Jana Echevarria

JANA ECHEVARRIA: 

Jana Echevarria. I’m from California State University at Long Beach. 

The Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol or SIOP is um a 30 item observation protocol that we’ve off—actually turned into a lesson planning—has a lesson planning format as well. And what we did was review the literature and look at best practices, talking to teachers. We had a lot of practitioners as informants for the development of this instrument. And uh so there are 30 features that are good practices, best practices for English language learners in—when teaching content.

The purpose of the SIOP is to train teachers to become uh very effective content teachers but also to develop students’ English language development at the same time. So sheltered instruction is unique in that yes, it is effective instruction for teaching content, but it also has a dual purpose of developing students’ English language at the same time. 

With the demographics that we have in our country, all teachers need to learn and implement effective strategies for second language students. So one of the features of the SIOP is that teachers need to be aware of and implement not only a content objective for each lesson, but also a language objective so that they are focused and make sure that they implement good, effective uh teaching for language development as well. 

Language objectives can be vocabulary development, which people typically think of. But beyond that, it’s looking at different features of English, uh you might be practicing a particular—particular syntactic form.  Uh, there are any number of language goals that teachers can set. What we recommend is that teachers look at their district or state ESL standards, or if they don’t have them in their state, to look at the TESOL national standards so that teachers can systematically begin implementing language standards into their content classes. 

I think what we’ve seen over the years is teachers that are working with second language learners have every good intention of developing their English language. However, without a systematic implementation of language, we find that a lot of those kind of features are lost and students have been in ESL programs, or sheltered programs, for a number of years and they still don’t have more sophisticated a grasp of the language, in their—in their writing and their speaking and so forth. So although some teachers have done it, uh we believe that it’s important that all teachers have their consciousness raised and really begin focusing and seeing themselves as both a content teacher and a language development teacher at the same time. 

The sheltered instruction is really based on a couple of decades of classroom-based research, um, the ESL research and so forth. Uh, we rely heavily on the work of Vagodski and others who believe that language is best developed within the social context and so a feature of the SIOP is to really encourage interaction, opportunities for students to use language in a meaningful way um around important topics so they’re really developing that academic language.

Well, as Vagodski talks about that language is the primary vehicle for cognitive development and uh I think that that is something that we’re now beginning to realize.  Just the importance of allowing students opportunities to use meaningful dialogue to develop concepts, to really understand the information that’s being presented to span their knowledge. Uh, and so that’s really the role is through the social interaction is where it can be developed most effectively.

The instrument frankly can be a little overwhelming for teachers initially. There are 30 items and I think teachers can look at that and say, “Oh, my gosh.  Am I suppose to be doing every one of these in every lesson” and the planning would be overwhelming.  Uh, what we would like is for the SIOP to be used as a lesson planning tool so that they’re looking at particular important features that should be evident in—in their les—teaching.  But, in addition, they can use it as a reflective tool so after they have done—done the lesson, to look back at the various items and say, “Oh, how was my pacing?  How was uh how well was the comprehensible input and so forth.”  And um in addition, I think that it’s been very useful from what our teachers have told us, the project teachers, that it’s an important way to remind teachers and to focus their teaching um can I—can I start all over.  Sorry. (laugh)  OK.  What we’ve discovered from uh what our project teachers have told us is that they use the SIOP to focus on particular aspects of their teaching. If they feel that they are not necessarily explaining academic tasks clearly enough, they will focus on those comprehensible input uh features, the slower speech, enunciation, making the academic task clear and so forth. So it’s—it’s a way to have teachers refine their teaching, focusing on a certain area. Once they’ve improved in that area then they can look at another area that they would like to improve on.  So it gives them an opportunity to really set professional goals for themselves and to uh have something objective that they can look at their teaching and compare it too.

We found through our research that this instrument is used—sorry.  OK. We found in our research that teachers really appreciate and need to have collaboration with their peers. We’ve had work groups that have met on a regular basis to examine their teaching, to talk with others about their teaching, issues that they’re grappling with and so forth. The teachers that—that we have worked with have said that perhaps the greatest—the most important aspect of the project was having that collaboration with others, Critiquing each other’s videotape, offering suggestions. Um, as one teacher said, teachers tend to be very critical of themselves and they need there uh colleagues to point out things that they actually did very well. And uh, so that kind of support that’s offered by other teachers has been very valuable.

