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Knowing English is Not Enough! Cultivating Academic Literacies Among High School Newcomers

From: The High School Journal
Volume 96, Number 4, April/May 2013
pp. 339-357 | 10.1353/hsj.2013.0012



Secondary school teachers face remarkable challenges when they are asked to incorporate language objectives because the traditional approach to the education of English Language Learners (ELL) separates English language development from content instruction. The underlying assumption is that English language proficiency is a prerequisite for subject matter learning. Research shows this is a misconception. The qualitative research project described in this article investigated how a high school social studies teacher integrated language and content and how the newcomer students were able to demonstrate their understandings. Findings showed that the practice of historical inquiry through primary sources and document-based questions assisted students in developing English, academic vocabulary, and academic concepts in the learning of American history. In the spring of 2010, when the teacher deviated fromthe state's official curriculumthrough the use of digitized primary sources, notions of agency, empathy, and moral judgment played a significant role in the students' writings and use of historical reasoning. However, despite the use of historical inquiry and digitized primary sources, when there was tighter adherence to teaching the mandated curriculum in spring 2012, student expression and development of historical agency, empathy, and moral judgment was diminished or absent.

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