Sheltered English Immersion: Definition, History & Impact

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  • 0:04 Discovering Best Practices
  • 0:54 Practicing SEI and Initial Use
  • 1:28 Influence on ELL…
  • 2:37 SEI Example
  • 4:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Grace Pisano

Grace has a bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in teaching. She previously taught high school in several states around the country.

Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) aims to teach ELL grade-level content standards while simultaneously enhancing students' English proficiency. In this lesson, learn about the history, impact, and use of SEI in classrooms across the country.

Discovering Best Practices

Over its nearly 250-year history, the United States has developed and largely become a nation formed and shaped by the mixing of cultures. Immigrants who arrive on its shores make the country diverse, unique, and full of cultures that all have their own various differences. When immigrants arrive, they bring many aspects of their native country with them such as religious customs, traditions, social norms, and language, to name a few. Educators and policy makers have been debating how to best teach non-native speakers English since the 1950s.

In the 1980s, Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) grew in popularity. In many states, it is still the methodology used. Let's examine what SEI is, how it was initially used, and its influence on education programs for English language learners, or ELL students.

Practicing SEI and Initial Use

The idea behind Sheltered English Immersion is for a teacher to teach a class of students (either entirely ELL or mixed with the mainstream population) English in a way that all students understand the instruction and complete tasks without compromising the grade-level content objective.

Initially, this program was called ''sheltered'' because ELL students were pulled out of the mainstream class and taught using these principles in a class comprised entirely of ELL students. Although this practice is still used occasionally in schools today, nowadays SEI is primarily used in mainstream classes.

Influence on ELL Education Programs

This program was designed so that students who are still working on their English skills do not fall behind in other academic areas. SEI aims to fix a common problem with ELL students: often, assessments will show that ELL students didn't meet an objective. However, without properly designed instruction and/or assessments, this could easily be related to misunderstanding directions or instructions and doesn't reflect a student's understanding of content. This means nothing is wrong with the student, but rather something is wrong with the communication.

Here are some tips for success:

  • Use plain, clear, and simple English in direct instruction and on assessments.
  • Incorporate physical activities and visuals into instruction. All students in your class will benefit from this.
  • Make connections to prior knowledge so that students can form connections.
  • Modify the English instruction without compromising content. All students are held to the same standard. As a teacher, make compromises on the delivery of instruction, not the standard.
  • Have intentional interactions with students to build English skills. As students build their English skills, make the language more complex.

SEI Example

What does this look like in practice? Well, let's say you're a 10th grade history teacher with a class of 20 students. 15 of the students are native English speakers, and the other 5 are ELLs. The ELL students have between a 3rd and 7th grade reading level.

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