In which Carrie comments on English Language Learners and one of their unique contributions to American education…
Sheltered instruction, like some pedagogy terms, was one I never really understood until last week when it was defined as “using different cueing systems and scaffolds like written directions, demonstrations, gestures, slower pace, and repetitions.” (Hill, 2013). This particular writing prompt treats sheltered instruction as a rare and hard-to-come-by practice by asking to describe how it is different from “typical classroom instruction.” At least, this is the assumption I make. And in this assumption I cite the trend that says that teachers often teach how they were taught.
When I consider what the rest of the world assumes to be good teaching – and by rest of the world I mean those without formal training in education or presentation strategies – I think they mean the “stand and deliver” method where the teacher talks and the students listen. This emphasis placed on the “sage on the stage” is what we may call traditional, or typical, classroom instruction. This is what sheltered instruction is not.
Sheltered instruction, however can still embody the appearance of a teacher-centered modality, only any outside observer will see that the students would not be falling asleep. While the ELLs are benefiting from repetition, gestures, and other methods serving as context clues, like realia, the general education students are benefiting from a supreme lack of boredom. An outside observer might evaluate such a sage as charismatic, or connected with her students, but really what the observer would be noticing is student-centered practice masked as the teacher standing and delivering.
Additionally, once a teacher tires of being at the front of the classroom, she can engage her mainstream and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLDs) students in experiments using manipulatives in math or real artifacts for literature and social studies or chemicals as in science. In fact, if we used a “typical” science classroom (and one hopes it is no longer without labs, though perhaps in science classrooms with pressed budgets), our outside observer would agree with author Holly Hanson-Thomas (2008) where she writes, “By virtue of its motivating, interactive, hands-on nature, science is a course in which ELLs are often successful.” I know that my career highlight experience (so far) with a science education organization, Wolftree, Inc., gave me numerous models for integrating potentially motivating, interactive, and hands-on models and materials into my future English and ELL classrooms. I teach how I taught with them.
So, thank goodness for ELL students. Without the light they shine on our deficits we may have been stuck in the dark ages of traditional teaching forever. It is a pity we have for so long, and that it wasn’t until ELLs have shown us we were not using our best possible practices that we were inspired to do so. So if sheltered instruction is “just good teaching” what is the big deal? It must be that it isn’t yet the “typical” which gives us reason to make it so.
Hanson-Thomas, H. (2008). “Sheltered Instruction: Best Practices for ELLs in the Mainstream.” Kappa Delta Pi record. Summer 2008. pp. 165-169.
Hill, C. (2013). Classroom lecture. TCE – Instructional Approaches for P- 12 ELLs