ERIC Identifier: ED436981
Publication Date: 1999-12-00
Author: Short, Deborah J. - Echevarria, Jana
Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
The Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol: A Tool for
Teacher-Researcher Collaboration and Professional Development. ERIC Digest.
Professional development for teachers is a complex and multifaceted endeavor
and is becoming more so as popularity grows for standards-based education.
Teachers generally report feeling pressure to cover the curriculum at nearly any
cost. For English language learners, the cost is greater than usual as teachers
often inadvertently ignore the language needs of these students in content
courses. The project described in this digest was designed with the belief that
teacher professional growth can best be fostered through sustained collaborative
inquiry between teachers and researchers. It has set out to incorporate what is
known about quality professional development with the special features necessary
for meeting the needs of English language learners. The project has defined a
model of sheltered instruction based on the research of best practices, as well
as on the experiences of the participating teachers and researchers. They
collaborated in developing the observation tool being utilized in the study, the
Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP), which identifies the features
of sheltered instruction that can enhance and expand teachers' instructional
practice (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, in press). The protocol is composed of
30 items grouped into 3 sections: Preparation, Instruction, and
Review/Evaluation. Items are further clustered under Instruction: Building
Background, Comprehensible Input, Strategies, Interaction, Practice/Application,
and Lesson Delivery. Items are scored using a Likert scale with scores ranging
from 4 to 0.
The SIOP was originally designed as an observation and rating tool for the
researchers to use while viewing the participating teachers in the classroom.
During the course of the project, however, the participating teachers discovered
its potential as a tool for lesson planning and reflection. The model has been
used to train middle school teachers to implement effective sheltered strategies
in their classes in four large urban school districts (two on the East Coast and
two on the West Coast). The project teachers use sheltered instruction in a
variety of settings, such as traditional English as a second language (ESL)
classes, content-based ESL classes, and sheltered content classes.
OVERVIEW OF THE PROJECT
The project commenced in Spring
1997 when a small cohort of teachers collaborated with the researchers to refine
the SIOP, distinguishing between effective strategies for beginning,
intermediate, and advanced English language learners; determining "critical"
versus "unique" sheltered strategies, the latter being language-modification or
support oriented (e.g., slower speech, use of bilingual dictionaries); field
testing the SIOP; and providing feedback for making it more user friendly.
The professional development aspect of the project began in earnest in Summer
1997. At two professional development institutes (one on each coast),
participants explored the project's goals and the SIOP with the researchers. The
teachers also set personal development goals for themselves. During the 1997-98
school year, the researchers began observing and videotaping the classroom
instruction of participating teachers. Three videotapes were made of each
teacher. The first, shot early in the fall semester, offers the baseline against
which the professional development of each teacher can be measured. Between
tapings, teachers were observed approximately monthly. After each observation, a
SIOP was completed on the teacher, and a score was assigned for each of the 30
items. The researchers shared these analyses with the teachers on an ongoing
basis as a means of facilitating teacher growth and validating the research
Teachers and researchers met in district-level groups approximately once a
month, as well as twice in reunion workshops with the project teachers from each
coast, to discuss the research agenda, refine the sheltered instruction model,
review and discuss videotaped lessons, and provide constructive feedback. These
meetings were quite collaborative. The teachers discussed issues such as how to
bring students back together after a cooperative learning science activity, how
to conduct a simulation in a history class, and how to differentiate instruction
for students at different English proficiency levels in the class.
PRELIMINARY FINDINGS ON TEACHER CHANGE
After 2 years of
working with the teachers, certain areas of professional growth were identified,
including the teachers' use of the observation tool for lesson planning,
self-monitoring, and reflection; their small but growing awareness of how
language can be part of content classes and ways in which it can be naturally
integrated; an understanding of effective instruction and ways to determine if
students are learning; and the recognition that change takes time and is
facilitated by more capable others--both colleagues and researchers.
Using the SIOP for Lesson Planning and Reflection
From the beginning, the teachers were asked to evaluate the categories and
individual items of the SIOP for application to their classes. It was during the
first monthly meeting in one East Coast district that the teachers explored
using the SIOP as a lesson planning tool. Similarly, on the West Coast that
fall, a district group was discussing the use of the SIOP for rating lessons. A
teacher commented that, "It may even be more useful for planning," and told the
group that, after writing his lesson plans, he compared them to the SIOP and
made sure he had covered all the components. As a result, the researchers
modified the SIOP into a checklist for teachers to use in lesson planning.
