Empowering English Education: Meeting the ESL Challenge with CAL-SIOP


Authored by: Yasmin Hernandez-Manno

Statistics are not needed to show that the number of English learners in the United States is increasing every day. Walk down any street in any town and you will hear a symphony of languages and accents from all over the world. Whether they immigrated from abroad or were born in the States, there is a large portion of Americans who speak little to no English. While English is not the official language of our country, many of our schools, businesses and other key institutions almost exclusively conduct themselves in English. This non-English speaking population is a reservoir of hard work and talent waiting to be tapped, but without formal English education many in the population will be prevented from using their skills and education. For better or worse, the onus to teach students English often falls on individual educators, who already have their hands full. In order to incorporate these valuable members of society into our economy and give them a fair shot at the “American Dream,” educators need efficient and effective methods of English instruction. 

For this exact reason, last week, I attended the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) English instruction method training seminar hosted by the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL).  The training seminar was hosted online over the course of 4 days including 28 hours total of instruction. This method of English education was developed by researchers at California State University in collaboration with CAL, and it is focused on integrating 8 key components into classroom instruction; lesson preparation, building background, comprehensible input, strategies, interaction, practice/application, lesson delivery and review/assessment. At its core, SIOP is a method of teaching English that has proven to be effective for students of all ages speaking all kinds of primary languages. And that means a pathway to success for millions of Americans. 

The program offered all of the factual information about SIOP, but also gave us a virtual opportunity to apply what we learned in collaborative sections. I worked alongside educators and administrators from across the country, implementing these SIOP tactics in small group breakouts. This also gave us an opportunity to exchange knowledge and experience educating English learners, an exchange just as valuable as the sessions themselves. It was inspiring to see educators rising to the challenge of their non-English speaking students and sacrificing their time to help them succeed. Many of the educators that I spoke to attended this meeting voluntarily, giving up their free time to help their students in any way they can. I heard dozens of stories about that “eureka moment” where English learning students were for the first time able to feel confident in the classroom. Every student deserves the opportunity to succeed and be proud of their academic work, and the SIOP method gives this opportunity back to English learning students.  

If you are an educator or administrator, I cannot recommend the CAL-SIOP program enough. Even if you only have one English learning student, you owe it to them to study up on the research-backed methods to help them learn. Every student should have the chance to walk out of the classroom with their head held high, no matter what language they speak.