Being able to dialog, to talk about what’s meaningful and important to them has been very valuable for the teachers.  And, as the uh, as we know the Vagodski approach, that more capable other is an important aspect so that teachers have colleagues that are maybe a little bit further along in certain aspects of their teaching, they can offer suggestions, guidance, support to them, uh, the researchers, the group leader, whoever so it—it really does promote that kind of social interaction among the teachers and having a more capable other to sort of push them along to higher and higher levels of implementation. 

Comprehensible input was coined by Steve Crashen, it has been used for years and um perhaps not all teachers know exactly what it is.  The way we’ve defined it is to pay careful attention to the way in which a teacher addresses the—the class. How is the pace, how is the—OK, I’m sorry I have to start over because I started—when I threw in pace then it threw me into another part of the SIOP. Oh, good grief.  All right.  OK.  Comprehensible input was coined term—all right.   We define comprehensible input as having the teacher pay very careful attention to the way that they address the class, how information is being disseminated to the students.  How is the interaction?  Is the um teacher speaking at a slow enough rate of speech that it makes it understandable to the students.  Are there other kinds of gestures and um body language that’s being used to make the message understood by the learner. We believe that explaining the academic task very clearly is part of comprehensible input.  There’s nothing worse then watching a classroom where the teach has a beautiful lesson and has something very nicely planned out for the students to do, but if they go through it rather quickly, or do it only orally, and then they say, “All right, so now get in your groups” and then the class becomes chaotic because students don’t really know what to do.  Or you see students that are just lost. They just sit quietly, English language learners who just sit quietly.  Um, so that’s all a part of comprehensible input in our mind that students be very clear about what the teacher is saying and what is expected of them. 

There are a number of ways that teachers can make sure that the students are understanding and comprehending what—what the teacher is trying to—to get across. Uh, sometimes during a lesson, you can focus—OK, I’m sorry.  Am I the only person who had to keep interrupting this?  (interruption)  In order to assess student’s comprehension of the lesson, teachers need to uh put in ways of assessing comprehension throughout the lesson as well as, of course, at the end to see if they achieve their
con—content goal and their language goal.  There are ways that—I wasn’t actually prepared for this question was one of the reasons why I’m kind of—all right.  (interruption)  In order to assess weather or not students are comprehending the lesson, teachers need to pay careful attention to their questioning techniques, their grouping techniques, and so forth because large group instruction tends not to be the most effective uh method of delivery for English language learners. It’s very easy to nod one’s head and appear that they understand what’s going on and really miss the entire lesson. So there are certain strategies that teachers really need to use as a regular practice in their classroom to make sure that all students are um responsible and responding to—to give the teacher an idea of do they need to go back, do I need to restate, do I need to regroup or whatever the case may be. 

Interaction is critical for English language learners.  If we want students to learn a language, we need to give them the opportunity to use and practice that language, particularly in meaningful ways.  Um, interaction is promoted primarily in two ways. One, by having the teacher be very consistent in providing opportunities for the students to participate teacher-to-teacher interaction and student-to-student interaction.  And when I say the teacher needs to be very consistent and conscious about that, they really need to focus on limiting their participation. Ask a question, provide appropriate wait time, if the student gives a one or two word answer try to draw out more language, ask another student to clarify what that student was saying.  In—here are many, many techniques to be used to really illicit language from these students. So that’s number one.  The teacher really being conscious of his or her—the amount of his or her language in—in the uh classroom. The second way is really through grouping because large group instruction is very difficult, uh, is a difficult way—OK.  Large group instruction just does not promote interaction and so dyads, cooperative groups, uh; they’re just a number of ways that interaction can be promoted in the classroom through effective grouping. 

Instructional conversation is an approach to teaching that goes beyond just uh knowledge and uh—OK, sorry.  Instructional conversation is an approach to teaching that goes beyond dissemination of knowledge and skill building. It really gets at higher levels of language use, more complex language, and provides opportunities for students to grapple with new interesting ideas, use the text and conversation together to reach those
lev—higher levels of discourse.

