Title

Teaching STEM as a second language: Utilizing SLA to develop equitable learning for all students

Document Type

Article

Abstract

PurposeA review of current initiatives to increase science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) achievement among American youth and young adults reveals the presence of “IQism”. That is, whether such interventions are directed toward low-income minorities and/or the disproportionate number of higher-income youth who have selected liberal arts majors over an STEM major, the country has reserved STEM as a field for “the best and the brightest”. Utilizing the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, this article argues that STEM content is accessible to all students including those whose first language is informal rather than formal English. Based upon these premises, this conceptual paper aims to introduce the framework of Teaching STEM as a Second Language as a strategy for elevating STEM achievement among students who would otherwise be excluded from the STEM movement. Design/methodology/approachThis paper utilizes a review of both classic and current literature on second language acquisition to identify strategies that can be adopted by STEM instructors to increase STEM achievement among youth and young adults who are viewed as “average” and/or “below-average” academic performers. FindingsUsing quotes that confirm the thesis that STEM subject matter has been historically viewed as the domain of those whose cognitive skills place them among the “best and the brightest”, the second language acquisition (SLA) strategy of “scaffolding” is introduced as a pedagogy for producing “comprehensible output” when STEM content is taught to students whose first language is informal English. Constructivism, a concept currently used to guide the teaching of STEM contents is introduced as a framework that merges best practices in STEM and SLA. Using Cummins’ (1991) Common Underlying Proficiency Model, other strategies are also proposed for exporting SLA pedagogies and approaches to elevate equity in the quest to improve STEM achievement levels among youth and adults in the USA. Originality/valueSLA theories and concepts have not been applied as a potential tool for teaching STEM. This is a unique and powerful lens that can be used to more effectively support the needs of underrepresented populations. © 2016, © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.