At the beginning of the 1997-98 school year, the teachers also selected one
category on the SIOP as a personal goal for improvement. One teacher, Ms. Clark,
"I am interested in this project because I am relatively new to teaching
English as a Second Language and I believe that I can benefit a lot by
participating in this project. I have a lot to learn and a lot to build
on or improve on what I know. I have decided to make "preparation" my
professional development goal for this year. This, I think is a good
choice given the makeup of my class. They are beginners, but they range
from no or low competency to high competency within the beginner level."
While observing her first lesson, the researchers noticed that the lesson
plan did not allow much time for the students to talk or to practice the
information presented. Interaction was teacher-dominated, and students were
called upon primarily to provide brief, factual responses. The grouping pattern
was whole class for the entire lesson. After reading feedback on the first
observation, Ms. Clark refined her goal:
"I am working on pacing. I have a 6th grade class and the 7th/8th grade
class that you observed. The sixth graders are much more language
proficient and knowledgeable than the 7th/8th graders. I often times
realize during or after a lesson that I have to go at a slower pace for
the 7th/8th or that I should have used an entirely different approach
with them. These are the dimensions I think I have to have in the
forefront when I am preparing lessons."
By thinking about her lesson plans and about her individual students'
responses to the lessons, this teacher was able to identify areas for her own
personal growth. At the reunion meeting held in March 1998, Ms. Clark said,
"I've been using this as a personal thing. I think I've been benefiting.
Now I want to move on. I think I've done well with my goal, and I want
to choose another goal. I sit down with the SIOP as I plan my lessons,
and see I've done well with pacing."
Observations of Ms. Clark's classroom and a review of her videotaped lessons
that year revealed that her preparation skills had improved. She was better able
to accommodate the different proficiency levels of her beginning students. She
had incorporated small group and pair activities along with whole class
discussions and individual work and designed lessons that allowed more time for
students to practice their oral language and apply the information they were
Another teacher, Ms. Gately, keeps the SIOP in mind when planning lessons and
refers to it from time to time. She has decided that she wants feedback on her
lessons. So, before each scheduled visit, she emails her lesson plan to the
researchers for review and comment. She describes her language, content, and
cognitive objectives, then details the planned activities. This pre-visit
interaction gives the researchers an opportunity to make suggestions, refer her
to ideas embedded in the SIOP, and answer questions she may have.
The SIOP has also proved to be a valuable instrument for providing feedback
to teachers and focusing their self-reflection. Teachers are asked to watch
video clips of the taped lessons in light of selected SIOP categories. The group
then discusses whether or not the videotaped teacher accomplished those items
and how. If the teacher was not successful, ideas are generated for modifying
The East Coast teachers chose to have feedback on observed lessons through
email exchanges in order to maintain an ongoing dialogue about the lessons and
the project. After the observed lessons, comments are written according to the
SIOP categories. The interpretation of the lessons is discussed in light of the
categories and, where appropriate, suggestions are made for future lessons. The
teachers in turn respond with their explanations, sometimes agreeing with the
ideas and sometimes explaining why they include or omit a particular task in
relation to the entire unit they are presenting to the students. Through the
email dialogue, teachers explain what happened the day before as well as what is
planned for the following day. This helps to round out the researchers'
interpretation of each lesson. It also ensures that the collaborative
relationship the researchers have established with the teachers is maintained.
Implementing Language Objectives in Content Lessons
Incorporating language objectives in the sheltered content lessons has been
challenging for most of the teachers. The West Coast teachers, who are trained
content specialists, do not easily recognize language learning opportunities. If
anything, they concentrate on vocabulary development. We expected that the East
Coast teachers, most of whom are trained ESL specialists, would incorporate
language much more readily. However, they found themselves struggling to cover
the content they needed to teach, and in the first year often lost track of the
language learning possibilities. Many of the ESL-trained teachers are required
to teach several subjects, some of which they are not certified to teach. They
find the preparation very time consuming, especially the less experienced
In the monthly meetings, we periodically explored how language objectives
could be incorporated into content lessons. Besides the obvious inclusion of key
vocabulary or grammar points, the teachers shared ways to add language skills,
such as reading comprehension strategies or process writing. In addition, we
discussed ways to increase oral interaction opportunities that allow students to
use language for functional purposes, such as negotiating meaning or making
hypotheses. As a group, we agreed that lessons might take place over several
days, and that language activities might not occur each day but should occur for
each multiday lesson or unit.
