It is rocket science: New ELSF Science Guidelines help design science materials with Multilingual Learners in mind

October 26, 2022

ELSF has published new Science Guidelines for multi-language learners to develop their scientific literacy.

Since the release of the Next Generation Science Standards, there has been an increasing commitment to foregrounding equity and literacy in science classrooms that is driving initiatives in both curriculum development and professional learning. However, science teachers across the country repeatedly express dissatisfaction with the quality of their materials in helping multilingual learners thrive academically. It is clear that there is a great need for science-specific guidance to design high-quality instructional materials that are truly inclusive of the diversity of students in today’s classrooms and help close the persistent gaps we see in educational opportunities for multilingual learners.

In our blog last spring, we described our collaboration with educators and experts in the field as the first step in the development of a comprehensive set of Science Guidelines. While this input from experts provides the foundation, we also acknowledge that it is crucial that these guidelines are useful for their intended audience–content developers.

Over the last few months, we engaged in a pilot of the Science Guidelines with a content developer to put them to the test. Overall, we were overwhelmed by the positive response. The content developer team reported that they “really appreciate[d] the Guidelines”, describing them as “well-written” and “clear” and expressing excitement at “incorporat[ing] right away in my teaching.” There was unanimous agreement that the Guidelines not only provided an essential structure for them to make sense of ELSF’s feedback of their own instructional materials, but could also be used on their own to truly understand what needs to be included in materials that support multilingual learners.

The Science Guidelines are quite comprehensive. Yet, the content developer team still recommended we not remove or simplify any guidelines. In response to our question, they said:

“It is important to say [to content developers], ‘All of this stuff is important. We know it’s really hard. It is rocket science. That’s what teaching is. It is not about checking all these boxes, but it is about being cognizant of all these things, and permanently cognizant. It is about doing our best to reach these goals.’”

This feedback from the pilot with a content developer team helped us make small edits for clarity but more importantly, it helped us understand that one aspect of the guidelines in particular lays the foundation for all the others–the interdependence of science and language learning–and thus should be front and center. One content developer writer reported, “I knew that language was a big part of understanding new concepts, but I never thought about language-learning as an integral goal with respect to our resources.” As we continued to discuss specific shifts this developer could make in terms of the rest of the Guidelines, it became clear that all could be tied back to this key learning.

While this pilot did not illuminate any major changes to the Guidelines themselves, it did solidify a critical need we often hear from content developers–that in addition to ELSF feedback, they need more support in using the guidelines to design or improve their instructional materials with multilingual learners in mind. We consistently heard from all members of the content developer team that while the Guidelines are a good document for educators and developers that are already entrenched in this work, “content developers who don't [yet] know how to support MLLs might have a hard time operationalizing the high level feedback that one can get from assessing their materials using the guidelines.” They asked for training to further unpack the guidelines, more examples, and supportive exercises to help them turn ELSF feedback into action.

ELSF is responding to this need by developing professional learning experiences explicitly aimed at supporting content developers to understand and operationalize the ELSF Guidelines, not only in Science, but in Math and ELA as well. Sign up for our newsletter and check out our Save the Date for a 4-hour Mini-Institute that will be held on January 31, 2023. The virtual mini-institute is intended to support content developers in using all three Guidelines - Math, ELA and Science - to put multilingual learners at the forefront of their curriculum design. In the Summer of 2023, we will also be hosting a more comprehensive professional learning experience that will allow content developers to dive even more deeply into how to operationalize five focus areas when designing and refining instructional materials in Math, Science, and ELA.

In the meantime, check out our recently released Science Guidelines and our materials’ review services. We look forward to continuing to work with you in realizing our common vision for every multilingual student to engage in science learning that allows them to thrive.

Lauren Stoll works at SCALE Science at Stanford University, focusing on NGSS-aligned curriculum, assessment, and professional learning development. Prior to her work at SCALE, she taught science in large and diverse urban public school districts in Oakland and Berkeley, California. Lauren’s experiences of making critical connections between theory and practice within her own classroom led her to a need to investigate how advances in curricular and assessment approaches can be a tool for social and racial empowerment on a broader scale. In her work as an education consultant, she seeks to blend her classroom experience, an expertise in the Next Generation Science Standards, and a grounding in equitable instruction to design materials that support all teachers and all students. She hopes these materials will support students’ science and language learning in integration by emphasizing and scaffolding language output for science-specific sense-making.


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