Sheltered Instruction and the English Language Learner

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Each year, the United States has become more ethnically and linguistically diverse, with more than 90 percent of recent immigrants coming from non-English speaking countries. There are currently more than 10.5 million school-aged children in the United States who live in homes in which a language other than English is spoken. Some of these students are fluent in English, while others are not (U.S. Census Bureau, 2005). Ensuring that students who are not fluent in English receive a quality education, and receive a quality education, and achieve the same academic success as their English proficient peers, is an essential part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as reauthorized by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), (U.S. Department of Education, 2007).

According to the National Clearinghouse for Language Acquisition (2007), data submitted by states indicate that there are approximately 5 million students classified as Limited English proficient (LEP) through their participation in a Title III assessment of English Language proficiency. According to the U.S. Census, LEP students are among the fastest-growing demographic group of students in the United States. While the overall school population has grown by less than 3 percent in the last 10 years, the number of LEP students has increased by more than 60 percent in that same time.

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While the number of students with limited proficiency in English has grown exponentially across the United States, their level of academic achievement has lagged significantly behind that of their language majority peers (Echevarria,Vogt, & Short, 2004). These findings reflect growing evidence that most schools are not meeting the challenge of educating linguistically and culturally diverse students well. This lack of success in educating ELLs is problematic because federal and state governments expect all students to meet high standards and have adjusted national and state assessments to reflect new levels of achievement and to accommodate requirements under the NCLB Act of 2001. In addition, the standards movement, which is sweeping the United States, has directly impacted the curriculum and methodology of K-8 ESL programs (Echevarria et al., 2008). Second language learners, as well as mainstream students, are now required to learn state-prescribed content curriculum and demonstrate this knowledge through performance on state-mandated tests. In addition, TESOL'S ESL Standards for Pre-K-12 students has focused attention on the learning needs of ELLs by bridging the gap between traditional ESL curriculum and the development of academic proficiencies (TESOL, 2007). Although these mandates will have a positive impact on the education of ELLs, they present instructional challenges to ELL and mainstream teachers who work with second language learners (Echevarria et al., 2008).

Once students have been identified as LEP using state-approved ELP assessment, their school districts must determine the type of research-based Language Instruction Educational Program (LIEP) for K-12 LEP students that will serve their students best. Title III requires districts to provide high quality LIEPs that are based on scientifically based research demonstrating the effectiveness of the program (National Clearinghouse for Language Acquisition, 2007).

One such program that focuses on developing literacy in English is Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP). Sheltered Instruction (SI) is not a program, it is a process of preparation, instruction and assessment that is centered on clearly communicated content and language learning targets. It is a process of teaching content to English Language Learners in a manner that will ensure their academic success while promoting their development of the English language. Sheltered Instruction is delivered to ELL students through relevant, meaningful, and comprehensible means. There is no set method(s) on how to shelter instruction; however, the goal of this process should be to ensure that whatever concept or learning objective is being taught to the students is clearly understood by them. Therefore, the instruction should be sheltered to the extent that it matches the students' language ability to understand the lesson. The term "sheltered" refers to the means for making academic content comprehensible for English learners while they develop English proficiency. Classrooms with sheltered instruction teaching methods may be used in self-contained ELL classes that contain both English speakers and English learners. The strategies identified in SIOP are crucial for English learners and may prove beneficial to other learners as well (Echevarria et al., 2008). The SI approach must not be viewed as a set of additional or replacement instructional techniques that teachers utilize in their classrooms. The sheltered approach draws from and compliments methods and strategies advocated for both second language and mainstream classrooms.

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The Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol provides concrete examples of the features of sheltered instruction that can enhance and expand teachers' instruction. SIOP organizes thirty features of good lessons for English learners into eight overarching components: Preparation, Building background, Comprehensible Input, Strategies, Interaction, Practice/Application, Lesson Delivery, and Review/Assessment. These components emphasize the instructional practices that are critical for ELLs as well as high-quality practices that benefit all students.

Lesson planning and preparation are critical to both the student's and the teacher's success. For optimum learning to take place, planning must produce lessons that will enable the students to make connections between their own knowledge and experiences, and the new information being taught (Bouchard, 2005). With careful planning, learning is made more meaningful and relevant by including appropriate motivating materials and activities that promote real-life application of concepts studied.

In effective instruction for ELLs, concrete content objectives that identify what students should know and be able to do should be the guiding force for teaching and learning. These objectives should support school-district and state-content standards and learning outcomes. Foe English learners, content objectives for each lesson need to be stated simply, orally and in writing, and tied to specific grade level standards (Echevarria & Graves, 2007). An effective lesson plan focuses on products and learning directly related to these objectives.

While carefully planning and delivering content objectives, sheltered instruction teachers should also incorporate in their lesson plans techniques that support students' language development (Short, 1999). As with content objectives, language objective should be stated clearly and simply both orally and in writing. A wide variety of language objectives can be planned according to the goals and activities in the lesson. Language objectives may focus on vocabulary development, reading comprehension skills practice, objectives that focus on functional language use, higher-order thinking skills, as well as specific grammar skills.

