co-create, maintain, and share bilingual academic dictionaries that can support all learners in accessing new disciplinary content.
Most Google Classroom tools work best when using Google Chrome, and Google Chrome has an ever-expanding collection of extensions that can be used to support more translanguaging pedagogy. One free extension is Google Translate (or Translate+ for additional languages), Google Dictionary, and Read&Write—all of which can increase students’ accessibility of English texts throughout a student’s online experience. Science educators can use the same tools to understand student-selected or student-created materials, in whatever language in which they are written. Although the Google translation tools are not perfect, they are often adequate enough for science educators to ensure that students are getting the “gist” of a particular content objective. Other add-on audio and video response tools, like Speech Recognition, SoundWriter, and Screencastify, can also be integrated to allow multilingual students to provide explanations of their thinking in their language of choice. Google Classroom is an excellent general tool, with a variety of add-on features, that can support multilingual students in accessing and engaging with disciplinary content. More information about these tools can be found in the Google for Education Teacher Center (see Online Resources for link).
OneNote for Classrooms is another powerful technological tool that can support science teachers’ integration of translanguaging pedagogy. OneNote for Classrooms, a Microsoft 360 application, integrates both multimedia and an Immersive Reader into the OneNote notebook. Science teachers can create class notebooks, share pages with individual students, and create spaces for student group collaboration. Teachers and students can create multimodal pages that include a combination of text, images, clipped videos, active links, student-created drawings, hand-drawn or typed annotations, audio, text entries, or comments. Through OneNote’s Immersive Reader, multilingual students can easily and privately access features that allow them to personally differentiate their access and responses to texts. Students are able to instantly translate written material into 80 different languages, 40 of which can be read aloud with linguistically matched AI narrators. In Figure 2, we highlight how students are able to control the level of language scaffolding from single word to whole document using OneNote’s Immersive Reader. These screenshots illustrate the same document displayed in English and Spanish with pictorial and aural supports. Educators can facilitate use of Open Educational Resources (OER) texts and other online resources by using the OneNote web clipper to collect materials relevant to their lessons. Using the three buttons at the top right, students use a simple menu to translate individual words, highlight sentences or whole documents, hear content read aloud, and check parts of speech in either language. Students who are monolingual can also use OneNote to more meaningfully interact with the multilingual writing of their classmates, fostering more collaboration and peer-teaming across documents written in more than one language.
Screenshots of the OneNote Immersive Reader showing multiple levels of language support. OneNote Immersive Reader (n.d.) ©2020 Microsoft. Retrieved from https://education.microsoft.com/en-us/resource/9b010288. Screenshot by author. Text material used for this demonstration was taken from College Physics, an OER resource (Urone and Hinrichs 2012).
Teachers often use PowerPoint or Google Slides to introduce or review concepts. If the teacher uses differentiated practices or Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to support multilingual students, they often pair their presentation texts with images or videos that allow the students to see the concept or language-in-use. During this time, students are usually asked to take notes or record their understanding in a graphic organizer.
For multilingual learners, following oral presentations and taking notes around complex, scientific topics can be challenging. By adapting instruction through the use of interactive presentation tools, like Pear Deck or Nearpod, teachers can allow multilingual students to privately self-differentiate and support collaborative understanding of complex, scientific concepts among all students. Both Pear Deck and Near Pod allow students to write down their ideas or draw pictures to share their thoughts with the teacher and their classmates. The teacher can explicitly invite students to use any language of their choice to think about or respond to an idea, encouraging students to use their full linguistic repertoires to engage with new concepts. During or after class, the teacher can privately review students’ responses and use an online translation tool to understand comments made in a language that they don’t understand. These tools provide another opportunity for middle school science students’ full linguistic repertoires to be invited into the science classroom to build their developing scientific knowledge. Both Pear Deck and Nearpod have free options available for entry-level users.
Student learning in both the content area and target language is enhanced when students bring their full linguistic repertoire into the learning activity. The use of voice and video response applications can enable and encourage students to express their emerging understanding and interact with others in ways that may not be possible within live classroom discussions. Digital discussion technologies like VoiceThread and Flipgrid can help create a safe space in which multilingual learners can practice using scientific discourse as many times as needed to build confidence before sharing their thoughts with the class. Additionally, as learners interact with each other on these platforms, they are able to practice both speaking and listening skills.
