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Over the past few decades, educators in the USA tackle the issue whether it is better to teach English language learners (ELLs) in their native language or use English as the chief medium of instruction in order to provide high-quality education. A number of programs and approaches have been developed to suit students with limited English proficiency. The Sheltered Instruction Approach is ranked as the best one in terms of meeting the learners’ language needs and making the content of such subjects as mathematics, history, and science comprehensible for them.

The Sheltered Instruction Approach is usually defined as an approach that allows second language learners to access academic content and increase their English proficiency. The classes are called “sheltered,” because ELLs do not have to compete for superior academic achievements with native English speakers and lean at a slower pace, covering less material and using more repetition. According to Christine Rossell (2004/2005), the sheltered English immersion and the bilingual education have more similarities than differences. She underscores that the distinction between them is fuzzy, as “schools almost never offer bilingual education that fits the theoretical model, in which students learn to read and write initially as well as learn subject matter in their native language”. Therefore, the point is that the sheltered immersion programs have been used extensively for many years in the United States with different labels attached to them. The supporting evidence presented by V. Bali also shows that “students out of bilingual education increased their reading scores by two points (.18 standard deviation) and their math scores by one-half point (.03 standard deviation) compared with ELLs who had always been in English immersion classes”. Bilingual education is good in theory, but it rarely works out in practice, because of the lack of materials, qualified teachers and support.

The sheltered English immersion has a number of advantages in comparison with a mainstream classroom. These include adapting the academic content to the student’s language proficiency level; highlighting key vocabulary; relying more on supplementary materials; and using a simpler language of instruction as well as sufficient wait time. The effectiveness of the sheltered instruction approach depends primarily on the teacher, who must present a slightly modified material in English without oversimplifying the content and, at the same time, encourage students to acquire academic language and gradually get rid of the conversational skills. The ELLs are expected to meet the content standards on a par with native English speakers. Therefore, the successes and failures of the sheltered instruction programs are inextricably linked to the skills, knowledge, and professional development of ESL teachers. The Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) model is specifically designed to equip teachers with the effective teaching strategies aimed at helping ELLs to make a transition to the mainstream classroom. The sheltered learning approach can be and should be integrated with any program model.

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