Evaluating Teaching Approaches For ELL Instruction

ELL wordle[An essay evaluating the Sheltered Instruction Approach to teaching second language learners and whether the Sheltered Instruction Approach is optimal for students and teachers.]

The last fifty years have seen attempts to consolidate methodology for teaching ELL/LEP students in America. Public schooling in the first half of the 19th century had no structure for immigrant instruction, and therefore no specified expectations for teaching ESL students. Then, upon the legislative onset of the Bilingual Education Act of 1968, bilingual instruction became the predominant method. But it didn’t’ last long. Since the collapse of bilingual instruction in several states toward the turn of the century, including Arizona, several alternatives have become more prominent to meet the need, namely, Sheltered Instruction (SI) and Structured English Immersion (SEI).

As far as I understand concerning the different methods for teaching ESL, I find an important distinction between sheltered instruction (SI) and structured English immersion (SEI), though they are commonly confused. Sheltered instruction refers to a classroom exclusive to ELL/LEP students with English-only instruction geared for their language learning needs. This places students with similar needs in the same classroom, sheltering them, as it were, from the toils of the mainstream classroom. The content is almost identical to mainstream classrooms.  Structured English Immersion refers to the same but in a mainstream classroom setting, where the ELL/LEP students immersed in an English-speaking context, interacting with peers who are native English speakers. The content is still there, though structured in such a way as to promote comprehension for language learners.

Rossell’s article appears to confuse these terms as interchangeable, while seeming to intend SI during her discourse throughout the piece. Even the Arizona ELL Task Force mistakenly defines SEI as an ELL-only classroom through a misinterpretation of A.R.S. 15-751 Section 5. Strictly speaking the Task Force  defined SI, whereas the Arizona Revised Statute simply provided guidelines required in an ELL classroom, leaving it ambiguous as to whether it would be an SI or SEI classroom. Perhaps this distinction has only developed in recent years (the two examples given were published between 2004-07), but I find the lack of consistency frustrating.

Even the very meaning of SIOP, which is short for sheltered instruction observation protocol, appears to give deference to the SI model as its core strategy, but that title is deceiving. For implementation is expected in both sheltered and structured mainstream classrooms, for “research shows that both language and content teachers can implement the SIOP Model fully to good effect” (Echevarria, Vogt & Short, 2008, p. 5); in the end, SIOP will integrate just as seamlessly with a mainstream SEI ‘content classroom’ than with an SI classroom that separates out  minority students.

Now, this distinction is important in our immediate context because I prefer the SEI method as the optimal approach, if used correctly. Preference is warranted for SEI over the SI model chiefly because of the peer-to-peer interaction. The immersion aspect has the most impact on natural language acquisition. Learning disjointed vocabulary will get to a certain point of understanding, but not sufficient enough for accelerated and organic language mastery. Cross-cultural training for a variety of job professions requires immersion in the language and culture.

One such profession, for example, is book translation. Accurate translation of complex topics from one language to another requires more than a thorough understanding of the language, but an intimate experience with how that language is currently being used, the current vernacular, and socio-cultural awareness. How do they behave? How do they think? What are their expectations about others or about life? What are their presuppositions? These are all essential for accurate understanding and you have to live with the people to acquire such understanding, and these are only experienced when ESL students are not separated from the rest of their classmates.


Echevarria, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D. (2008). Making content comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP Model (Custom ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Pearson Education Inc.

Rossell, C. (2005). Teaching English through English. Educational Leadership Journal, Dec 04-Jan 05, 32-36.

Arizona Department of Education, Arizona English Language Learners Task Force. (2009). Structured English immersion ELD models. Retrieved from website: http://www.azed.gov/english-language-learners/taskforce/


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