CREATE Years 5-6: Project QuEST, Quality English and Science Teaching

Diane August, Ph.D.
Senior Research Scientist, Center for Applied Linguistics

Annie Duguay
Center for Applied Linguistics

Jennifer Powell
HILT (High Intensity Language Training) Science Specialist for Arlington Public Schools in Arlington, Virginia

Project QuEST (Quality English and Science Teaching) investigated a systematic intervention to concurrently develop science content knowledge and language and literacy skills in middle school English learners.


The overarching goal of this project was to improve the academic language of English learners and their English-proficient peers and concurrently build their science knowledge.

Many students reach the middle grades (4–8) without the academic language needed to successfully learn from grade-level text (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004). English learners in the middle grades are particularly subject to experiencing gaps in their reading comprehension and content area achievement (August & Shanahan, 2006; Biancarosa & Snow, 2004; U.S. Department of Education, 2003, 2007). In the United States, student performance on the science portion of the Trends of International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) shows that 4th graders demonstrated better overall performance than their 8th grade compatriots; American 4th graders also fared better than American 8th graders when compared with grade-level peers internationally (Gonzales, Williams, Jocelyn, Roey, Kastberg, & Brenwald, 2007). Moreover, within the U.S., while other ethno-racial performance gaps (Black/White, Asian/White) on the science measure narrowed between 1999 and 2007, the gap between White and Hispanic students remained the same. Meanwhile, on the 2011 science NAEP, while the average scale score on the grade 8 assessment for students who were not English learners was 154 (out of 300 possible points), the average scale score for English learners was 106 (NCES, 2011). On the reading NAEP, a similar gap existed with the average scale score for students who are not English learners at 267 (out of 300 possible points), compared to 224 for English learners (NCES, 2011). Despite these challenges, at the time of this project, there was very little experimental research on effective science interventions for students in the middle grades who are English learners. This was particularly the case for science interventions that also developed students’ academic English in the context of science instruction. Building on effective science practices for English-proficient students, such as inquiry-based learning, is a good starting place, but may not be adequate for boosting science achievement and developing students’ academic language.

As part of the two-year schoolwide CREATE intervention, the Quality English and Science Teaching (QuEST) intervention integrated best practices in science instruction used in classrooms for English-proficient students with scaffolding techniques that supported students learning content in their second language, following promising results from other studies (August, Branum-Martin, Cardenas-Hagan & Francis, 2009; Greenleaf et. al., 2011; Lee, Maerten-Rivera, Penfield, LeRoy & Secada, 2008; Lee, Deaktor, Enders, & Lambert, 2008b). While focusing on grade-level science concepts, QuEST materials ensured that content delivered in a second language was comprehensible for language learners and that the students had opportunities to develop their English academic language in the context of content area instruction.

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Research Questions

An overriding principle in our research was that successful interventions must be effective for English learners, but must not disadvantage English-proficient students who are educated in the same classrooms. Because English-proficient students and English learners are most often together in the same classrooms in the middle grades, both groups of students were incorporated in our study designs, and we explicitly tested for interactions of language status with experimental and traditional forms of instruction. If interventions that have been developed for English learners have a negative impact on English-proficient students, then teachers and schools face a hidden cost of implementing these interventions in schools where classrooms are mixed, and these costs must be made clear. We were also interested in whether fuller implementation of our intervention would lead to enhanced student outcomes. Our research studies were designed to answer these important questions:

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Research Design

CREATE’s two-year integrated program of research focused on the development of science, language arts, and social studies knowledge and skills in 7th grade students, building on individual studies on English learner education in these content areas. As part of the two-year schoolwide program of research, teachers in the intervention schools received Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) Model professional development. The SIOP Model is a research-based lesson planning and delivery model that has proven effective in meeting the needs of English learners in academic content instruction. Intervention teachers also received professional development on the project curriculum and coaching sessions throughout the implementation period, as well as enhanced curriculum in language arts, social studies, and science. Based on the first four years of individual research (see Studies 1 and 2), QuEST focused on the development of science knowledge and academic language in English learners and their English-proficient classmates. In the first year of the integrated project (Study 3), the sample consisted of 8 schools, 19 teachers (of whom 9 were intervention teachers) and 2,246 students. Teachers were randomly assigned to either the treatment or the control condition (the control consisted of implementing the standard district curriculum). In the second year (Study 4), the 10 teachers who participated as control teachers during Study 3 taught in intervention classrooms, with a total of 1820 students. This allowed for a direct comparison between their traditional instructional methods in the first year of the study and the intervention methods during the second year when the Study 3 control teachers were implementing QuEST. In both studies, the intervention consisted of 12 units of curriculum delivered over approximately 15 weeks. Students were administered pre- and post-tests to measure both science content knowledge and academic English skills.

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Seventh Grade QuEST Curriculum