Interestingly, many people’s reaction to instructional conversation is “Oh, I could never get a conversation like that going in my class. I tried discussions and it just doesn’t quite work with my students.”  So uh, what we’ve found is not only does it work and can it work quite well with second language learners, but with students that have been labeled as learning disabled, which the very characteristic of learning disabilities is that they tend not to have strong verbal skills, um, they tend not to be able to have good comprehension and—and engage in that kind of a conversation.  What we found is quite the opposite.  When provided a risk-free environment in which to talk about ideas that are important to them, academic ideas that are linked explicitly to their own background and what they bring to the academic environment, then those students not only are eager to participate, but research has shown that they have greater concept development and uh, use of much more complex language then in the traditional reading, asking questions, responding, so forth.  

Many people characterize sheltered instruction as nothing more than just good teaching. And, while I wouldn’t argue that the features of effective instruction are very prevalent throughout uh, the features of shelter—let me say that over again. That doesn’t—that didn’t make much sense.  (interruption)  Many people’s response to the con—the idea of sheltered instruction is that it’s nothing more than good teaching.  While I wouldn’t argue that absolutely sheltered instruction--there’s a tremendous overlap between effective instruction and sheltered instruction. The significant difference is that with sheltered instruction you’re really focusing on the students’ English language development. Of course, in effective instruction, you want the instruction to be comprehensible.  You want the explanation of the task to be clear. But it’s so it’s not such a difference in uh, kind as it is in degree. It’s critical for English language learners to have the academic task. For example, if students are going to use a graphic organizer to organize the material in a chapter, they need to see a completed graphic organizer, what it looks like.  As you walk them through step by step on how to complete the organizer, there should be a transparency or some kind of a visual representation for the students to look at.  Uh, and then there needs to be built in redundancy, that you explain it, you explain it again, you may ask them to explain it and so forth.  So it’s not incompatible at all with—with effective instruction. Um, in fact, what it’s taken is the—the effective instruction literature and kind of built upon it so that it meets the needs of all learners. (interruption)  For example, with the effective instruction, it’s important to—to uh, make the academic task clear for students, to give them opportunities to interact and so forth as well. However, for an English language learner, those kinds of strategies are absolutely critical.  When uh, someone is learning another language, it’s very difficult to take it in strictly orally. A visual example is critical. I even suggest that teachers us the transparency to write words as they’re talking. That will naturally slow their pace down, they can—then students can have a visual clue as to what kinds of words that teacher is using.  Um, OK, hang on a second because I just got this idea. What I was going to say is um, I was going to give, um, and exam—I was going to actually—I just got this idea. If I would say something in Spanish, really quickly, and talk about how it’s very difficult.  OK, all right.  Well, let me see, should I pick up where I was? (interruption)  OK, OK. I just want to make sure that it all ties in.  OK. All right, all right.  No, this actually ties a little bit more into background. OK, OK.  A visual is critical for students because it’s very difficult to understand all auditory input.  Um, so to list words that are being uh used by the teacher, to have a visual of what the—the product that—that will be uh completed in the lesson, um these things are very critical. Uh repetition and redundancy for second language learners is so important.  Sometimes teachers feel like they’ve said something 20 times already but, you know, they really need to say it about 25 times to make it especially clear depending on the level of proficiency of the students.  Uh, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.  All right.  (interruption)  The process of learning a second language is quite complex and
it—it requires redundancy, it requires visual cues, it requires opportunities to use that language in interaction. And yes, these are—these are also important aspects of effective instruction, but it makes it very different when you’re talking about a second language learner. For example, if I were to tell you something (speaks Spanish).  OK, sorry, I probably shouldn’t do that example because that was—that is more about background knowledge. (interruption)  OK.  Well, I’m just wondering if—if, you know, if that’s a—if that’s something that you would think would be good.  (interruption)  Well, let’s move on to another question. I’ll think if I—if I’m going to—if I want to do that.

