Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name



Curriculum and Instruction

First Advisor

Maria Ferreira


American classrooms are experiencing an influx of diverse language speaking students while for science educators the study of EBL students’ learning in science classrooms is a relatively new field (Lee & Buxton, 2010). At the same time there is a growing emphasis on the importance of science practices (NGSS). This poses significant challenges for science educators who are enacting science curriculum that supports all students’ learning. Supporting EBL students’ academic achievement is significant because literacy is important for students’ access to economic and social benefits that come with science literacy (Atwater, 1996).

The purpose of this study was to examine the socio-linguistic challenges that a specific group of EBL students (Yemeni) faced and the extent to which such challenges affected their academic performance in science. These challenges are related to linguistic and cultural interactions, which can lead to conflicts between student and school, thereby interfering with the effectiveness of their education. This study also examined these students’ and their science teacher’s perspectives on strategies that can be used to facilitate their language acquisition during science class and help them become active participants in the school and classroom communities.

The study used a qualitative interpretive research methodology and involved four Arab-American EBL students (two males and two females) from Yemen, who had been in the US for different periods of time. The amount of time these students had been in the US was important to examine differences in their acculturation and challenges they faced. Similarly, the use of female and male student participants was important to understand the impact of gender in the lived experiences of these students.

The results of the study indicated that all the participants struggled with linguistic, social, and cultural aspects of their life in an American high school. These in turn led to a sense of being different, which resulted in isolation from their non EBL peers. The female participants experienced additional struggles due to their unique dress code that set them apart from the other female students (including those from less strict Arabic cultures), and strict cultural and religious norms that forbade them from interacting with males or with females from cultures other than their own. All these issues influenced each other in different ways, resulting in limited opportunities to interact with others and develop language and cultural competency skills. The results also revealed that even though the school had a large percentage of EBL students from Middle Eastern countries, and the teacher was aware of his EBL students’ struggles and used effective science teaching methods, neither the school nor the teacher had put in place approaches that helped decrease cultural stereotypes among the various student groups and facilitate integration of their EBL students into the school community. As a result, it was difficult for the student participants to academically succeed when language and social and cultural barriers prevented them from feeling like they belonged. This lack of belonging caused the participants to develop a negative attitude towards the American culture, which helped shape their perception of their cultural identity as Arabs.