Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners: The SIOP Model (#2)

“Students are more successful when they are able to make connections between what they know and what they are learning by relating classroom experiences to their own lives. These meaningful experiences are often described as “authentic,” because they represent a reality for students. That is, classroom experiences mirror what actually occurs in the learner’s world. Authentic, meaningful experiences are especially important for English learners because they are learning to attach labels and terms to things already familiar to them. Their learning becomes situated rather than abstract when they are provided with the opportunity to actually experience what they are being taught”
— Echevarria, Short, & Vogt, 2017, p. 43

I can empathize with this type of understanding with connections. Growing up, and still today, I would consider myself a slow processor. I am not an English Language Learner by any means, but it takes familiar connections for me to fully understand what I am reading or being told.

The authentic and meaningful opportunities provided for learners should constantly be taking place in classrooms of all types. In thinking back to Understanding by Design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005), giving meaning behind what you are teaching is key. Making your lessons relevant, with purpose and authenticity is incredibly important. It does take energy and time, but I do believe this is the true art and craft of a teacher. I believe that if all teachers had the time and support that they needed, all learners would have these meaningful experiences consistently.

“We know that most classes with English learners have students with multiple proficiency levels…. Teachers have at their disposal a variety of ways to differentiate spoken English to make it comprehensible for our diverse English learners. Almost every utterance can be modified in some way to address the variety of proficiency levels of students in your classrooms”
— Echevarria, Short, & Vogt, 2017, p. 104

Though I do not have any EL learners in my courses this year, I will say I have quite a spread of different level learners throughout my courses. I appreciate that the quote stated that teachers have a variety of ways to differentiate, and nearly every utterance can be modified in the English language. This is indeed true! I do wonder, however, whether our undergraduate programs for education provides our future teachers with enough of those variety of ways to differentiate. During my time at the elementary school, those teachers had a whole bag of tricks. They were constantly pulling out a variety of ways to differentiate at the drop of a hat, and I was mesmerized. I would like for all teachers to have the opportunity to spend time in other schools, classrooms, classroom types, content areas, etc. so they can see how others differentiate. Because maybe how we differentiate might not always be to a learner’s advantage.

Echevarria, J., Vogt, M.., & Short, D.J. (2017). Making content comprehensible for english learners: The SIOP model (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.