Assessing Student Comprehension
During the 1997-98 school year, teachers gained confidence and facility in
implementing the model. A new challenge was raised at the end of the year and
extended into the next year: How does a teacher know that the students
understood the instruction? The teachers and researchers decided to approach
this issue by focusing on whether students understood the information, tasks,
and activities during the lesson (review/evaluation of student knowledge is a
category on the SIOP, so answering this comprehension question was in keeping
with the model); and by exploring how students' level of comprehension, as
reflected in their work, could inform teacher planning.
Videotape analysis was used to ascertain student comprehension during the
lesson. In some of the monthly work groups, a teacher would introduce the lesson
by providing background on the students and by describing the goals for the
lesson and how the lesson fit into the overall curriculum. Using the SIOP,
participants watched the videotaped lesson, paying particular attention to
student engagement levels, types of student questions, and student behaviors.
The group discussed ways that the teacher could have made the message clearer,
such as writing the instructions on the overhead while explaining them orally.
This simple adjustment to the lesson would have given students visual clues to
aid their comprehension as well as a reference point throughout the lesson when
they were unclear what to do next.
The group examined student work completed during or subsequent to the
videotaped lesson. The researchers emphasized that it is not enough to simply
deliver a lesson; students must learn from the process. Discussions in the West
Coast meetings shifted from simply rating the lessons using the SIOP to rating a
lesson and then analyzing student work samples. Results informed which
modifications needed to be made in later lessons. For example, the researchers
videotaped Ms. Schumaker's lesson on Africa's geographic regions. The teacher
brought student tests on the unit to the work group. The group first rated the
videotaped lesson using the SIOP, giving the teacher high marks on most items
and deeming it a high quality sheltered lesson. Next, the group analyzed the
test itself for elements that might be problematic, indicating questions that
lacked clarity or those that might yield unexpected responses. Finally, the
group examined the variation in individual student performance on the test.
These levels of analyses revealed several difficulties that were caused by the
Ms. Schumaker admitted that she had assumed the students had easily
comprehended the first portion of the test--a set of slides of Africa that she
had shown. However, students performed poorly on the five slide identification
test questions. The teacher recognized that she would need to teach that section
of the unit differently the next time. The group concluded that the test would
require more time to complete than had been allotted for most English language
learners who concentrate on both the language and content. After the slide
identification portion, students faced 20 multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank
questions and had to respond to an essay question. The group agreed that when
tests have essay questions, other types of questions should be limited to allow
adequate time for conceptualizing and composing the essay.
Teacher Change Takes Time and Requires Collaboration
It was the original aim of the project to train a cohort of teachers the
first year, follow their students' achievement, and begin training a new cohort
of teachers the second year. However, the researchers soon realized that changes
in teaching do not take place easily or quickly, even with sustained involvement
throughout a school year and summer. Many teachers struggled with some of the
issues discussed previously, such as focusing on both language and content
objectives. Other teachers, despite some experience working with English
language learners, did not have a sophisticated understanding of the needs of
students going through the second language acquisition process. Their
professional training was in a content area, not ESL. It took significant time
for those teachers to understand that ELLs require significant amounts of
comprehensible input as well as curricular modifications.
Teachers reported that initially, rather than implementing major components
of the model, they isolated certain items within the model, such as slowing
their presentation of material and using more visual clues, and focused their
attention only on those features. At the beginning, this approach was useful for
several teachers but slowed the process of practicing and perfecting the entire
model. However slow the process, it was enhanced and facilitated through
collaboration. Teachers spoke highly of the benefit of working within their
group, whether at the monthly meetings, the school site, or the summer
institutes. A number of teachers particularly enjoyed the opportunity for
The current structure of schools and
district-led professional development provide relatively few teachers with the
opportunity to reflect on and analyze their instruction and the work of their
students to the degree that has been accomplished in this project. There is
rarely any occasion when teachers can come together and collaborate on the
teaching and learning process, certainly none that are sustained over time. The
teachers who participated in this study have created learning communities in
which they can discuss issues of real importance and can set the pace for their
own professional growth.
Echevarria, J., Vogt, M.E., & Short, D. (in
press). "Making content comprehensible for English language learners: The SIOP
model." Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
This digest is drawn from a report prepared by the Center for Research on
Education, Diversity & Excellence, "The Sheltered Instruction Observation
Protocol: A Tool for Teacher--Research Collaboration and Professional
Development" (1999), by Deborah J. Short and Jana Echevarria.