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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Curriculum Opinion

Author Interview: ‘Co-Teaching for English-Learners’

By Larry Ferlazzo — June 05, 2019 13 min read
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Andrea Honigsfeld and Maria Dove agreed to answer a few questions about their book, Co-Teaching for English Learners. This seemed like a particularly appropriate time to publish the interview because of a three-part series on co-teaching that appeared earlier this week in this column.

Andrea Honigsfeld, Ed.D., is a professor, and Maria Dove, Ed.D., is an associate professor, both in the Division of Education at Molloy College, Rockville Centre, New York. Employing their extensive experience as EL specialists and TESOL teacher educators, they have published widely on effective education for English learners, including most recently Co-Teaching for English Learners: A Guide to Collaborative Planning, Instruction, Assessment, and Reflection (Corwin, 2018).

LF: Can you give an “overview” definition of the meaning of “co-teaching”?

Andrea Honigsfeld and Maria Dove:

There are many misconceptions about the practice of co-teaching. First and foremost, co-teaching does not work as a process without careful planning, ample professional development, and intentional teacher pairing. The simple placement of two teachers in the same classroom does not constitute an instant co-teaching partnership. As we define co-teaching, we would like to emphasize the need to view it as part of a larger picture. For co-teaching to work, teachers must engage in a complete instructional cycle of collaboration, which consists of four interrelated phases: collaborative planning, instruction, assessment, and reflection (this has been very well-documented by special education colleagues and researchers alike).

One frequently used definition of co-teaching for English-language learners (ELLs) then is the collaborative delivery of instruction that involves two teachers—one classroom teacher and one English-language-development/English-as-a-second-language (ELD/ESL) specialist. Through intentional planning, these teacher teams integrate content and language and literacy-development goals by using a comprehensive system of scaffolds to ensure ELs at all language-proficiency levels may have access to grade-appropriate curriculum. Co-planning becomes a non-negotiable; otherwise, the class will have one lead or “real” teacher and one helper or teacher’s aide. For co-teaching to work, the teachers involved must also regularly co-assess their students’ work and reflect on both their students’ content, language, and literacy development as well as their own effectiveness. There are other variations of this definition that include a range of different co-teaching partnerships such as other service providers, two or more professionals in the room, and so on!

LF: Here are two questions in one: What percentage of English-language-learner teachers in the U.S. do you think work in a co-teaching arrangement, as opposed to a self-contained class?

Andrea Honigsfeld and Maria Dove:

We do not have reliable statistical data (or any kind of data for that matter) on the breakdown of service-delivery models and the distribution of ELs among them around the country. What a wonderful question; we would love to find that out ourselves. Based on the number of schools and districts that have invited us to support their collaborative or integrated service-delivery model, we can confidently say that this number is growing. We have visited 27 states and we know there is co-teaching for the sake of ELs in at least five other states where we have not personally offered professional development or conference presentations but we know co-teaching for ELLs exists based on professional organizations or district-based newsletters or research publications.

What we also see is a huge emphasis on teacher collaboration. Collaboration among educators is becoming the norm, though it may take a range of shapes and forms—professional learning communities (PLCs), literacy- and language-support teams, grade-level and department teams, focus groups, community of learners for special purposes (e.g., technology integration), and so on. Many new teachers are initiated into the profession through professional-development opportunities provided by their school districts, including mentoring and peer coaching.

LF: What percentage of ELLs in the United States do you think are learning in co-taught classrooms?

Andrea Honigsfeld and Maria Dove:

Similarly, this would be very hard to estimate! We know of numerous school districts where there are no pullout or stand-alone classes, and ELLs remain in the general education classroom with in-class support. In other contexts, ELLs receive both stand-alone English-language-development classes and integrated, content-support co-taught instruction in one or more core-content classes. We would love to find out this percentage as well.

LF: You write about several kinds of co-teaching arrangements in the book. Can you give a brief description of each one? Then, can you provide some advice to assist teachers and administrators that could help them think about which one is best for a given situation?

