Language learning is possible when learners are in frequent enough contact with speakers of the language to develop sets of shared experiences and meanings which help them communicate despite the lack of a common language. When speakers interact with learners on a continuing basis, and they have reason to communicate with them, they will find ways of conveying information to them. -Lily Wong Fillmore
Sheltered instruction is one of those educational "buzz words" often used in Bilingual Education 101. It is mentioned during the course of the semester in college, but by the time you enter into the classroom as a teacher, its meaning, much less the best practices associated with it have left your memory. Does this sound familiar? This was definitely the case for me and I attended a "teaching college."
As I was completing my student teaching assignment in a first grade classroom, the school district was desperately seeking a first grade teacher as a very impoverished school (100% free lunch with a high number of English Language Learners)...and so, my career as teacher or "Miss," as I am often referred to be, began in November.
I was able to complete my student teaching early and move into this position right after the Thanksgiving break. It was my impression that as I was a first grade student teacher, this transition would be smooth as I knew the material and where first graders were in the content by this time of the year. After all, the entire class of 23 firsties were reading!
Little did I know, as I moved over to my new position as a first grade teacher, classroom management techniques were about the only thing applicable to my new scenario. By these 13 students' third month of first grade, three certified teachers have given this position a try. (...and it was only 13 kids!) An 18-year-old substitute, who was called by her first name, was doing the best she could do to "hold down the fort," until my arrival after the Thanksgiving break.
On my first day of school, students were under their desks most of the day and during reading time were engaged in books without words! This was an eye-opening day. It took a few weeks to establish the procedures and routines, such as sitting in your chair. Then, we slowly learned the letters and sounds of the alphabet, which is a difficult task for my group of English Language Learners. Vowels are always the trickiest! This experience with my own class contrasted my student teaching group drastically.
I must say, though it was a challenge, I learned so much from these first months of teaching. Though I did not have much formal experience in sheltering instruction for English Language Learners, I learned a lot in my evening research, colleagues, and, of course, the famous, trial-and-error. After several years in the classroom, I have transformed my practice. Each year, I have anywhere between four to 24 English Language Learners in my classroom. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing the five components of sheltered instruction with you and show you how keeping the components in mind during lesson planning, can positively alter student learning.
I think the biggest take away for me about sheltered instruction is that it helps ALL students, ESPECIALLY English Language Learners. It is my goal to help you in your journey as a teacher that serves all students, especially this special population of learners. Stay tuned for more on Sheltered Instruction for English Language Learners.