There are a number of commonalities between English language learners and students who have learning disabilities.  We have to be really careful, though, in making those comparisons and grouping those students together because second language learners are that. They are children who do not have learning disabilities, who do not have any kind of cognitive deficits.  They speak another language. Just like any of us that move to Japan or Germany or Estonia tomorrow, we would still be our educated selves but we would surely feel rather stupid sometimes in not being able to express ourselves. And, so with second language learners, the issue is strictly, they are in the process of acquiring English. That is what the issue is. With students with learning disabilities, uh, this uh an issue for them that will be life long.  It’s not simply a matter of learning another language or learning your multiplication tables.  Uh, so we don’t want to lump those two groups of students together.  And historically, we have had issues of over representation. So it’s very important for teachers to be very clear in their mind, the difference
between—between a student who struggles because they do have some kind of uh disability and students who are in the natural, normal process of acquiring a second language.  With that said, there are commonalities in terms of instruction. Both groups of students benefit from richly, contextualized instruction. By that I mean, uh explicitly showing them where in the text they can find the information.  Giving lots of visual clues and so forth.  Richly in contextualized instruction. In addition, they benefit from curricular adaptations.  For a second language learner, English language learner, um, to read a chapter and answer questions is deadly.  For a student with learning disabilities often that is the same reaction.  A—a litany of questions to have to answer or words to look up in the dictionary is ineffective for both groups of learners. We need to set these students up for success and give the kinds of assignments and modifying assignments that’s going to ensure that they are successful. Another common characteristic is that both groups of students need time to process the information. Again, it speaks to the slower pace by the teacher, pauses, uh slowing the pace down, but also this kind of interaction and asking a lot of very um effective questions to the students to make sure that they’re understanding, giving them time to think about what’s the—think about the information and process it.  Those kinds of strategies are beneficial to both groups of learners.

Students with learning disabilities, because they have a cognitive deficit, they will need to learn strategies that are going to assist them throughout their life span, on the job later, in social relationships, and so forth.  When they have difficulty processing auditory information, if that’s what the area of disability happens to be, um those students need to learn strategies to listen to what the speaker said, process that information, possibly ask questions before reacting. And these are the kinds of strategies that those students are going to use, as I say, throughout their lifetime. That’s much different then someone who needs processing time because it is a new language. They need to maybe hear it, say it to themselves, see it, and then they can move on. Once they learn it, it’s learned and they can move on and that is the big difference between the two groups.

An issue with trying to offer suggestions for secondary teachers to be more effective with the variety of students that they have is that we don’t want to give them more things to do. These teachers are overwhelmed as it is with so many things to deal with in the classroom, large number of students, multiple sections of preparation during the day, and so forth. However, uh be that as it may, teachers can really meet the needs of all their students by re-conceptualizing the way that they see their role in the classroom. Rather than teacher in front of the class for 50 minutes or uh whatever, that the teacher begin thinking about ways that they can implement grouping. This is going to meet the needs of all learners uh and it’s—it’s a structural change. It’s not that a teacher needs to have an individual contract with all 35 students each period of the day. That’s unrealistic. But what we can begin to do is look at some strategies that are going to, in some ways, structurally reduce the number of students by putting them in smaller groups.  Um, by having the kinds of activities that demonstrate—take the student from where they are and moving them at their own level up to higher levels of understanding.

Teachers have control over their classrooms. They can strive to meet the individual needs of the students in their classroom by employing a variety of strategies, techniques. Such as grouping, such as partnering, so forth.  Working on projects together, so forth. There’s just a variety of techniques that teachers are very well aware of and there are many teachers who are doing a phenomenal job with that. At the school level there are some changes that need to be made. Smaller class size is very important. Um, perhaps block scheduling is another change that can benefit students so they’ll have a little more time with one teacher versus moving around the campus, especially for an immigrant student. They come into a secondary school, uh it’s a whole new way of life, a whole new way of relating, and then they are—just establish a bit of a relationship with one teacher, they need to move to another teacher and etc.  So there are some structural changes that could be employed at the school level that teachers um perhaps need to encourage um to move along and get implemented.  Well, see I don’t know if that was a good thing to see because this is where—why I say they’re hard questions because teachers don’t have the power so it’s like, here they’ve got all this to do in their classroom then it’s incumbent upon them to also change the school?  (interruption)

