Sheltered instruction and English language development: Defining ELD
Wednesday, May 07, 2014
In Part 1 of this series, two popular models of sheltered instruction were explored: Project GLAD and the SIOP Model.
Most educators agree that it is important to meet the needs of English learners in the classroom through sheltered instruction and differentiation, but there is sometimes confusion on explicit English language development: what it is, what should be taught in ELD and when ELD should be taught. In this article, English language development will be explored in more depth.
What is ELD?
English language development is an essential component of meeting the needs of English language learners, and should be taught as a separate subject area for English learners.Saunders, Goldberg and Marcelletti define ELD as "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 purpose of ELD is to move students along the continuum of language development and bring them, ultimately, to native or near-native fluency in English. In order for students to be successful academically, and ultimately in a career, English competency will be helpful if not required.
In the ELD classroom, the focus of instruction is on learning English, and thus the primary objectives in the ELD classroom focus on language instruction, using content as a vehicle for instruction. As mentioned in Part 1 of this article, sheltered instruction provides students with comprehensible content instruction, while at the same time developing language skills.
When both elements are in place, English learners are more likely to reach higher proficiency levels in English. While there is little research to show the best way for students to develop English proficiency, up to this point these two methods are the most widely accepted ways of helping English learners achieve.
Laurie Olson defines the term "long-term English learners" as students who have been "in United States schools for more than six years without reaching sufficient English proficiency to be reclassified." Students who become long-term English learners often have received no ELD, or poor-quality ELD and sheltered instruction.
What should be taught in ELD?
What is taught explicitly in ELD will depend on the proficiency level(s) of the students in the group or class. A common practice is to group students in ELD by proficiency level to be able to target the specific needs of a group of students.
At times, schools do not have sufficient numbers of students to teach a group that is at a homogeneous proficiency level. In this case, it is best to teach students grouped with like needs as best as possible. Even when students are grouped by proficiency level, the needs of each student will vary significantly.
Unlike reading skills, which have a well-documented sequence of development, language skills do not always progress predictably. Students may have acquired different words or structures from their peers, and differentiation will need to be used to help each student achieve.
It is widely accepted that a communicative approach should be used in ELD, which includes a focus on interacting with others to develop language competency. In addition to students practicing communicating with others, a focus need to be placed on developing academic language, including vocabulary and more complex language forms.
Susana Dutro and Carol Moran use a construction metaphor that is helpful in determining what to teach in ELD. They refer to "bricks" as the key vocabulary words that all students must learn when learning about a particular content are concept. Some examples of "brick" words include patriot and revolution, parallel and adjacent, photosynthesis and stomata, and more.
The words in a sentence that link these words are the "mortar" words. These represent a particular language function. For example, if students were to compare and contrast two marine animals, they might say, "Mammals are viviparous as they have live offspring, whereas reptiles are oviparous because they lay eggs."
In the previous sentence, several "brick" words are present: mammals, viviparous, offspring, reptiles and oviparous. Without these words, we are left with the "mortar": ________ are ________ as they have _____________, whereas ___________ are ___________ because _______________.
The words and phrases in this sentence are excellent sources of ELD instruction. Students in ELD can and should learn the transition words, phrases and structures that make English comprehensible, as well as increase the formality of communication.
Ultimately, state ELD standards should guide the instruction. World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA), a consortium of 35 states, has a set of standards for English learners; as does English Language Proficiency for the 21st Century (ELPA21), a consortium of 11 states.
These standards include descriptors of what teachers can expect from students at the various proficiency levels, and provide a context for considering how to advance students to the next level of language proficiency.
Of course, for students who are at a beginning proficiency level, conversational language can and should also be a focus of ELD instruction. Especially when working with newcomers, basic words and phrases to help students navigate school and the community will be critical. This instruction should still be coupled with a focus on academic English that students will be exposed to and expected to learn in the content classroom.
However, ELD should not be reserved for students at the beginning levels of proficiency. English learners at all levels of English proficiency should receive ELD until they have been reclassified as fluent and no longer needing support
Who should teach ELD and when should ELD be taught?
ELD should be taught by a teacher with an endorsement in teaching English learners. It is important to note that ELD requires a skillful teacher with the expertise to help students reach higher levels of English proficiency.
As mentioned earlier, ELD should be taught as a separate subject area. At times, schools or districts do not have the staff to teach ELD full-time, or even part-time. In this case, a classroom teacher that has an endorsement and the training to effectively teach ELD can teach ELD.
ELD should not, however, be taught by an instructional assistant or teacher who has not been trained. When this occurs, it contributes to the growing issue of developing long-term English learners and ultimately may not help students achieve academic excellence.
An important consideration for ELD instruction is when in the day it will be taught, and what the other students in the class or school will be doing during this time. While schools and individual classrooms handle this in different ways, it is important to engage in a conversation about instructional models for ELD.
Research by Wayne Thomas and Virginia Collier of George Mason University has shown that pull-out ELD — wherein English learners are removed from the classroom for ELD, and the ELD instruction is not connected to the instruction happening in the classroom the student came from — is the least effective form of instruction as students often miss out on instruction in important content concepts.
Note that the location of this instruction is not what is the deciding factor in effectiveness. Even if ELD is conducted in the classroom, if connection to the other instruction happening in the classroom is made, and students miss other crucial instruction, students will not greatly benefit from the instruction.
It is important that ELD be tied to the instruction that students are experiencing during the rest of the school day. If possible, link ELD to the content as well as the linguistic needs of the students. That way they are getting instruction in the language they will be using in the classroom as they learn about the content concepts in which they are being instructed.
If ELD is taught as a separate subject area, as is recommended, the other students in the class will also need to be getting some type of instruction during this time.
Different schools and teachers have handled this in different ways. Some schools or classrooms set up specific times when students will receive one of the following: English language development, acceleration or intervention. It is during this block that students receive specialized instruction that meets their particular needs in a small-group setting. Specialists may pull small groups along with the classroom teacher in order to meet the needs of each child.
Some schools, lacking the resources to have several small groups running at one time, set up a system wherein during independent work time, small groups of students are pulled together for instruction. Other schools employ a co-teaching method, wherein an ELD specialist and classroom teacher work together in the classroom to teach a whole group lesson, then have the students work in centers while the classroom teacher and the ELD specialist each work with a small group of students.
Materials are sometimes used as a helpful tool in teaching ELD. Several literacy programs and major companies provide supplementary materials for teaching ELD, and these can be a helpful connection to what is happening in the classroom.
ELD specialists have often adapted materials to meet the needs of the students they serve, and they are an excellent resource to help determine the linguistic demand embedded in instructional materials and help determine the appropriateness of those materials as well as meaningful scaffolds that will help English learners achieve.
While much research still needs to be done on how to best help English learners reach proficiency in the most effective and efficient ways, as educators we know we must do everything possible to facilitate this process. By providing both sheltered instruction in the classroom and ELD, we will be well on our way to meeting the needs of this growing population.
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