VoiceThread is one example of a voice and video response platform that can be used to engage multilingual students in conversations about their scientific practices through multimodal storytelling or argumentation. With VoiceThread, students are able to upload a variety of images, documents, and videos and then comment on them using text, audio, or video. One strength of VoiceThread is that each student has the ability to choose how they want to contribute to the conversation independently. This technology provides an excellent way for middle school students to share and teach one another about the results of classroom inquiry. For example, students are able to use VoiceThread to produce a virtual lab report, in which they can present background research, describe their experimental design, show videos of their experiment in progress, display photos of scientific results, share graphs, and explain their results. These VoiceThread creations can remain private between the teacher and student, or the teacher can make student videos public for the rest of the class. When public, other students are able to comment on peers’ experiments, helping the research team members draw deeper conclusions based on peer discussions. Students who speak other languages outside of the dominant classroom language often feel more comfortable contributing to discussions in a format like this, since they have additional time for translation, processing, and participation. VoiceThread, however, is somewhat limited in that it does not provide direct opportunities for teachers and other students to translate the primary language of the multilingual student. Students may provide their own captions; however, VoiceThread’s native machine captioning service may take several days and must be ordered for each participation. VoiceThread has a free option, but educators may prefer a premium subscription that provides access to and governance over student subaccounts.
Another free technology tool, Flipgrid, can integrate some of the multimodal features of the VoiceThread with additional tools to support translanguaging and connected learning. Flipgrid is a secure video discussion board app that can be downloaded easily onto students’ phones, tablets, laptops, or computers. A new collaboration with Microsoft has created an enhancement allowing students to use Immersive Reader to translate and better understand Flipgrid discussion prompts and linked articles. Students can record their scientific observations, questions, or thoughts orally in a variety of languages both inside and outside of class. Students can also share articles and links, making cultural or interest-based connections to science content. Flipgrid has a “closed caption” feature that can be used to make content accessible to learners no matter which language is used. Although this feature is not a translator, it transcribes the spoken word in a variety of languages. These transcripts can then be exported into Google Translate or another translation software to provide a basic understanding of the students’ thinking regardless of the language they use in their own posts. Going beyond the single classroom, Flipgrid makes it easy to invite interaction across class sections, with students’ families, and with invited content experts. Teachers may even find that they are able to locate partner classrooms in which the multilingual students’ primary language is spoken using Flipgrid’s #GridPals program to build meaningful global relationships.
Translanguaging pedagogy is a teaching practice that increases multilingual students’ feelings of belonging in the science classroom and supports their understanding of scientific concepts. While many monolingual, English-speaking science teachers want to invite multilingual students’ full linguistic repertoires into the classroom, they are often unfamiliar with easily accessible tools that can support translanguaging in their classes. Technological tools like those mentioned in this article can support teachers, particularly monolingual English-speaking science teachers, in effectively integrating translanguaging pedagogy in the middle school science classroom. •
Disclaimer: The authors have not been compensated in any way for the review of these tools. Tools described in this article do not represent endorsement by the National Science Teaching Association.
Google for Education Teacher Center—https://edu.google.com/teacher-center/?modal_active=none
Support English Language Learners by Google for Education—https://bit.ly/3aeS9Kf
Microsoft’s Immersive Reader—https://education.microsoft.com/en-us/resource/9b010288
Addressing Diverse Student Needs Using Pear Deck Student-Pace—https://bit.ly/2ZdlnTI
ELs and Vocabulary Strategies for Instructing with Nearpod— https://share.nearpod.com/bh6Pub4PKab
VoiceThread as a Good Tool to Motivate ELLs and Much More—https://bit.ly/3jL85Y4
Flipgrid Blog: Empowering English Learners—https://blog.flipgrid.com/news/els
Kate Allman (email@example.com) is a research scholar at Wake Forest University’s Program for Leadership and Character in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Alexis Guethler is a curriculum specialist at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland.
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Urone, P. P., and R. Hinrichs. 2012. Falling objects. In College Physics. Houston, TX: OpenStax. https://openstax.org/books/college-physics/pages/2-7-falling-objects
Zeigler, K., and S.A. Camarota. 2018. Almost half speak a foreign language in America’s largest cities. Washington, DC: Center for Immigration Studies. https://cis.org/Report/Almost-Half-Speak-Foreign-Language-Americas-Largest-Cities
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