Planning should also involve careful consideration of the content concepts and grade-level content standards to be taught. In sheltered classrooms, this involves ensuring that although the material may be adapted to meet the needs of ELLs, the content should not be diminished. When planning lessons around content concepts, the following should be considered: (1) the students' first language literacy (L1), (2) their English proficiency level (L2), (3) their reading ability, (4) the cultural and age appropriateness of the L2 materials, and (5) the difficulty level of the material to be read (Gunderson, 1991).

Lesson preparation should also reflect the amount of background experience needed to learn and apply the content concepts, and include ways to activate students' prior knowledge. A reader's schema, or knowledge of the world, provides a basis for understanding, learning, and remembering facts and ideas presented. Students with knowledge of a topic have better recall and are better able to elaborate on aspects of the topic than those who have limited knowledge of topics (Hill, 2007).

Harrell & Jordan (2004) have suggested that when readers lack the prior knowledge necessary to read, three major instructional interventions need to be considered: (1) teach vocabulary as a prereading step; (2) provide experiences; and (3) introduce a conceptual framework that will enable students to build appropriate background for themselves. In sheltered instruction lessons for ELLs, teachers select words that are critical for understanding the text or material and provide a variety of ways for students to learn, remember, and use the words in meaningful contexts. There are multiple ways that background experiences can be created or ways that teachers can use the experiences that students bring. Connecting the students' own background experiences to the text, activating their background knowledge and presenting background information about the text to be read are all effective ways of increasing comprehension for ELLs. The third intervention, providing ways for students to build background knowledge, can be accomplished by teaching ELLs to use graphic organizers and other supplementary materials. Effective SI involves the use of many supplementary materials that support the core curriculum and contextualize learning (Echevarria et al., 2008). Supplementary materials provide a real-life context and enable ELL students to bridge prior experiences with new learning. These approaches can be used throughout a lesson and provide ways for making the text accessible for all students thereby adapting them so that the content concepts are left intact (Short, 1991).

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Effective sheltered instruction takes into account the unique characteristics of English learners. For ELLs, the teacher makes verbal communication more comprehensible by consciously attending to the students' linguistic needs. Making adjustments to speech so that the message to the students is understandable is referred to as comprehensible input (Krashen, 1985). In the SI classroom, teachers constantly modulate and adjust their speech when teaching ELLs to ensure that the context is comprehensible. Concepts are taught using a variety of techniques, including modeling, gestures, hands-on activities, and demonstrations, so that students understand and learn the content material. Effective SI teachers also provide explanations of academic tasks that make clear what students are expected to accomplish and that promote student success (Echevarria et al., 2008).

English learners benefit from structured opportunities to use and practice English in multiple settings and across content areas. According to Echevarria et al. (2008) studies have indicated, that in most classrooms, teachers dominate the linguistic aspects of the lesson, leaving students severely limited in terms of opportunities to use language in a variety of ways. In the SI classroom, content classes are structured so that students are interacting in a collaborative investigation of a body of knowledge. This SIOP element emphasizes the importance of balancing linguistic turn-taking between the teacher and students, and among students. Students benefit from using and practicing English as a means of expressing their ideas, opinions, and answers. SI lessons are structured in ways that promote student discussion and they strive to provide a more balanced linguistic exchange between students and their teachers. Teachers in Sheltered Instruction classrooms must create multiple opportunities for ELL students to use the English language in order to expand their verbal and written responses. ELL students will only become proficient in English if they practice the language in authentic situations. Frequent practice reduces students' anxiety while participating in class discussions and encourages them to take risks in using the language (Herrell et al., 2004).

Incorporating a number of grouping configurations into lessons often facilitates using English in ways that also supports the lessons' objectives. Sheltered Instruction classes are characterized by a variety of grouping structures, including individual work, partners, triads, small groups of four, cooperative learning groups, and whole groups (Hill, 2007). Groups may also vary in that they may be homogeneous or heterogeneous by gender, language proficiency, language background, and/or ability. Using a variety of grouping strategies helps to maintain students' interest and increases their involvement in the learning process. It also increases the chance that a student's preferred mode of instruction, or learning style, will be matched (Echevarria et al., 2004).

Practice and application of newly acquired skills are needed for ELL students to ensure mastery of content concepts. In the SI classroom, for students acquiring English, the need to apply the new information is important because discussing and doing make abstract concepts concrete (Echevarria et al., 2007). Application can occur in a number of ways, such as clustering, using graphic organizers, solving problems in cooperative learning groups, writing in journals, and discussion circles (Bouchard, 2005). These activities involve ELLs in relevant, meaningful application of what they are learning. For English learners, application must also include opportunities for them to practice language knowledge in the classroom. Opportunities for social interaction promote language development can be achieved through discussion, working with partners and small groups and reporting out information orally and in writing (Bouchard, 2005).

