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Teaching Content Using SDAIE Methodology

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S.D.A.I.E. - Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English

Ron Rohac, educational consultant,
S.D.A.I.E. Specialist


S.D.A.I.E. or Sheltered English is a teaching style established to provide meaningful instruction in the content areas for transitioning Limited English Proficient students to make sure they continue to move forward academically while they reach English fluency. The pedagogy surrounding the logic of this design is based upon linguistic theories laid out by a number of researchers including Dr. Steven Krashen and Dr. James Cummins. Their development of the “Contextual Interaction Theory” and the hypotheses therein provide the cornerstones for S.D.A.I.E. methodology and program design. At the heart of the theory are two major components that impact S.D.A.I.E. methods. These are comprehensible second language input and a supportive affective environment. Teacher training in S.D.A.I.E. revolves around developing strategies to provide these components to allow for optimal English language development and content comprehension.
The purpose of using content in the development of English is simply to provide meaningful context for the students. Instead of watering down the curriculum the teacher provides methods of instruction that are supported to allow students to negotiate meaning of complex content in lecture, activities and reading and writing. Teachers borrow from many disciplines such as multiple intelligences, gifted and talented or special education to provide this meaningful or comprehensible input. Teachers find a way to allow ALL students to participate. However, unlike ESL, S.D.A.I.E. does not directly focus on language development. Rather, S.D.A.I.E. methods focus on content comprehension and English is acquired through this process. S.D.A.I.E. was originally intended for students that had reached intermediate fluency in English. That is, simply stated students were orally proficient in English but were reading and writing below grade level. At present however, teachers face a wide spectrum of language abilities due to increasing numbers of LEP students, shrinking numbers of qualified bilingual teachers and most recently legislation that all but eliminates primary language instruction. Multiple languages, multiple language levels and limited access to primary language support has left districts scrambling for answers to ensure quality instruction and compliance with state and federal mandates for education.
The development of lessons needs to be based upon the theoretical components of linguistic theory. That said, we are looking for the best tools to provide comprehensible input. Since the basis of S.D.A.I.E. is to provide context for language then one of the simplest ways to provide that is to start lessons with an activity. I like to say that these hands-on activities are the engines that drive the S.D.A.I.E. classroom. These activities provide the linguistic hooks for students to pin new language upon. It will provide context for complex language and a vehicle to send us to the text book for reading and writing activities. Teachers will explore ways to provide verbal and nonverbal cues to help students understand what it is they want them to accomplish. Simple processes like setting a predictable routine, starting certain content by standing in a certain place in a room, ringing a bell to start an activity or simply modeling what is expected are only a few examples. Teachers are schooled to understand the significance of the different stages of language development and develop questioning strategies to allow all students the opportunity to actively participate. Scaffolding strategies are utilized to expand language experience. Teachers find a way to engage the learner and encourage participation.
In the development of lessons teachers pay particular attention to a number of areas. These components of S.D.A.I.E. lessons include hands-on activities, guarded vocabulary, cooperative learning and visual clues. Included in lesson design, teachers would also concern themselves with student organizational skills and student study skills.


Hands-on activities engage the learner in meaningful experiences so students comprehend the concepts the teacher is trying to convey. Part of its objective would be to help students link key vocabulary to the experience. Guarded vocabulary is somewhat of a catch-all phrase that encompasses a wide assortment of teacher behaviors surrounding language. Teachers are conscious of the selection of language used, how it will be introduced, practiced and incorporated into all components of their lessons. Teachers scan text materials for their content vocabulary and decide which terms might cause further comprehension problems in instruction and direction ( support vocabulary). The teacher provides activities, games and other low stress activities to build and work on this new vocabulary. S.D.A.I.E. teachers constantly monitor their rate of speech, syntax and language structure. Pre-reading activities are laced with appropriate questioning strategies that tap in to prior knowledge and experience, make concessions for language levels and promote critical thinking. Reading and writing activities are considered for the most part, guided activities. Teachers provide graphic organizers and other tools to help prepare and support students work and promote success. The third component of lesson design is using cooperative learning strategies. Cooperative learning takes advantage of student strengths and builds upon student weaknesses. Small teams, which is characteristic of cooperative learning, can reduce stress or lower the affective filter. The affective filter or student stress levels has been shown to interfere with language acquisition. Cooperative learning provides peer support, exposes students to other ways to solve complex problems, develops social skills and provides an excellent vehicle to practice oral language skills. Part of the peer support might be pairing students with the same primary language for translation when S.D.A.I.E. strategies fail to give enough comprehensible input! Last on this list are visual clues. These visual clues provide literally a visual way to describe key words and concepts. Teachers may find pictures, models, manipulatives, gestures and body language, realia (the real stuff), or demonstrations to represent the concept. The idea is to simply make abstract concepts concrete. Visual clues should be used in all aspects of the lessons including lectures and even assessment. Curricular materials should be sought after that reflects such methodology. One such program out there at present is Houghton Mifflin’s K-6 science program, “DiscoveryWorks 2000”. In this program the publisher went out of their way to provide all of these methods within the program and adds suggestions in practically every lesson for teachers to explore and try to help their English Language learners.
S.D.A.I.E. methodology forces the teacher to scrutinize every aspect of their lesson delivery system. In essence, it makes us better teachers. We learn to frequently check our students for understanding, monitor how well we are presenting materials and how well we are meeting the needs of the variety of learners we face every day. As one of my colleagues so aptly put it, “these students are language different, not learning disabled. I just have to find the right way to present my lessons so they understand and can prove it to me.” In a very real sense, the world is shrinking, and with it, we are becoming less isolated. With this lack of isolation, we must be prepared to accept and welcome peoples with different beliefs, backgrounds, and languages into our society. With this welcome, we will need to provide a vehicle within our educational system for students to acquire English so that they may continue their education and learn the language of their new country. As the newest members of the United States of America, English will be a tool they will need to be successful in business and the communities in which they live. S.D.A.I.E. seems to provide some of the most viable and effective ways for students to learn English.

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