“Sheltered Instructional Approaches” vs. “Second Language Acquisition Methods”: Unpacking One Change from the Revised TAC §89

by John Seidlitz

Last summer’s updates to TAC Chapter 89 raised plenty of questions, but there’s one we’ve heard more than any other:

What happened to Sheltered Instruction?

Under the prior version of Chapter 89, sheltered instructional approaches were explicitly required at the high school level, and recommended for all levels, stating:

  • At the high school level, the English language learner receives sheltered instruction content areas. [TAC 89.19 (g)(1)]
  • The language proficiency assessment committee may recommend appropriate services that may include content courses provided through sheltered instructional approaches by trained teachers [TAC 89.1210(e)]

However, the July 2018 update removes any direct mentions of the term “sheltered instructional approaches,” requiring instead that “second-language acquisition methods” be used in all content areas where ELs are present for instruction. That’s all well and good, but what does it mean, exactly, and what does it mean for us as educators of English learners?

To begin, let’s refresh our memories.

What Is Sheltered Instruction, Again?

“Sheltered Instruction,” a term coined by Stephen Krashen (1982), refers to an approach that uses strategies that support second language acquisition (SLA) during content instruction. In a sheltered model, teachers use “sheltered instruction” strategies to teach content-area subjects in a way that empowers students to acquire both language and content at the same time, instead of focusing on English language acquisition solely during the ESL class.

As the creators of the SIOP model put it, sheltered instruction is “a means for making content comprehensible for English learners while they are developing English proficiency…Sheltered lessons integrate language and content learning and may include culturally responsive instruction as well.”(Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, p 330, 2017)

To use my favorite visualization, just as a shelter is something that surrounds someone, in a sheltered classroom, language is surrounded by enough context to make the content comprehensible.

And What Exactly Are Second Language Acquisition Methods?

Second language acquisition methods include any number of strategies designed to meet ELs’ cognitive needs and support English learners in listening, speaking, reading, and writing in content-area classrooms.

Here’s the secret: The terms “sheltered instructional approaches” and “second language acquisition methods,” as used in the former and current Chapter 89 respectively, essentially describe the same thing.

So What Changed in Chapter 89?

si_vs_slam 3

The new updates require second language acquisition methods—in all content areas and regardless of the program model—to address the cognitive needs of ELs. In addition, the term content areas now includes English language arts and reading. This is significant in two ways:

  1. An approach using second language acquisition methods must be used in all English learner programsnot only in high school, but also in middle school and elementary bilingual and dual-language programs.
  2. The revisions also situate “second language acquisition methods” specifically under meeting the cognitive needs of ELs, thus emphasizing the crucial role of these methods in enabling ELs to comprehend and retain content knowledge.

So even though the term “sheltered instructional approaches” is no longer included, the concept hasn’t disappeared. It has actually expanded.  

There are several places in the TAC where an approach using “second language acquisition methods” has been required even when that term was not used explicitly. For example, if you’ve been teaching using the ELPS (TAC Chp 74.4) you’re already using second language acquisition methods in your curriculum. They are also addressed indirectly in the current TAC 89.1210 (d) and 89.121 (b) with the requirements to meet ELs’ affective and linguistic needs, and to implement a “culturally responsive” approach.

Here’s the key change: While sheltered instruction has been popular at all levels, with the revisions to TAC Chapter 89, a “sheltered instructional approach” (referred to as “second language acquisition methods”) is foundational to the design and implementation of EL education in all programs, all content areas, and at all grade levels. And we think that’s a pretty good deal.

Moving from “sheltered instructional approaches” to “second language acquisition methods” is just one of the many changes in last summer’s Chapter 89 revision. To help our fellow educators wade through the new regulatory language, we put together a downloadable guide to the update. We learned a lot while we were creating the document, and I hope you find it useful!

What are your thoughts on the new requirements for second language acquisition methods? Share in the comments below, or on Twitter @Seidlitz_Ed.


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