Schools today are charged with meeting the needs of each child: the average, the gifted, the special-needs student, the English learner. Our diverse classrooms make the job challenging, but through the implementation of research-based best practices, schools can meet these needs.

For English learners, research is scant on what works to close the achievement gap. However, two key ingredients are necessary: sheltered instruction and English language development.

How schools implement these two instructional pieces varies widely. Some schools are unaware of the need for each, some schools focus on one more than another, or omit one or the other. In this two-part series, sheltered instruction and English language development (ELD) will be explored.

Definition of terms

It is important that we are clear on the two concepts being discussed: sheltered instruction and English language development (ELD). The two are related, but vary to some degree.

Sheltered instruction refers to carefully scaffolding instruction to make the content accessible to English learners in content-area instruction. This includes carefully analyzing the language demands of the lesson and designing language objectives that will help students increase academic language proficiency.

In order to shelter instruction effectively, teachers need to make content comprehensible, scaffold content and language, and develop language objectives, as well as integrate language instruction and development in the classroom. Sheltered instruction should take place in each of the content-area classrooms where English learners are present and may additionally benefit students that struggle academically for a variety of reasons.

ELD refers to the specific language instruction English learners need in order to continue to learn English language skills. Other names and acronyms such as ESL, ESOL, TESOL and other terms are also used to discuss this concept.

According Saunders, Goldenberg and Marcelletti, ELD is “instruction that focuses specifically on helping English learners develop English language skills and that is delivered in a portion of the school day separate from the academic content that all students need to learn.”

The distinction between ELD and sheltered instruction is important. In ELD, English learners are explicitly taught the language skills needed to be successful in classrooms. The emphasis in ELD courses is on English language skills. Though the students may use content or content area topics as a vehicle, the learning and practice of language skill is the emphasis in these classrooms.

In sheltered instruction courses, the content is the focus, and the teacher uses strategies to make the content comprehensible while at the same time helping to develop academic English.

Claude Goldenberg recently reviewed research on sheltered instruction and found that little empirical research is available that demonstrates the effectiveness of sheltered instruction in terms of closing the achievement gap.

Two popular models of instruction — The SIOP Model and Project GLAD — will be explored in the next section of this article. These models are promising and have differing levels of research that support their implementation. However, much research in this field still needs to be done to determine the effectiveness of helping English learners reach academic English proficiency and closing the achievement gap.

Similarly, there is not a strong research base that focuses specifically on ELD in K-12 schools. Saunders, Goldberg and Marcelletti made a series of recommended guidelines for teaching ELD that are helpful, but urge that more research in this area is needed.

Sheltered content instruction: Project GLAD

Two popular models for meeting the needs of English learners in content-area classrooms are Project GLAD and The SIOP Model.

Project GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Design) is a language-to-literacy model that includes a set of specific strategies in six component areas: focus/motivation, input, guided oral practice, reading/writing, closure, and extended activities for integration.

The SIOP Model is composed of eight components, each with specific instructional features: lesson preparation, building background, comprehensible input, strategies, interaction, practice and application, lesson delivery, and review and assessment. Each model differs in the training approach, the instructional model and the research that supports the model.

Project GLAD has been implemented in classrooms primarily in the western part of the United States for more than 20 years. The model, developed by teachers Marcia Brechtel and Linnea Haley, is a culmination of strategies to help all students — especially English learners — gain high levels of academic content in a fun, interesting and engaging way, while at the same time developing academic language.

Project GLAD uses specific strategies in each of the component areas to demonstrate to teachers how to build integrated, thematic units in K-12 classrooms. The initial training model consists of three parts, starting with a two-day workshop that delves into the research and theories supporting Project GLAD, as well as a description of most of the strategies used in the model.

The second part of the training consists of a demonstration lesson, consisting of two trainers — one teaching a group of students, and one coaching the observing teachers in a grade-level classroom. The teacher-trainer uses Project GLAD strategies to teach a group of students an integrated, standards-based thematic unit over the course of five mornings while a group of up to 23 teachers watches.

