ERIC Identifier: ED367142
Publication Date: 1994-01-00
Author: Crandall, JoAnn
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Content-Centered Language Learning. ERIC Digest.
Although estimates of the number of language minority students in U.S.
schools vary, there is consensus that the numbers are rising dramatically.
"Increasingly, the American classroom is multiethnic, multiracial, and
multilingual at all levels" (Crandall, 1992). In response, a number of program
models have been developed to meet the needs of language minority students, many
involving the integration of language and content instruction. In addition,
attention to the lack of foreign language proficiency among Americans has led to
the development of a number of foreign language programs that integrate academic
content into language instruction. In this approach, the second or foreign
language is used as the medium of instruction for mathematics, science, social
studies, and other academic subjects; it is the vehicle used for teaching and
acquiring subject specific knowledge.
This Digest discusses the rationale for integrating language and content
instruction and provides an overview of some of the program models and teaching
techniques that focus on this approach.
WHY USE CONTENT-CENTERED INSTRUCTION?
In the United States,
Krashen's theory (1982) of second language acquisition has influenced the
development of integrated instruction at all levels. Krashen suggests that a
second language is most successfully acquired when the conditions are similar to
those present in first language acquisition: that is, when the focus of
instruction is on meaning rather than on form; when the language input is at or
just above the proficiency of the learner; and when there is sufficient
opportunity to engage in meaningful use of that language in a relatively
anxiety-free environment. This suggests that the focus of the second language
classroom should be on something meaningful, such as academic content, and that
modification of the target language facilitates language acquisition and makes
academic content accessible to second language learners.
Cummins (1981) argues that individuals develop two types of language
proficiency: basic interpersonal language skills and cognitive academic language
proficiency. He suggests that these two types of proficiency vary according to
the degree of context available to the individual and the degree of cognitive
challenge of the task. Social language can be acquired in 1 to 2 years, but the
level of proficiency needed to read social studies texts or solve mathematics
word problems can take 5 to 7 years to develop (Collier, 1987).
Integrated language and content instruction offers a means by which English
as a second language (ESL) students can continue their academic or cognitive
development while they are also acquiring academic language proficiency. It also
offers a means by which foreign language students can develop fuller proficiency
in the foreign language they are studying. In foreign language or two-way
bilingual immersion programs, in which a portion of the curriculum is taught
through the foreign language, some type of integrated language and content
instruction appears to be essential.
CONTENT-BASED LANGUAGE INSTRUCTION. In this
approach--also called integrated language and content instruction--ESL,
bilingual, or foreign language teachers use instructional materials, learning
tasks, and classroom techniques from academic content areas as the vehicle for
developing language, content, cognitive, and study skills. The second language
is used as the medium of instruction for mathematics, science, social studies,
and other academic subjects. Instruction is usually given by a language teacher
or by a combination of the language and content teachers.
SHELTERED SUBJECT MATTER TEACHING. This approach involves adapting the
language of texts or tasks and use of certain methods familiar to language
teachers (demonstrations, visuals, graphic organizers, or cooperative work) to
make instruction more accessible to students of different English proficiency
levels. This type of instruction is also called sheltered English or
language-sensitive content instruction and is given by the regular classroom or
content teacher, or by a language teacher with special expertise in another
academic area (Brinton, Snow, & Wesche, 1989).
THEME-BASED. In these programs, a language curriculum is developed around
selected topics drawn from one content area (e.g., marketing) or from across the
curriculum (e.g., pollution and the environment). The goal is to assist learners
in developing general academic language skills through interesting and relevant
SHELTERED INSTRUCTION. Here, a content curriculum is adapted to accommodate
students' limited proficiency in the language of instruction. This model was
originally developed for elementary foreign language immersion programs to
enable some portion of the curriculum to be taught through the foreign language
(Genesee, 1987). It is commonly used in immersion and two-way bilingual programs
(Met, 1991) and has been adapted for use in second language programs with large
numbers of limited English proficient students of intermediate or advanced
LANGUAGE ACROSS THE CURRICULUM. This is the name given to content-centered
instruction that involves a conscious effort to integrate language instruction
into all other curricular offerings. This may include the development of
integrated curricula and some kind of paired or team teaching.
In schools where enough students share a common first language, bilingual
programs using sheltered instruction have been developed. In one program,
students move from content instruction in their first language to
sheltered-content instruction in English, and then to mainstream classes where
they are integrated with English-speaking peers. They receive content-based ESL
as well (Freeman, Freeman, & Gonzales, 1987).
For schools with insufficient numbers of language minority students to create
sheltered language programs, the techniques for sheltering instruction can be
implemented in classes with both native and non-native English-speaking
ADJUNCT MODEL. This model links a specific language learning course with a
content course in which both second language learners and native English
speakers are enrolled. The courses share a content base, but the focus of
instruction differs. The language teacher emphasizes language skills, such as
academic reading or writing, while the content teacher focuses on traditional
academic concepts. This model requires substantial coordination between the
language and content teacher; usually the ESL teacher makes the extra effort of
becoming familiar with the content. An adjunct program is usually limited to
cases where students have language skills that are sufficiently advanced to
enable them to participate in content instruction with English speaking
COGNITIVE ACADEMIC LANGUAGE LEARNING APPROACH (CALLA). This approach combines
language, content, and learning strategy instruction into a transitional ESL
approach for upper elementary and secondary students of intermediate or advanced
English proficiency (Chamot & O'Malley, 1987).
