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Common Core Special Issue: December 2012
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TESOL and the Next Generation Science Standards
by David T. Crowther

This is an exciting time in education.  The Core Curriculum State Standards (CCSS) in Language Arts and Mathematics are being used in classrooms across the United States, WiDA has an updated version of their English Language Development standards available online, and, soon, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) will be piloted in 26 states for the 2012–2013 school year.

Developing the Standards
The National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve have embarked on a two-step process to develop the NGSS. The first step was a critical review of the most current research in science, how children learn science, and identified the science all K–12 students should know.  This first step resulted in the release of A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2011).  The Framework outlined the content, practices and general principles to be incorporated into the NGSS  (Achieve, Inc., 2012).

The second step of the process involved the actual development of the standards.  The first draft of the standards have been written by a team of writers and reviewed by critical stakeholders in both a state level and a public review. Information from the primary review is being scrutinized and will be incorporated into a revised version, and then 26 states will pilot the revised standards.  This will lead to yet more revisions, and the goal is for a final version of the NGSS to be available for late 2012 or early 2013 (Achieve, Inc., 2012).

The Structure of the Standards
According to the Framework and a working version of the NGSS, There are three main structures to the NGSS: Assessable Component, Foundation Boxes, and Connection Boxes (see nextgenscience.org for a visual). The actual standards are written in the top box (Assessable Component) and are organized by grades, grouped in Grades K–5, 6–8, and 9–12.  Groups were delineated by specific grades rather than by level (elementary, middle school, high school) to avoid any confusion.

Below the Assessable Component are the Foundation Boxes:

  • Science and Engineering Practices (in blue) were formerly known as the process skills that are required for actually conducting science. These include practices used in science and engineering like asking questions, planning and carrying out investigations, analyzing and interpreting data, and constructing explanations. The science and engineering practices are of particular interest to the TESOL community as these have a large overlap with the language domains (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) and involve using both social and academic language to support learning. 
  • Disciplinary Core Ideas (in orange) involve the main science disciplines in the standards.  These areas include life science, Earth and space science, physical science and science and engineering. 
  • Crosscutting Concepts (in green) contain the major cross-cutting themes in science and engineering that connect topics of science over different disciplinary areas (e.g. patterns, cause and effect, structure and function).   

Finally, the Connection Boxes support the CCSS in both language arts and mathematics. Actual CCSS standards in both content areas are outlined to help make connections to other content area instruction (Achieve, Inc., 2012).

Connection to Language Teaching and Learning
The Development of the NGSS includes a review of diversity and equity and the development of resources for diversity and equity. The charge of the NGSS Diversity and Equity Group is to ensure the NGSS are accessible to all students by highlighting changing demographics of the student population and identifying emerging national initiatives for a new wave of standards. The scope of work for the group involves three primary tasks:  a) review standards statements, b) draft a Diversity and Equity discussion chapter, and c) create vignettes of diverse student groups (Achieve, Inc., 2012).

To help make the language connection to the CCSS and the NGSS, the Understanding Language project is bringing together leading educators with expertise in disciplinary knowledge and language learning to create knowledge and resources for teachers of ELLs in this new context.  Understanding Language aims to heighten educator awareness of the critical role that language plays in the new CCSS and NGSS. The long-term goal of the initiative is to increase recognition that learning the language of each academic discipline is essential to learning content.

Language demands such as obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information; articulating and building on ideas; constructing explanations; engaging in argument from evidence and other language-rich performance expectations permeate the new Standards.  This project will provide seamless connections of the standards by connecting them all together (including WiDA) so that consumers may work to support and have success with linguistically diverse children. For more information about this work, go to http://ell.stanford.edu/.

Suggestions for Improvement
Upon a review of the Next Generation Science Standards, this author felt that the standards are, generally, developmentally appropriate by grade level and that they do contain many language connections through the “Practices of Science and Engineering” portion. The color-coded format of the standards is easy to read and support materials for the content are outlined with connections to CCSS in Language Arts and Mathematics. The general structure is very user friendly. Two concerns are readily apparent with the NGSS:

  1. reducing the emphasis on inquiry from the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996) throughout the document, and
  2. the lack of explicit nature of science in general.

Both of these concerns have been pointed out by numerous reviewers of the NGSS.

There are two primary additions that could be made with minimal effort to the NGSS that would help teachers work with linguistically diverse children:

  • Highlight the academic vocabulary. With this vocabulary highlighted, teachers would know what words will be on the tests. A link to definitions and a matrix so that teachers can see how academic vocabulary is scaffolded from the early grades to older grades and how that relates to the conceptual development of the same standards would also be helpful.
  • Include a link to language standards. This author suggested that a link also be made to the WiDA 2012 English Language Development standards in the “Connections Box” where there are links to the CCSS in Language Arts and Mathematics. This would greatly help teachers working with English learners to find ways to build the language domains for their students at appropriate levels.

Conclusion
The NGSS add a dimension of learning for all children that provides a context for understanding science and language through purposeful and meaningful interactions with scientific phenomena. TESOL members will find the NGSS an important document in helping linguistically diverse children acquire both content and the English language.  

Note: A significant portion of this column was retrieved from the Next Generation Science Standards Web site.  Please visit nextgenscience.org for updates, details and the final release of the standards.


References

Achieve, Inc. (2012). Next Generation Science Standards. Retrieved from http://www.nextgenscience.org/.

National Research Council (NRC). (1996). National Science Education Standards. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

National Research Council (NRC). (2011). A Framework for K-12 Science Education. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.


Resources

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) (2009).  Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/.
 
Understanding Language project (2012). Stanford University. Retrieved from http://ell.stanford.edu/.

World Class Instructional and Design and Assessment (WiDA). (2012). English Language Proficiency Standards.  Retrieved from http://wida.us/standards/elp.aspx.

____________________________

Dr. David T. Crowther is a professor of science education at the University of Nevada, Reno.   Dr. Crowther has 19 years of teaching experience at the university level, and teaches science methods, general biology for education majors, and graduate courses in curriculum, science education, and research. He is the coauthor and editor of Science for English Language Learners from NSTA Press, and his current research interests involve teaching science through inquiry to develop English language acquisition for English language learners, inquiry content instruction within general biology at the university level, and general methods of inquiry science teaching at the graduate and undergraduate level.  

This article was first published in the July 2012 issue of TESOL Connections.
 

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Table of Contents
TC Homepage
A Glance at the CCSS
CCSS: What's Happening for ELLs?
Standards That Impact ELLs
CCSS & TESOL Standards
TESOL & the NG Science Standards
Association News
Resources
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Assistant Director, University of Colorado Denver, ESL Academy, Denver, Colorado, USA

Assistant Director, American Language Institute, University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio, USA

Director of Studies, Australian Centre for Education, Cambodia

ESL Specialist, American Language Institute, Toledo, Ohio, USA


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