During the instruction, the coach-trainer points out the strategies being used as well as the rationale and effect of the strategies on the students. Participants usually report great satisfaction in seeing the strategies being used with students, as they can see the intricacies of the strategies as well as the reactions of the students and changes in student behaviors and use of academic language and content.

The third part of the training consists of follow-up. Follow-up sessions are customized to the needs of the school or district and may consist of in-classroom co-teaching, unit and lesson planning, workshops, webinars and more. The training model, supported by the research of Joyce and Showers, leads to higher levels of implementation as participants are able to see the strategies in action with students and receive follow-up coaching and support.

One of the hallmarks of Project GLAD is that it provides teachers with specific strategies that can be incorporated into classroom instruction immediately. The strategies provided help lead students through a unit that leads to high levels of reading and writing.

For the past four years, Education Northwest has been conducting a research study funded by the Institute for Educational Sciences on the effectiveness of Project GLAD. IES’s rigorous research standards help educators implement what has been proven to work in education. Education Northwest has published findings from the first year of the study of Project GLAD, stating:

“We found that after one year of implementation ELLs in Project GLAD classrooms performed better in vocabulary, reading comprehension and two aspects of their essay writing (ideas and organization), compared to ELLs in control classrooms. We did not find meaningful differences in science, however. Non-ELLs in the Project GLAD and control classrooms generally performed similarly, suggesting that Project GLAD benefits ELLs while not holding back their non-ELL peers.”

This is promising given the rigorous research methods, but does indicate the need for additional services and strategies to close the achievement gap.

Sheltered content instruction: The SIOP Model

The SIOP Model is another popular model of professional development that was developed several years ago from a research project through the Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Equity (CREDE). Jana Echevarria, Mary Ellen Vogt and Deborah Short developed The SIOP Model by working with a group of teachers to determine what the necessary ingredients were for sheltered instruction in order to help English learners be successful.

The SIOP consists of eight components and 30 features. Different from Project GLAD, the SIOP is a framework of instruction and shares with teachers what the essential components and features of effective instruction are, rather than giving teachers a set list of strategies for use in the classroom.

The training model for the SIOP varies depending on the service provider, but the most popular model seems to be a two- or three-day workshop that shares with teachers the components and features of the model. Other offerings include extensions to the basic training, as well as trainings for administrators and coaches. At times there are demonstration lessons in classrooms, but these are not explicitly built into the training model as they are with Project GLAD.

The Center for Applied LinguisticsPearson and the authors of The SIOP Model have continued to do research on its effectiveness. Some of the research has shown positive results for implementation of The SIOP Model.

Recently, however, the Institute of Educational Sciences released its findings that the research that supports the SIOP does not meet their rigorous standards. This has led Goldenberg to state that the research behind the SIOP “has yet to demonstrate more than a very modest effect on student learning.”

Although there is not yet significant research that shows a profound effect for closing the achievement gap for English learners, it is clear that there is a need to do something to help this groups of students succeed.

At this point, sheltered instruction is the best-known methodology for helping close the achievement gap. What research has shown us is that effective practices that work with all students also work with English learners, but additional instructional supports through sheltered instruction are required.

Training needs and a call to action

While the number of English learners in schools has dramatically increased over the past several years, teacher training trends have not kept up with the demand to offer knowledge on how to meet the needs of English learners.

It is estimated that 1 in 9 children in the U.S. are English learners, and by 2025 that number will rise to 1 in 4. Nearly every teacher will have English learners in their classrooms in the coming years. With higher stakes accountability and the expectation that we meet the needs of every student in the classroom, teachers will need deeper understanding of the needs of English learners and strategies for developing language proficiency while teaching content.

While teachers have the option of obtaining a teaching endorsement in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages or similarly-named licenses, many teachers do not have the interest or time to invest in getting a full endorsement. Districts and schools should consider alternatives such as providing training in sheltered instruction techniques.

When providing training, it is important to consider how to provide ongoing support for teachers. It has long been documented that the one-time workshop model leads to low levels of implementation. In order for true classroom change to occur, teachers will need ongoing support including classroom coaching, co-teaching, observation and feedback as they practice and implement the techniques they are learning.

As we change our classroom practices using the best research we have available, we will be more likely to help each student achieve academic excellence.