There are a variety of strategies and
techniques used in content-centered second language instruction. Here, the
discussion will be limited to four types of strategies--cooperative learning and
other grouping strategies, task-based or experiential learning, whole language
strategies, and graphic organizers--that increase attention to academic language
learning, contribute to content learning, and encourage development of thinking
and study skills. (See Crandall, 1992, for additional information.)
COOPERATIVE LEARNING. In this method, students of different linguistic and
educational backgrounds and different skill levels work together on a common
task for a common goal in either the language or the content classroom.
Cooperative groups encourage students to communicate, to share insights, test
hypotheses, and jointly construct knowledge. Depending on their language
proficiency, students can be assigned various roles as facilitator, recorder,
reporter, or illustrator. Other grouping strategies involve peer tutoring or
pairing a second language learner with a more English-proficient peer.
TASK-BASED OR EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING. In this approach, appropriate contexts
are provided for developing thinking and study skills as well as language and
academic concepts for students of different levels of language proficiency.
Students learn by carrying out specific tasks or projects: for example, "doing
science" and not just reading about it (Rosebery, Warren, & Conant, 1992).
WHOLE LANGUAGE APPROACH. The philosophy of whole language is based on the
concept that students need to experience language as an integrated whole. It
focuses on the need for an integrated approach to language instruction within a
context that is meaningful to students (Goodman, 1986). The approach is
consistent with integrated language and content instruction as both emphasize
meaningful engagement and authentic language use, and both link oral and written
language development (Blanton, 1992). Whole language strategies that have been
implemented in content-centered language classes include dialogue journals,
reading response journals, learning logs, process-based writing, and language
experience stories (Crandall, 1992).
GRAPHIC ORGANIZERS. These provide a "means for organizing and presenting
information so that it can be understood, remembered, and applied" (Crandall,
1992). Graphs, realia, tables, maps, flow charts, timelines, and Venn diagrams
are used to help students place information in a comprehensible context. They
enable students to organize information obtained from written or oral texts,
develop reading strategies, increase retention, activate schema as a pre-reading
or pre-listening activity, and organize ideas during the prewriting stage
Although this Digest has focused on
content-centered language instruction in the United States, similar interest in
integrated language and content instruction is evident in many parts of the
world, especially in countries where English serves as the medium of instruction
for part of the educational program.
Among the issues facing content-centered language instruction in the United
States is the need for research to evaluate the effectiveness of integrated
instruction, specifying optimal conditions for various programmatic effects,
including the timing of integrated instruction, the relative effectiveness of
different program models, and the use of various instructional strategies,
texts, and assessment measures. Teacher training is another concern as the
number of second language learners in U.S. classrooms increases. To accommodate
this diverse student population, content-area teachers need to know how to
shelter their instruction, and language teachers need to learn how to integrate
academic language and content better in their classrooms (Crandall, 1992).
Blanton, L.L. (1992). A holistic approach to
college ESL: Integrating language and content. "ELT Journal," 46, 285-293.
Brinton, D.M., Snow, M.A., & Wesche, M.B. (1989). "Content-based second
language instruction." New York: Harper & Row.
Chamot, A.U., & O'Malley, J.M. (1987). The cognitive academic language
learning approach: A bridge to the mainstream. "TESOL Quarterly," 21, 227-249.
Collier, V.P. (1987). Age and rate of acquisition of second language for
academic purposes. "TESOL Quarterly," 21, 617-641.
Crandall, J. (1992). Content-centered learning in the United States. "Annual
Review of Applied Linguistics," 13, 111-126.
Crandall, J.A. (1993). Diversity as challenge and resource. In "ESL students
in the CUNY classroom: Faculty strategies for success." New York: City College
of New York and Kingsborough Community College.
Cummins, J. (1981). The role of primary language development in promoting
educational success for language minority students. In "Schooling and language
minority students: A theoretical framework." Los Angeles: California State
University, Evaluation, Dissemination, and Assessment Center.
Genesee, F. (1987). "Learning through two languages: Studies of immersion and
bilingual education." Cambridge, MA: Newbury House.
Freeman, D., Freeman, Y., & Gonzales, G. (1987). Success for LEP
students: The sunnyside sheltered English program. "TESOL Quarterly," 21,
Goodman, K.S. (1986). "What's whole about whole language? A parent/teacher
guide to children's learning." Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Krashen, S. (1982). "Principles and practice in second language acquisition."
Met, M. (1991). Learning language through content; learning content through
language. "Foreign Language Annals," 24, 281-95.
Rosebery, A.S., Warren, B., & Conant, F.R. (1992). "Appropriating
scientific discourse: Findings from language minority classrooms." Santa Cruz,
CA and Washington, DC: National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and
Second Language Learning.