Affordances of engineering with English learners

Christine M. Cunningham, Gregory J. Kelly, Natacha Meyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


In this position paper, we draw from previous research and theoretical developments in the field to propose a set of affordances of engineering with English learners (ELs). Students learning both the language of instruction (e.g., English) and academic subject matter (e.g., engineering, mathematics, science) face the challenge of making sense of linguistically complex terminology of disciplinary knowledge. We posit that engineering provides a unique set of benefits for such learners due to a number of factors associated with the discipline of engineering, including the materiality of the knowledge, the potential for multimodal communication, and the contextualization of knowledge in specific task-oriented activities. We also recognize that engineering benefits from participation by diverse learners including ELs as solutions are strengthened by a multitude of ideas and perspectives. Although this paper focuses on ELs, we recognize that such affordances are also valuable for all students, including native English speakers, and that they may be particularly important for students who may benefit from additional linguistic supports for developing academic literacies. We identify the affordances, anchoring them in elementary classroom experiences and teacher testimonials, and propose a research agenda for future study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-280
Number of pages26
JournalScience Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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