Teaching as Sheltering: A Metaphorical Analysis of Sheltered Instruction for English Language Learners

Mar. 01, 2011

Source: Curriculum Inquiry 41:2 (March, 2011), p. 185-211.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Sheltered instruction is a form of content-based instruction (CBI), a large collection of pedagogical models which integrate the teaching of academic subject matter with the teaching of another language.

This article examines the complex intersections between a sheltering metaphor, sheltered instruction theory, and sheltered instruction in practice.

Three Examples of Sheltered Instruction
The author uses the metaphor of sheltering as a provocative lens to consider episodes of sheltered instruction from three sheltered social studies classrooms taught by Lisa Duvall, Susan Miller, and Marilyn Welch.

The authors collected data through lesson transcripts, field notes, and interview transcripts in order to address the following questions:
1. What characteristics of ELLs might suggest a need for sheltering?
a. What might they be sheltered from?
b. In what ways and to what ends might this sheltering be offered?
2. How might the metaphor of sheltering influence the nature of the instruction and the relationship between ELLs and their teachers?


Analysis of the findings pointed to three versions of high school sheltered instruction which incorporated similar instructional practices.
Each version emphasizes different purposes of SI: sheltering as protection, sheltering as nurturing, and sheltering as separation.

Duvall’s lessons highlighted the preparatory and transitional component.
Miller’s lessons stressed a caring, personal relationship between teacher and students. Welch’s lessons, while more closely resembling a mainstream history class in form and content, brought to the fore the issue of segregation.

These three examples demonstrate aspects of sheltered instruction that are suggested by the sheltering metaphor and have been circulating in professional discourse since the idea of SI first took root in second language education.

SI strategies have the potential of making all kinds of content comprehensible.
Interacting with language, content, and academic tasks that might be beyond the learners’ present abilities is essential to facilitate the necessary experience, knowledge, and language/ literacy proficiencies most likely to position ELLs for future success in school (Bunch et al., 2001).
However, adequate support is crucial, especially if ELLs are to master the level of academic language and literacy required to full participation in school.

Additionally, the language of sheltering casts ELLs as vulnerable and in need of rescue.
However, Welch seemed to view ELLs as fully capable of thinking deeply and mastering grade-level curriculum.
Welch’s lessons also demonstrate the complexity of interweaving the language, content, and academic preparation goals of SI.
But Welch was troubled by the fact that the students in her sheltered class were separated from the rest of the school.

Implications and Conclusion

This article suggests that teacher education and professional development should help teachers carefully consider the nature of the content selected as curriculum for instructional strategies for ELLs.
Furthermore, teachers need to be aware of why they are teaching specific content in particular ways in order that they make appropriate instructional decisions.

Updated: Dec. 19, 2012