Investigating scaffolding strategies for promoting reasoning-based, collaborative discourse with linguistically diverse learners in the mainstream classroom
Mikelis, Stephanie V.
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The Common Core State Standards (CCSS, 2012) call for shifts in teaching and learning, emphasizing diverse students’ complex uses of language and skilled articulation of reasoning in collaborative discussion settings. Concurrently, it is becoming increasingly common for English Learners (ELs) to be educated in mainstream classrooms alongside their English-proficient peers, raising the challenge for teachers to effectively mediate these new standards into practice for all students. This design-based research study, grounded in sociocultural theory, was carried out in collaboration with two classroom teachers. The study focused on the implementation of discussion scaffolding strategies, including academic language functions (e.g., language used by students to tell, restate, build on, or challenge). The analysis investigated shifts in both whole class discourse and the discourse of four English learners in the classroom over a seven-month period. Qualitative and quantitative analyses of eight audio-recorded discussion transcripts examined shifts in student talk, with particular attention to (a) participation, (b) reasoning, (c) collaborative talk, and (d) use of academic language for engaging in dialogue with peers. Analyses revealed that as teachers successively introduced the four categories of talk moves, students engaged in significantly more reasoned, collaborative talk. Over time, students also used the academic language stems with greater frequency and exhibited increased autonomy in reasoned-focused, collaborative talk. Additionally, collective reasoning (prompted by instructional moves designed to have students think with others) appeared to promote individual reasoning, as shown by higher instances of reasoning words used by students. Shifts in talk for EL students were similar to those of the whole class, with key differences being how ELs were afforded additional opportunities for second language development in the context of discussion: ELs had a chance to listen to and express complex reasoning, extended discourse, and relevant language functions in contextualized ways. They engaged in meaningful and sustained interactions with English-proficient peers. Finally, ELs connected new learning with their prior knowledge and experience. These findings pose important considerations for implementing standards in ways that support reasoning-based, collaborative discourse for all students—while simultaneously affording ELs learning opportunities for developing language proficiency and disciplinary knowledge in an equitable learning environment.