Beyond Sentence Frames: Scaffolding Emergent Multilingual Students’ Participation in Science Discourse

The discipline of science provides rich opportunities for language development as students engage collaboratively to investigate and make sense of compelling phenomena. Drawing from a design research study conducted in fifth grade classrooms, we describe how teachers can support emergent multilingual students’ participation in science discourse. Attempts to support emergent multilingual students in content-area discussions often emphasize the use of sentence stems and frames. However, we illustrate how an emphasis on sentence frames can interrupt students’ collaborative sense-making when students and teachers focus on language forms and correct written products rather than on the process of dialogic sense-making. To move beyond sentence frames, we use transcripts to illustrate other more generative forms of scaffolding that support emergent multilingual students’ participation in science discourse and disciplinary practices. We describe how teachers can ground discussion in hands-on investigations, leverage multiple modalities for meaning making, and engage students in moving bidirectionally between writing and talk. These forms of scaffolding center emergent multilingual students in curricular design, rather than conceptualizing scaffolds as ancillary supports provided to certain students.