Influences of Classroom-level Social Settings on Language and Content Learning in Linguistically Diverse Classrooms


Children from bilingual or non-English-speaking families comprise almost one-fifth of the U.S. school-age population (U.S. Dept. of Ed., 2012), and approximately 13% of all K-12 students are classified as English language learners (U.S. Dept. of Ed., 2013). As these students comprise an increasingly larger proportion of the overall K-12 population, becoming part of what Enright (2011) calls the “new mainstream,” understanding how to effectively develop these students’ linguistic repertoires and support them in fulfilling their academic potential has never been more important.

Students who are developing English as an additional language in school contexts require specialized instruction that allows them to learn content while still developing the language through which the content is taught. This is increasingly challenging as children move into the upper grades where the learning of academic content across subjects – and students’ ability to demonstrate that learning – rely heavily on the development and use of increasingly sophisticated and discipline-specific language. Thus, the new mainstream requires an understanding of, and capacity to shape intentionally, the classroom-level, teacher-student, and peer interactions that contribute to language development and content learning.

This research, supported by the William T. Grant Foundation, focuses on understanding classroom-level social settings in which English language learners, along with their English-only and bilingual peers, learn alongside each other in middle school classrooms. Our mixed-methods project uses classroom observations, interviews, and surveys to explore how peer interactions and relationships in the classroom influence learning and development, and whether certain teacher or classroom features help to support beneficial social network dynamics in classrooms.