Elementary ELL Interaction: Mainstream v. Sheltered Instructional Settings
Johnston, Joan Ann
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This mixed methods study investigated the English verbal interactions of seven 3rd-6th grade beginning level English language learners across three different instructional settings: the mainstream grade level classroom, the sheltered English classroom, and the ELL pullout group. The quantitative component of the study documented significant differences in the frequency of English verbal interactions between the three instructional settings. The students were found to have the lowest frequency of overall English interaction in the mainstream classrooms, with the highest rates of interaction occurring in the ELL pullout groups. Peer interactions were found to be highest in the sheltered English classrooms, where students were among English language learning peers in a 3-week summer language program. Peer interactions in the mainstream classrooms, where the majority of students were native English speakers, were significantly lower than either the sheltered classroom or the pullout group.Grounded analysis of the observation notes from each observation session revealed completely divergent themes between the mainstream and sheltered classrooms. Students in the sheltered classrooms were observed to be highly engaged and enthusiastic; whereas, the same students were found to be largely disengaged, isolated, and frustrated or angry in the mainstream classrooms. Taken together, the quantitative and qualitative findings indicate that beginning level students are likely to be engaged in the content and the language when surrounded by other English language learners in the sheltered classrooms. Conversely, there is a strong tendency for students to withdraw from interaction or shut down when competing academically and socially with native speakers of English in the mainstream classroom.