Andrea Honigsfeld and Maria Dove:

Through our research and class observations, we have documented at least seven main co-teaching configurations that we refer to as co-teaching models. In our publication you are featuring in this interview, we have gone much further and discussed 3-5 additional model variations of each of the main models that we have observed in the field. So if we do the math, we have observed and/or practiced approximately 30 different configurations. The reason for such a large number is our philosophy of inviting teachers to develop ownership of their co-teaching approaches and experiment with configurations that best respond to the goals of the lesson and the needs of the students (the two guiding principles school administrators could also use when discussing which models of co-teaching the team chooses for a particular lesson). A description of each of these models identifies the particular roles and responsibilities of each teacher, as well as how students in the class are grouped. The seven co-teaching models are as follows:

  1. One Group: One Leads, One “Teaches on Purpose”
  2. One Group: Two Teach Same Content
  3. One Group: One Teach, One Assess
  4. Two Groups: Two Teach Same Content
  5. Two Groups: One Preteaches, One Teaches Alternative Information
  6. Two Groups: One Reteaches, One Teaches Alternative Information
  7. Multiple Groups: Two Monitor and Teach

Notice that in the first three models, the students remain as one large group while each teacher’s role and participation in the lesson is varied. In the next three models, the students are divided into two groups and, again, each teacher assumes a different role. Finally, in the last model, students are divided into multiple groups—from three to eight student clusters depending upon the size of the class, the lesson’s purpose, and the tasks to be completed—that are facilitated by both teachers.

We sometimes compare the co-teaching models to dancing. Each style—be it ballet, ballroom, disco, hip-hop, jazz, modern, tap, and so on—has a series of dance steps and techniques that identify each of them by name. Yet, no two people dance any selected style in exactly the same way. Such is the case when deciding on and implementing various co-teaching models. Each model offers some basic moves; however, based on the grade level or content area being addressed, variations are to be expected.

Model 1: One Group: One Leads, One “Teaches on Purpose”

With this model, one teacher leads the lesson while the other supports the learning of students in various ways. The role of the lead teacher is often to introduce new information, demonstrate a skill, or model the use of a new strategy. The teacher in the supporting role frequently circulates the classroom to help students by checking their understanding, clarifying instructions, scaffolding or repeating the information shared by the lead teacher, providing immediate feedback during guided practice, and so on. The lead-teacher role in this model should be a shared one in which both teachers have the opportunity to lead lessons from time to time. In this way, the students will view the teacher in the supporting role as an equal to the lead teacher in ability and authority.

Model 2: One Group: Two Teach the Same Content

With this instructional arrangement, both teachers lead the lesson although they may take on different roles and responsibilities. Co-teachers using this model pass the chalk freely so to speak from one to the other to provide students with rich, varied information and opportunities to meet their different learning-style needs. One teacher may be sharing new information while the other clarifies content material through note taking, illustrations, use of multimedia technology, or may even offer native-language support. One may suggest how to solve a problem or identify how to use a particular comprehension strategy while the other will demonstrate a different way to solve the same problem or suggest an alternative strategy to improve student understanding. In this way, each teacher brings his or her strengths to the instruction to support the learning of all students.

Model 3: One Teaches, One Assesses

With this co-teaching approach, one teacher will lead the lesson while the other will circulate the room for the purpose of assessing students. This assessment may take place over a brief amount of time during the class period, or it may extend far into the lesson depending on the purpose of the assessment and which students are being targeted. The teacher in charge of the assessment often takes notes on the performance behavior of particular students or uses a checklist or rubric to evaluate student performance. At times, the observing teacher may also gather data on a technique or strategy that the lead teacher is employing to gain better insight to the instruction of the English-learners in the class.

Model 4: Two Groups: Two Teach the Same Content

With this approach, the class is divided into two groups that are fairly equal in size. The purpose for the division is to decrease the student-teacher ratio and thereby create instructional groups that have more contact time with one of the teachers for direct instruction, discussion, and guidance. Groups are either divided heterogeneously or homogeneously according to their ability in the content area or their language proficiency—it all depends on the lesson purpose and learning tasks planned. Co-teaching partners teach the same content to each group but may use different resources, texts, materials, and so on. At some time during the lesson, it is beneficial for the two teachers to exchange groups. In this way, all students will benefit from being instructed by both teachers and have the opportunity to use the varied and unique materials offered by each group experience.

