English language learners developing academic language through sheltered instruction

Date of Completion

January 2000


Education, Bilingual and Multicultural|Education, Secondary




The limited language skills and low academic proficiency of Hispanic English Language Learners (ELLs) is well documented (Valdes, 1998). When ELLs make the transition from the bilingual to the all-English mainstream program, they are vulnerable to academic underachievement (Gallimore, Goldenberg, & Saunders, 1998) especially in content areas such as science (Ovando & Collier, 1998). Although a number of effective practices have been suggested as a means to language development in ELLs, less consideration has been given to the development of academic language in content-areas such as science (Brisk, 1998). ^ This study examined the role of Sheltered Instruction (SI) as an innovative teaching strategy to teach academic language to ELLs in an urban high school bilingual science class. SI is grounded in bilingual education, ESL, and social constructivist learning theories (O'Connor, 1998). ^ This study examined the emic view of academic discourse using an ethnographic approach to discourse analysis or “logic-of-inquiry” developed within the conceptual framework proposed by Gee and Green (1998). The researcher videotaped and rated a series of five SI lessons conducted with a group of 10th grade Hispanic ELLs. The discursive data generated by each SI lesson were transcribed and analyzed solely in terms of the factors of SI and discourse analysis. ^ The analysis process resulted in the following conclusions. First, SI lessons should be based upon specific linguistic and content standards. Second, the teacher's usage of supplementary materials helped ELLs to contextualize language that is cognitively demanding. Third, ELLs often use and apply content related vocabulary (CRV) when it is presented to them in a comprehensible and meaningful way. Fourth, the teacher's questioning techniques are key to generating and promoting academic language in ELLs. Fifth, the nature of the task performed in a SI inquiry-based science lesson determines the range of use of academic language in students. Sixth, the levels of interactions between teacher-student and student-student reflect the nature of the scientific tasks represented in each SI science lesson. Seventh, the frequency of the students' use of CRV and concepts increased as the SI science lessons progressed; in addition, the level of complexity of CRV also increased. ^