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Sheltered Instruction

“It is our professional obligation to find ways to address the needs of all students in our classrooms.  We do not select our students and we cannot change them.  Rather, we have to consider the influences of our own practices and change these practices if they do not adequately meet students’ needs.”                                                                                    (Kersaint, Thompson, Petkova)


In order to best teach ELs, we need to understand their diverse backgrounds.  These learners bring a wide variety of educational and cultural experiences to the classroom as well as considerable linguistic differences.  Given the variability in these students’ backgrounds, it is clear that there is no simple solution.  ELs need different pathways for academic success.  One such pathway is sheltered instruction.

Sheltered Instruction (SI) is an approach for teaching content to English language learners (ELs) in strategic ways that make the subject matter concepts comprehensible while promoting the students’ English language development.  Through SI, designed by ESL professionals as well as content teachers, ELs participate in content courses with grade-level objectives delivered through modified instruction that makes the information comprehensible to the students. 

Sheltered instruction is taught by content area teachers rather than an ESL specialist and is beneficial to students of all levels of English proficiency.  SI extends the time students have for getting language support services while providing access to content subjects they will need for graduation.  SI is NOT simply a set of additional or replacement instructional techniques that teachers implement in their classrooms.  Instead, it draws from and complements methods advocated for both second language and mainstream classrooms.  

Instruction in a sheltered classroom follows a clear protocol in meeting the needs of ELs.  Each lesson is designed with the individual learner in mind.  Content objectives and language objectives are clearly defined, displayed, and reviewed for all students.  Teachers explicitly link concepts to students’ backgrounds, as well as connect new concepts to past learning.  Key vocabulary is emphasized – introduced, written, repeated and highlighted for students to see.  Speech is appropriate for students’ levels of proficiency and all tasks are clearly defined, explained, or modeled.  Content is adapted and scaffolded.  Students interact frequently in a variety of grouping configurations.  Activities are hands-on and provide ample opportunities for students to apply content and language knowledge- using ALL language skills.

Source: Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners: The SIOP Model, 3rd Edition, Echevarría, Voght, & Short (2008)