Fostering Science Literacy Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Middle School Students
Most science education reform efforts are designed to promote science literacy for all students. In order for students to effectively apply abstract science concepts and knowledge to their lives, they must develop strong science literacy skills. Yet culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students, whose language and cultural backgrounds are different from mainstream American culture, often lack full access to all the educational avenues that would help them fully develop science literacy. Consequently, this dissertation explored and documented the ways educators have investigated and modified multiple aspects of science-based teaching and learning in order to benefit CLD students. This three-paper dissertation investigates three pedagogical approaches for supporting CLD students’ science literacy: culturally relevant pedagogy, translanguaging, and writing-to-learn. Research on these three pedagogical approaches is crucial for examining factors that affect CLD students in developing science literacy and providing recommendations on how to support them. To investigate CLD students’ experiences in-depth, this dissertation used a multiple-case study design to conduct analyses within each case as well as across all cases. The first paper investigated how middle school CLD students applied their family and cultural knowledge to learning science content in school. This study addressed the development of students’ science literacy by examining CLD students’ engagement with “HomeFun,” a set of culturally relevant activities. The second paper explored CLD students’ science literacy development in a translanguaging science classroom. By inquiring into participant students’ experiences with translanguaging and perceptions of its use, this study uncovered tensions between how translanguaging can facilitate students’ comprehension of science content while underscoring students’ desire to use English to improve their English language skills. The third paper examined how writing-to-learn can shape CLD students’ science literacy development. In a case study of six CLD students’ experiences with writing and content analysis of their compositions, this study revealed how writing helped students develop their thinking, effectively facilitating knowledge transfer from school-based contexts to real-world ones. Together, these studies demonstrate the usefulness of culturally relevant pedagogy, translanguaging, and writing-to-learn for fostering CLD students’ science literacy. Furthermore, each study offers insight into influences on CLD students’ ability to develop science literacy, such as the importance of family engagement or the pervasive nature of school-based monoglossic language ideologies. The three pedagogical approaches effectively support students socially, culturally, and academically, to make meaningful connections between science concepts and the world around them. In exploring the application points of culture, language, and literacy within science-based learning, this research offers science educators new insights and educational practices in support of CLD students.