Acquisition of Academic Language in Mathematics and Science

Project Overview

While academic language development is critical for all students, supporting the acquisition of this type of discourse becomes essential for the increasing number of immigrant students enrolling in schools in the United States today. Statistics suggests that as this population grows, it continues to experience high rates of academic failure—44% of immigrant children do not complete high school (PEW Hispanic Center, 2002). These statistics, in addition to findings demonstrating that it takes English language learners (ELLs) from four to seven years to develop academic language, have led to the development of instructional programs that systematically integrate language and content objectives. Since 2007, our team has focused on the acquisition of content knowledge and academic language in science and mathematics for English language learners (ELLs). The research site is a 3-week summer school for students enrolled in the local school district’s Language Center (LC) program. The LC is structured as a “school-within a school” and aims at gradually transitioning ELL students into mainstream classrooms over a two to three-year period. The team has two foci at this time. A subgroup is investigating the student growth in mathematics. This is particularly interested in how the students think about using mathematics for communication and how they then actually use mathematics to communicate ideas. For more information contact Dr. Smith. Another subgroup is investigating students’ change in science content as measured on a retelling.

Research Team

Graduate Student Researchers
  • Allie Clary
  • Natalie Smith
  • Weinburgh, M.H., Silva, C. & Smith, K.H. (2014). Learning from fourth and fifth graders in a summer school for English language learners. In M. Diaz, C. Eick, and L. Diaz (Eds.) Science Teacher Educators as K-12 Teachers: Practicing what we teach (181-194). London: Springer Publishers.
  • Silva, C., Weinburgh, M. H. & Smith, K. H. (2013) Not just good science teaching: supporting academic language development. Voices in the Middle. 20(3), 34-42.
  • Silva, C., Weinburgh, M.H., Smith, K., Malloy, R. & Marshall (Nettles), J. (2012). Toward Integration: A Model of Science and Literacy. Childhood Education. 88(2). 91-95.
  • Weinburgh, M.H & Silva, C. (2012). An Instructional Theory for English Language Learners: The 5R Model for Enhancing Academic Language Development in Inquiry-Based Science. In Irby, B.J., Brown, G., Lara-Alecio, R. (Eds.) and J. Koch (Sect. Ed.) Handbook of Educational Theories. (pp. 293-304). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing Inc.
  • Weinburgh, M.H., Silva, C., Malloy, R., Marshall, J. & Smith, K. (2012). A Science Lesson or Language Lesson? Using the 5Rs. Science & Children. 49(9) 72-76.
  • Weinburgh, M. H. & Silva, C. (2011). Math, science, and models. Science & Children. 48(10) 38-42.
  • Weinburgh, M. H., & Silva, C. (2011) Integrating Language and Science: The 5Rs for English Language Learners. In Berlin, D. F. & White, A. L. (Eds.). Science and Mathematics: International Innovations, Research, and Practices (pp. 19-32). Columbus, OH: International Consortium for Research in Science and Mathematics Education.


  • Barsalou, L.W. (1999). Language comprehension: Archival memory or preparation for situated action. Discourse Processes, 28, 61-80.
  •  Gee, J. P. (2004). Language in the science classroom: Academic social languages as the heart of school-based literacy. In. E. W. Saul (Ed.). Crossing Borders in Literacy and Science Instruction. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.
  •  Lemke, J.L. (2007). The Literacies of Science. In. E. W. Saul (Ed.). Crossing Borders in Literacy and Science Instruction. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.
  • Pew Hispanic Center. (2002). Educational attainment: Better than meets the eye, but large challenges remain. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved July 5, 2007, from