And can I also say something else which I can’t believe I forgot because it’s kind of—it’s my passion soap box issue.  Good grief.  All right.  I just drew a complete blank on—OK.  One school wide mechanism that I think is so very, very important uh at all levels, primary and secondary, is to have a site-based team that works with the teachers in resolving academic behavioral problems in the classroom. It can be called a Student Study Team, a Child Guidance Team. There’s a variety of uh top—titles for this kind of team.  However, it’s a way that—it serves in a number of ways. One is the teacher does not feel so isolated in dealing with the kids problems. If there is a team of colleagues, other teachers, maybe the school counselor, that can brainstorm solutions um, it can be a simple change of approach, academic—uh, instructional approach with the child.  Um, it could be something that could be resolved through a teacher conf—teacher/parent conference. But sometimes there are so many things going on in the classroom and so many um distractions that sometimes even fairly simple solutions uh aren’t so obvious to a teacher.  When they can sit down and reflect with a group of colleagues and brainstorm these kind of ideas, everyone benefits. For the child, it’s absolutely critical because a
site-based team that can resolve these issues within the regular program is in everyone’s best interest. We do not want students that are having difficulties to be immediately referred to special education.  So I really feel very strongly that a site-based team uh will eliminate inappropriate referrals to special education, but more importantly, it’s going to help teachers and empower teachers and administrators school-wide to resolve academic and behavioral problems right there in the regular program.

Oh, no. When I saw that question—there’s just so much to say, that’s the only thing. I mean, just organizationally, how to use them effectively, how their attitude toward the children, I mean, often we don’t have a choice again see I—I’m sensitive to making suggestions to teachers that they have no control over because I know where I’m doing research, they just get somebody put with them. They have no choice over who it is and sometimes they ro—rotate peer professionals by period. So, I mean, if you really want me to talk about it, I have a lot of background in working with peer professionals but, it’s such a huge—it’s not that it’s a huge issue, it’s that it’s um it’s very um individual, each individual school site, each classroom, so that it’s hard to give kind of broad (interruption)

In working with peer professionals—I don’t know. Should I say like my experience? They don’t want to (interruption). Oh, OK.  OK.  All right. In working with peer professionals, my experience has been the most effective partnerships between teachers and peer professionals are one in which the student—excuse me.  See I am monitoring because I said one instead of ones and I’m doing the monitor. I went back, I’m thinking about that—isn’t that so silly. OK.  All right, here we go.  In working with peer professionals, in my experience the most effective partnership between teacher and peer professional are those in which the teacher and peer professional carve out some time every day to sit down, touch base, “What did you cover with the reading group. What went on with the math group?  Any problems?   Anything I need to do?  OK, any questions you have for me?”  Back and forth. Asking the peer professional, “Do you think this grouping is working?  Would suggest any changes” and so forth.  And I know as I say that, the teachers are so overwhelmed and have so many things to do and I’m sure the reaction is, “Yes, if I had that kind of time I would love to sit down every day.” However, it is the key to effective practice and whether it’s 10 minutes before school or 10 minutes at lunch that is what I have found to be the most important aspect of an effective working relationship between teacher and peer professional. 

Yeah, there is one little thing that I wanted to say just because I wanted to just speak a little bit about um individual differences of students. OK, no what was I going to say about that?  All right, let me think.  With the kinds of classrooms that we have today, teachers need to recognize, respect and accommodate the individual difference of learners. The ‘one size fits all’ instruction is just not appropriate for the kinds of learners that we have in classrooms now.  You may have a student who has the academic preparation but is an English language learner. You may have a student that lacks the academic preparation and the English language to—to complete tasks. You may have a student who’s a native English speaker yet has some difficulties um with—with learning.  You may have a student with actual learning disabilities who is struggling, is bright, speaks English but struggles because of the disability. And this is the array of characteristics that we find in most every classroom today.  And when I say ‘recognize,’ that means forget about the ‘one size fits all’ instruction. When I say ‘respect’ I mean, look at these students for what they are bringing to the academic tasks. Build on their strengths, acknowledge their areas of weakness and—and work to um overcome those areas. But really do it with a sense of respect that every learner is a little bit different and has a different way of learning. Um, and then accommodate it. Simply make the kinds of modifications in your teaching style, your uh, curricular adaptations, whatever accommodations need to be made to set these kids up for success. Behavior problems are reduced. Uh, there’s just so much of a benefit to implementing instruction that is designed and carried out to take the student where they are and push them a little bit further in their learning and make sure you do it in a way that they would be successful regardless of the level where they are starting.