The Far Reaching Benefits of Co-Teaching for ELLs

English Language Learners

Co-teaching has recently become a hot new buzzword in education; something at which veteran teachers might normally roll their eyes as they wait for the pendulum of best practices to swing back the other way.

After spending more than a decade serving English Language Learners, it’s a bandwagon that I’ve wholeheartedly jumped on. I’ve spent the last six years co-teaching my ELL students in a variety of settings — from self-contained and sheltered classrooms with push-in support, to a resource role where I pushed into several K-2 grade level classrooms.

My push-in support typically was scheduled during a balanced literacy block for an hour each day. As a resource teacher, I collaborated with my K-2 classroom teachers to provide literacy and language support during guided reading and Writer’s Workshop. As we became more comfortable as co-teaching partners, we expanded our work to include Problem Based Learning units in science and social studies, and technology integration with in-flipping and Google Tools.

The Obvious Benefits of Co-Teaching for the ELL Student

I could ramble on and on about the benefits my ELL students gained from the co-teaching experience. Some of the dividends provided to our students were obvious:

  • Little instructional time was lost because students didn’t leave the classroom. When teachers move from class to class, students don’t spend time transitioning.
  • Students were exposed to the same content and vocabulary as their general education peers.
  • Students had the opportunity to talk to their classmates daily through peer learning, a method research has shown to be a powerful tool for ELD growth. They had regular exposure to grade level content and expectations so they knew what grade level success looked like with their peers as role models.
  • Homogeneously grouping ELL students limits their exposure to rich language and experiences. In heterogeneous groups, ELL students have an opportunity to engage in academic discussions with native speaking students and with each other. It’s the old adage — you can’t get better at basketball unless you play with someone more experienced than you.
  • Teachers were able to observe students at the same time and discuss their observations about student learning. Inter-rater reliability was built into our everyday practice.
  • English language learning was seen as less of a negative by all stakeholders — there are so many cognitive benefits of speaking two languages. Bilingualism should be celebrated and not seen as a disability.
  • Parents who remembered being isolated from their peers in grade school no longer wanted to refuse ELL services for their children. Further, explaining that our ELL services were inside the mainstream classroom put parents at ease and more comfortable with their students receiving support.

students working at desks

Teacher Growth as a Hidden Benefit of Co-Teaching for the ELL Student

Although there are so many advantageous reasons to co-teach ELL students, the best reason may benefit students indirectly. For me, co-teaching had a profound impact on my teaching practice itself, and that alone is reason enough to co-teach all students.

  • As a co-teacher, I had the opportunity to work collaboratively every day, in real time, with my cooperating teachers. Having the opportunity to watch other teachers teach helped me to hone my own craft and share new ideas more easily. When I saw something amazing happening, I was able to take it down the hall and share it with not only my other classrooms, but my ELL teammates as well. Great ideas spread quickly and easily — without judgement or evaluation — and students benefited more quickly because we were able to collaborate so effectively.
  • Planning lessons together helped us to plan more efficiently and effectively because we were able to build frameworks that supported student learning — something that may be too arduous and overwhelming for one teacher to undertake alone. When my co-teachers and I finished a lesson, we had the added benefit of having a partner to reflect with on students’ learning as well. We were able to discuss our shared caseloads and make decisions that impacted students’ instructional experiences. Additionally, we were accountable to each other in regards to planning, lesson delivery, and assessment. When someone else is counting on you to be a part of any of these key instructional components, you’re naturally driven to put quality work forward in a timely manner.
  • We were able to develop a shared vocabulary that supported our students’ language development. Listening to each other teach, we heard the ways we each used academic vocabulary and could clear up misconceptions for students, helping them to make connections between similar concepts, like main idea and topic sentence. Teaching in isolation, it would have been easy to miss that students needed help to make this simple link.
  • Working with so many different cooperating teachers also gave me a new perspective on flexibility and responsiveness in the classroom. Every pairing I was a part of had a different combination of strengths and tools at our disposal. This meant more flexibility for students and ultimately better teaching. There was no right way to co-teach and this made us all more adaptable and accepting of diverse methodologies.
  • Lack of professional development is often a complaint of new and experienced teachers alike. Teachers want to learn from each other and see how their colleagues are tackling new concepts and strategies. Co-teaching can be a simple way for teachers to watch each other teach in a non-threatening way.

Inspiring students to become voracious learners is my simplest goal each year; co-teaching allowed me to model my greatest hope for them every day because I was always learning and growing from my partnership and collaboration with my fellow teachers.

Are you co-teaching English Language Learners? What benefits, obvious or hidden, do you see as a result? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Jamie has been teaching primary and elementary English Language Learners in the Chicagoland area for more than 13 years. Currently, she is an Assistant Principal in Elmwood Park, Illinois. In this role, she supports the ELL and Bilingual Programs housed in her building. ELL and literacy skills, early intervention advocacy, and teacher-led schools are Jamie’s educational passions. She earned her BA from the University of Iowa in English and Spanish literature, has an MAT from Rockford College in Bilingual and Multilingual Education, and an M.Ed in School Leadership and Administration from Concordia University. She has served as a third grade team leader, English Language Learner Facilitator, and mentor teacher as well. Jamie has presented regionally for the Illinois NCLB statewide conference, the Illinois State Bilingual Conference, and the #ECET2Chicago conference. In addition, she was a member of the #ECET2Chicago planning team. Connect with Jamie on Twitter: @jamie_ponce

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