Model 5: Two Groups: One Preteaches, One Teaches Alternative Information

English-learners often benefit from group instruction that focuses on building background knowledge, front-loading vocabulary, or previewing essential lesson concepts. With these purposes in mind, co-teaching partners can decide which students should be selected for preteaching based on their levels of preparedness and skill in the content to be taught. One teacher will work with these selected students to build their background knowledge and thereby enrich their experience with the topic to be studied. The other will delve into exceptional aspects of the lesson topic with the remainder of the students—sharing a story, articles, or extraneous bits of information that enhance student interest. After a designated time, both groups are joined together to further explore what all students need to know about the lesson topic.

Model 6: Two Groups: One Reteaches, One Teaches Alternative Information

The configuration for this model is the same as for Model 5; students are divided into two groups based on their knowledge and skills. Yet, the purpose for one of the groups is to review previously taught content. This approach may be planned for the beginning of a lesson or used at any time during the lesson when the monitoring of students’ progress reveals a need for an immediate intervention. In this situation, co-teaching partners must plan ahead and have prepared an alternative activity for the group of students who do not need a lesson review. This model allows English-learners the needed time to master essential information and skills to heighten their overall learning.

Model 7: Multiple Groups: Two Monitor and Teach

With this approach, both teachers either circulate the room to oversee student learning and offer support—clarify information, review instructions, explain critical concepts, assess student learning, and so on—or remain stationary to conduct mini-lessons with small groups that rotate from teacher to teacher to independent learning stations. When this model is used in combination with others, it can truly enhance and individualize students’ learning experience. The various arrangements of students and the array of flexible groupings this model provides allow teachers the opportunity to differentiate the content, process, and product of instruction and learning tasks.

LF: What would you say are the top benefits to a co-teaching arrangement? What would you say are two or three key challenges, and how do you think they can be overcome?

Andrea Honigsfeld and Maria Dove:

The top benefits of co-teaching include ensuring ELLs’ are a part of and feel a sense of belonging within a classroom community, providing ELLs with opportunities to learn grade-appropriate content alongside their English-fluent peers, and offering teachers engagement in ongoing, job-embedded professional learning that leads to greater capacity in both teacher groups. In this way, classroom/content teachers will learn ELD/ESL strategies and transfer those strategies to other classes when their co-teacher is not present. And by the same token, ELD/ESL teachers learn the grade-level expectations and ensure high rigor and high support for all students who need them.

The key challenges we have encountered can be grouped by level: At the district level, if ELLs are not on the radar and seem to be an afterthought when it comes to policy decisions and funding allocations, co-teaching may not receive the necessary administrative support regarding funding for teacher positions and planning ongoing professional development for all teachers.

At the school level, if teacher collaboration is not an integral part of the culture, implementing co-teaching will be especially challenging. It is built on the premise of co-teaching being a part of the entire collaborative instructional cycle, so collaborative time and opportunities for teacher partnership building are a must!

At the classroom or individual level, teachers must have a personal commitment to and vital interest in both collaborating and instructing a class as co-teachers, providing culturally and linguistically responsive instruction with ongoing differentiation. We can’t underestimate the work that it entails!

LF: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to share?

Andrea Honigsfeld and Maria Dove:

Co-teaching is not a silver bullet for ELL instruction; if anyone has ever gotten that impression from our books or from this interview, please know where we stand. We have been researching this practice and continue to engage in it as instructional coaches, professional developers, and co-presenters. What we are the strongest advocates of is teacher collaboration. You can co-plan and collaborate without co-teaching and have an effective program of instruction for ELLs. However, you cannot co-teach for ELLs without co-planning, reviewing student assessments, or reflecting on your joint instruction practices together. Through collaboration, all teachers learn to embrace their roles of providing appropriate instruction to ELLs, and academic language and literacy development for all students become a shared, achievable, and measurable goal!

LF: Thanks, Andrea and Maria!

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.