Reading, writing, listening, and speaking are complex, cognitive language processes that are interrelated and integrated (Echevarria et al., 2004). Sheltered Instruction creates opportunities for ELLs to practice and use all four domains in an integrated manner. ELLs benefit from multiple experiences that incorporate reading, promote interactions with others, provide the chance to listen to peers' ideas, and encourage writing about what it is that they are learning. Also, by teaching through students' preferred learning styles and encouraging students to practice and apply new knowledge through multiple language domains, they will have a more opportunities to develop their language and content area knowledge.

Effective teachers of sheltered instruction incorporate review and assessment into their daily lessons. In SI classrooms it is important to determine how well ELL students have understood and retained key vocabulary and content concepts. Students, especially those at the early stages of English proficiency, devote considerable time and energy into figuring out what the teacher is saying or the text is telling them at a basic level (Echevarria et al., 2004). Because of this, they are much less able to determine which information among all they input they are receiving is most important to remember. Teachers must therefore take the time to review and summarize throughout the lesson not just at the end as a wrap-up activity.

SI helps students develop key vocabulary by teaching and then reviewing terminology and concepts through analogy and relating newly learned words to other new words with the same structure or patterns. Reviewing vocabulary also involves drawing students' attention to tense, parts of speech, and sentence structure. Repeating and reinforcing language patterns helps ELLs become familiar with English structures. In addition, multiple exposures to key vocabulary also build familiarity, confidence, and English proficiency. The more exposure students have to new words, especially if the vocabulary is reinforced through multiple modalities, the more likely they are to remember and use them (Herrell et al., 2004). Students may draw a picture to depict a concept or to remember a word. ELLs can demonstrate word meaning through physical gestures or act out several words within the context of role play. Activities that engage students in interactive practice with words are effective ways to promote academic language development for ELL students (Echevarria et al., 2007).

Just as it is important to review key vocabulary throughout a lesson, it is also essential that English learners have key content concepts reviewed during and at the end of a lesson (Echavarria et al., 2004). Understandings are scaffolded in SI lessons when teachers stop and briefly summarize, along with the students' participation, the key content covered to that point in the lesson. Students can also summarize with partners, write in journals, or perhaps list key points on the board. For ELLs, it is important to link the review to the content objectives so that the students stay focused on the essential content concepts of the lesson (Echavarria et al., 2008).

Assessment occurs throughout a lesson to determine if students are understanding and applying language and content objectives. Assessment must be linked to the instruction and needs to target the lesson objectives. Just as students need to know what the objectives are, they need to be informed about how and what type of assessments they will have. Toward the end of the lesson, students' progressed is assessed to determine whether it is appropriate to move on or to review and reteach. Assessments can be informal, authentic, multidimensional, and include multiple indicators that reflect student learning, achievement, and attitudes (Hill, 2007). As teachers in SI classrooms prepare for formal and informal assessments, it is important to note that language and content are intertwined in sheltered classes, separating one from the other in the assessment process can be difficult but necessary. When students demonstrate difficulty or lack of performance, teachers need to determine if it is the content that has not been mastered, or if it is a lack of English proficiency that is interfering with their acquisition and application of information. By planning multiple assessments such as performance based tasks, portfolios, journals and projects, in addition to more formalized tests, students are given opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge much more fully. Assessment variety is important for ELLs because they are often unfamiliar with the type of standardized tests required in U.S. schools and may have different testing and learning styles.

Finally, to the extent possible, students should be evaluated on their personal progress to determine if learning has taken place. In SI classrooms, where students often have different levels of English language proficiency, the value of multiple assessments becomes apparent. If teachers gather baseline data on what their students know and can do with the content information before instruction occurs and then what they know and can do afterwards, this can lead to supportive feedback, and can provide for fair and comprehensive judgments about student performance.

In SI classrooms, there is a high level of student engagement and interaction with the teacher, with other students, and with text, which leads to elaborated discourse and critical thinking (Echevarria et al., 2008). ELL students are explicitly taught functional language skills as well as how to negotiate meaning, confirm information, argue, persuade, and disagree. Teachers of SI introduce students to the classroom discourse community and demonstrate skills such as taking turns in a conversation and interrupting politely to ask for clarification. Through instructional conversation and meaningful activities, students practice their English and content knowledge. Sheltered instruction, specifically SIOP, is characterized by careful attention to Ells distinctive second language development needs (Echevarria et al., 2007).

Sheltered instruction plays a major role in a variety of educational program designs (Genesee, 1999). It may be part of an ESL program, a late-exit bilingual program, a two-way bilingual immersion program, a newcomer program, or a foreign language immersion program. For students studying content-based ELL courses, SI often provides the bridge to the mainstream and the amount of SI provided should increase as students move toward transition out of these programs. According to Echevarria et al. (2008) any program in which students are learning content through a non-native language should use the sheltered instruction approach.

References

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