The QuEST curriculum was aligned with the Texas science content standards and the Texas College and Career Readiness Standards (Texas Education Agency, 2009), covered the same content as was taught during seventh grade science in the school district, and drew on resources that were available in the regular classrooms, including the textbooks and district science labs. As was the case with the district curriculum, QuEST intervention materials and instructional practices used a highly rated inquiry-based approach to teaching science to monolingual English speakers called the “7E” approach to learning: elicit, engage, explain, explore, elaborate, evaluate, and extend (Eisenkraft, 2003). Examples of science content instruction include hands-on investigations, teacher demonstrations, outdoor observations, and multi-media guided learning. The QuEST curriculum, covering 5-week units in Earth Science and Life Science, consisted of two longer content lessons and one review lesson per week. In addition to this grade-level science instruction, the QuEST curriculum was modified to make grade-appropriate content delivered in English comprehensible to English learners and to develop students’ academic language while they were learning science content. Scaffolds for English learners included the use of content and language objectives; graphic organizers; concept maps; explicit vocabulary instruction; bilingual personalized glossaries; and a highly visual presentation. Additionally, students participated in a shared interactive reading of selections of the textbook that were highly aligned to lesson concepts. Prior to the shared reading, teachers read a guiding question to prompt the students to predict the main idea of the passage. During the shared interactive reading, vocabulary words were highlighted and explained, science content was clarified, and students engaged in partner talk to build their oral language skills and reading comprehension. Teachers also built oral language through the questions they posed to students; the manner in which they responded, clarifying and elaborating on student responses; and the intentional fostering of student interactions through pairing English learners with students who were more proficient in English. The curriculum involved a multi-pronged approach to vocabulary instruction. In addition to preteaching specific science terms, teachers taught general academic words (implement, measure, identify) with visual word cards that placed the words in a context. Students also learned strategies to improve word learning (i.e., drawing on cognate knowledge and using root words, base words, and affixes), build comprehension (i.e., summarizing and questioning the author), and engage in higher order thinking.

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Lesson Plans

Each QuEST content lesson followed the 7E model and included the following stages, as adapted for English learners:


Description and sample activities


Teachers elicit students’ prior knowledge of the daily lesson topic and introduced the content and language objectives


Students are hooked into the lesson topic through quick demonstrations, interesting readings, provocative discussion questions, video clips or other graphic displays.


Students learn the models, laws, or theories behind the lesson topic and related vocabulary terms.


Students are involved in hands-on activities to directly work with key lesson concepts. Graphic organizers help students record information learned during the experiments, including graphing and summarizing results. Depending on the lesson topic, this stage sometimes prior to the Explain stage, in keeping with the inquiry model.


Students formalize their understanding of the concepts and gives them opportunities to deepen this knowledge by applying the knowledge or skills to new concepts.


This stage consists of ongoing informal and formal assessments of both language and content. Students complete cloze sentences reviewing key science concepts and enter notes in their weekly vocabulary glossaries which help to reinforce the vocabulary that students have learned through the hands-on activities and guided reading (each entry included a visual image, an English definition, a Spanish translation, cloze sentences to complete, and space for children to write notes or make a sketch).


Students refine their understanding with further readings, solved word problems related to the lesson topic, or complete crossword puzzles with lesson vocabulary.

In addition to the content lesson described above, each week included a review lesson. Students reviewed the week’s lessons through interactive activities and took a formative assessment of science and vocabulary knowledge.

For examples of QuEST lesson plans and materials for grade 7 science:

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The QuEST studies made an important contribution to English learner education by exploring whether enhancements to traditional science instruction that included a concurrent focus on science and academic language development and scaffolding for comprehension were necessary or improved the traditional instructional practices for English learners. Additionally, QuEST investigated how these modifications influenced outcomes for English-proficient students who are often integrated in classrooms with ELLs. The findings were particularly timely given the requirements for incorporating academic language and literacy development into science content instruction as written in the Next Generation Science Standards (Achieve, 2012) and aligned with the Common Core State Standards. To our knowledge the QuEST project was one of only a few experimental studies that obtained statistically significant results on the acquisition of science content and academic language by English learners without hindering the grade-level content learning of English-proficient students (August, Branum-Martin, Cardenas-Hagan, & Francis, 2009). The results are promising as guidance for instructional practice because the gains were made in diverse classrooms with grade-level content concepts and authentic text.

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Achieve (2012). Next Generation Science Standards. May 2012 Draft. Achieve, Inc. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from:

August, D., Branum-Martin, L., Cardenas-Hagan, E., & Francis, D.J. (2009). The impact of an instructional intervention on the science and language learning of middle grade English language learners. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 2, 345-376.

August, D. & Shanahan, T. (Eds.) (2006) Developing Literacy in Second-language Learners: Report of the National Literacy Panel on Language Minority Children and Youth. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Biancarosa, G., & Snow, C. (2004). Reading next: A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy. Report to the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Eisenkraft, A. (2003). Expanding the 5E model. Science Teacher, 70(6), 56-59.

Gonzales, P., Williams, T., Jocelyn, L., Roey, S., Kastberg, D., and Brenwald, S. (2008). Highlights From TIMSS 2007:Mathematics and Science Achievement of U.S. Fourth- and Eighth-Grade Students in an International Context (NCES 2009–001 Revised). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

Greenleaf, C. L., Litman, C., Hanson, T. L., Rosen, R., Boscardin, C. K., Herman, J., Schneider, S. A., Madden, S., & Jones, B. (2011). Integrating literacy and science in biology: Teaching and learning impacts of reading apprenticeship professional development. American Educational Research Journal, 48(3), 647-717.

Guthrie, J.T., Wigfield, A., Barbosa, P.; Perencevich, K.C., Taboada, A. et al. (2004). Increasing Reading Comprehension and Engagement Through Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction, Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 403-423.

Lee, O., Deaktor, R., Enders, C., & Lambert, J. (2008b). Impact of a multi-year professional development intervention on science achievement of culturally and linguistically diverse elementary students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(6), 726-747.

Lee, O. (2005) Science Education with English language learners: Synthesis and research agenda. Review of Educational Research, 75 (4), 491-530.

National Center for Education Statistics (2011). NAEP Data Explorer. Institute of Education Sciences, Washington, D.C. Retrieved 8-22-12. Available from:

Texas Education Agency, Division of Curriculum (2009). Texas College and Career Readiness Standards. Retrieved 9-25-12. Available from:

U.S. Department of Education. (2003). The nation’s report card: Fourth-grade reading 2002. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

U.S. Department of Education. (2007). The Nation’s Report Card, Science, 2005 Snapshot Report.


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