Inclusive science teaching in multilingual classrooms - a design study

Duration: 1 February 2018 – 31 January 2021

Nowadays, many primary classrooms across Europe include substantial numbers of students from multilingual or non-native language backgrounds. Providing high quality teaching in such heterogeneous classrooms is a major challenge facing primary education today. The aim of this project is to suport teachers in providing high quality education by investigating whether and how effective approaches can be shared and implemented across different national contexts of Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands.

The current projects zooms in on primary science and technology education, both as a challenge and as an opportunity for inclusive education. At the one hand, the domain of science and technology offers ample opportunity to create shared experiences, and to develop academic language competencies. At the other hand, in present day practice, students with a mother tongue other than the instructional language seem to be particularly disadvantaged in their understanding and use of the language of science, and this may seriously hamper their prospects for participation and employment.

While Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands face similar challenges in providing high quality science teaching for all, their approach differ markably. In Sweden and Norway we find explicitly multilingual approaches, offering students mother tongue teaching  and mother tongue support teachers, in Dutch educational practice such approaches are hardly found. Approaches that are being found in various forms across all three countries include language scaffolding  and genre pedagogy. Genre pedagogy provides a systematic way to talk about language, that can be adapted to the level of education. Furthermore, GP includes scaffolds that facilitate a gradual shift from dependency on the teacher to independent understanding and production of subject language in texts. Examples from the domain of science education include the ‘Seeds and Roots (S&R) program and the ‘Science Writing Heuristic’ (SWH). S&R includes scaffolds for reading, talking and writing science embedded in teaching materials, whereas SWH focuses on scaffolds for specific tasks such as writing a lab report.

We expect that it will be fruitful to share effective approaches across countries, as long as we take into account the different professional, organisational and policy contexts, including the teachers’ competencies and attitudes. As a consequence of these contextual differences, approaches may need to be adapted to the local context, specific professional development may be needed, and approaches may turn out more or less feasible in particular contexts. The project thus aims to contribute to inclusive science education through studying teachers’ classroom work across educational contexts, when provided with innovative tools to explore new science literacy approaches.

In each country, we will work with teachers in eight classrooms from our school networks to conduct design research where we will develop and evaluate language support strategies and professional development for specific science and technology contents. In each of the three countries, we will use the same set of science contents, in order to facilitate comparisons across cases.

The first phase of the project (Feb-Aug 2018) is to explore and describe the national curricula, and professional and organizational contexts, in order to arrive at requirements and design principles.

The second phase (Sept 2018-Dec 2019) is to collaborate with teacher in order to develop and evaluate science contents, supportive activities, and professional development.

The final phase (Jan 2020-Jan 2021) involves cross-case comparisons, and a survey among a wider group of teachers to corroborate the validity of findings from our case studies.


Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences
Malmö University


Nordforsk, project number 86052