A model for developing academic language proficiency in English language learners through instructional conversations

Date of Completion

January 1999


Education, Language and Literature|Education, Bilingual and Multicultural




The poor English academic performance of Hispanic ELLs is well documented (Brisk, 1998; Green, 1998). Although a number of effective teaching practices have been suggested as a means to language development in ELLs (Chamot, 1995; Richard-Amato, 1996), less consideration has been given to the development of cognitive academic language proficiency within content area instruction such as social studies to improve their English academic discourse (Goldenberg, 1991; Tharp & Gallimore, 1988). ^ This study addresses this need. Specifically, it examined the role of the IC as an innovative teaching strategy for ELLs within a charter high school social studies class. This strategy is grounded in bilingual education and social constructivist theory, recognizing that students from various cultures regardless of background, ethnicity, or social class, construct their knowledge socially (Atwater, 1996). ^ This study examined the emic view of academic discourse using an ethnographic approach to discourse analysis developed from a conceptual framework proposed by Gee and Green (1998). The researcher videotaped, and rated a series of ICs conducted with a group of 10th grade Hispanic ELL students. The academic discourse produced by each IC was transcribed and analyzed from a sociocultural perspective. ^ The analysis process resulted in the following conclusions. First, ICs seem to be constructed from many smaller more focused ICs. Second, the turn-taking patterns of ICs appear to be different that those of the teacher-centered classroom. Third, the prior knowledge of students about the content discussed in the IC appears to be important to the success of the IC. Fourth, the teacher must have a strong understanding of the content presented, the sociocultural background of the students, and questioning skills. Fifth, there appears to be a relationship between the amount of student talk time and the IC rating Scale score. Sixth, the development of a ZPD appears to be important to the development of the IC. Seventh, ICs appears to enhance student's ability to make connections between current and past learning. Eighth, establishment of a thematic focus, and maintaining it, appear to be important to the creation of connected discourse. ^