Friday, February 26, 2010

Collaborative Teaching for ELLs: Are Two Teachers Better Than One?

Over the past few years collaborative or co-teaching has become more popular as school districts search for ways to best serve the needs of their English language learners. What is collaborative teaching? Does it work? In this blog I will try to explain how collaborative teaching works for English language learners.

In a collaborative or co-teaching setting, the ESL teacher "pushes into" the general education classroom to collaborate with the teacher. Collaborative teaching involves two credentialed professionals who are partners in the instruction of the lesson. One professional is usually a classroom or subject area teacher and the other is a certified ESL teacher. Ideally, co-teachers have equal responsibilities for planning instruction. Together the two teachers are lowering the student-teacher ratio and providing differentiated instruction in a manner that is not possible for one teacher.

Collaborative teachers are using the same physical space. Students are not pulled out of the classroom for one of the teachers to instruct. Although small heterogeneous groups may occasionally be pulled aside for reinforcement, I think that English language learners should not be isolated from mainstream students in the back of the classroom. In elementary schools, ESL teachers may come into the classroom for one instructional period each day.

Over the past few years collaborative teaching has become more popular as school districts search for ways to best serve the needs of their English language learners. If you ask ESL teachers who have tried co-teaching, you will hear both negative and positive responses.

Here is an example for a poor collaborative teaching situation. Paulo is a "push-in ESL teacher in a large school district in N.J. He teams with five different teachers each school day. He also teaches two classes of beginners in a pullout setting. Because of his work load, he is unable to plan lessons with his co-teachers. When Paulo goes into some classrooms, the teacher turns the students over to him and uses the time as a prep period. In others, he is helping a few ESL students at the back of the room while the classroom teacher works with the rest of the students. Usually, he serves as a classroom aide, roving around the room to help students who do not understand the instruction. He is not necessarily scheduled into a classroom when the students need him most. In one class, he comes in when kids are eating snack.

This is collaborative teaching at its worse. ESL professionals are not classroom aides. They should not be relegated to the back of the room with English language learners. What is the point of "push-in" ESL if students are kept on the fringes of the "real" instruction? Both teachers have a contribution to make. The classroom teacher contributes knowledge of the curriculum and of all the students in the class while the ESL teacher brings information about teaching strategies, second language acquisition and diverse cultures.

It is my experience that ESL teachers who are pushing into general education classrooms are generally more satisfied if they:

* have input into their schedule and whom they will be teaching with.
* co-teach specific subject and are in the classroom each time the subject is taught.
* have time to plan with the co-teacher
* enjoy equal status with the co-teacher.
* can discuss and decide their role and responsibilities in advance.

Here are some models that are used when co-teaching English language learners:

* Teach and write. One teacher teaches the lesson while the other records the important points on an overhead or chalkboard. ELLs benefit from this because information is being presented to them through different modalities. Station teaching. Students rotate through predetermined stations or activities. Each teachers works with all the students as they come through the station.
* Parallel teaching. The class is divided into two groups and each teacher delivers the content information to their group simultaneously. This allows teachers with distinctly different styles to work together.
* Alternative teaching. Teachers divide responsibility for planning. The majority of the students work in a large group setting but some students are pulled into to a smaller group for pre-teaching or other types of individualized instruction. The same students should not be pulled into the small group each time.
* Team Teaching. Teachers co-teach each lesson. This requires a great deal of planning and cooperation. Both teachers are responsible for all of the students.
* Lead and support. The lead teacher instructs the class while the supporting teacher provides assistance as she roams around the room. The supporting teacher may elaborate the important points or retell parts of the lesson. Ideally, classroom and ESL teachers should alternate roles so that one is not always the lead teacher. This type of instruction can be misused and the ESL teacher may find herself in a subordinate role.

There are many obvious benefits to co-teaching for students. ESL students have both academic and social benefits. They are exposed to the mainstream content but have the support of a second teacher. They are not pulled out of the class and learn with their classmates.

ESL teachers, however, cite many concerns. They do not want to lose ownership of their students be relegated to the status of an aide. They feel that collaboration is a lot of additional work especially if they are co-teaching with several different teachers. ESL teachers are concerned about beginners, who they feel do not really benefit from learning in the large group setting.

I think the benefits of collaboration outweigh the drawbacks. When teachers share the responsibility of instruction, lessons are more creative because two people are planning them. It's nice to have another adult in the room to be able to provide a range of support to students and to share those "ah-ha" moments.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

25 Quick Tips for Teaching ELLs

Do you want to create an effective learning environment for your English language learners? Pick five ideas that you have never tried from the list below and implement them in your content area or mainstream classroom. You will be surprised to see how much the learning of ELLs improves.

Before Teaching the Lesson

1. Determine the English language learning level of your ELLs. Be realistic about what you expect them to do.

2. Plan ahead. Think about how you will make the content comprehensible to your ELLs. Consider how will you link the content to the students’ previous knowledge.

3. Decide what concepts need to be pre-taught and how you can develop content area vocabulary.

4. Prepare teaching aids such as maps, charts, pictures, and flashcards before the lesson is taught.

5. Add vocabulary word banks to student activities.

6. Adapt text so that the concepts are paraphrased in easier English. Eliminate non-essential details.

7. Find non-fiction books in the library written at a lower level about the topic you are teaching.

During the Lesson

8. Build on what ELLs already know.

9. Simplify vocabulary and sentence structure. Pre-teach vocabulary in context.

10. Use embedded or yes/no questions; give ELLs questions you will ask in advance so that they can prepare.

11. Introduce concrete concepts and vocabulary first.

12. Teach students to categorize their information using graphic organizers. Create semantic and story maps.

13. Demonstrate highlighting techniques so that students can highlight important information.

14. Review and repeat important concepts and vocabulary.

15. Provide concrete “real” examples and experiences.

16. Teach ELLs to find definitions for key vocabulary in the text.

17. Help ELLs become acquainted with their textbooks (table of contents, glossary, index, etc.)

18. Model your thinking processes for students using “think-alouds”.

19. Tape record part of your lesson to reinforce learning.

After the lesson

20. Have classmates make copies of their notes for ELLs to use.

21. Have ELLs watch videos or listen to tapes about current lesson using close caption feature.

22. Provide follow-up activities that reinforce vocabulary and concepts.

23. Have students work in small groups or pairs so that language and concepts are reinforced.

24. Adjust homework assignment to your ELLs’ English language proficiency level.

25. Modify assessment so that your ELLs have an opportunity to show what they have learned.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

K-5 Web Sites for English Language Learners

Attention all elementary ESL and classroom teachers! Do you want to discover great web sites for the English language learners in your class? Here is a painless way to give students English language practice in the classroom or at home. These sites are designed for ELLs in grades K-5.
Sites for Grades 1-2 Reading instruction and games for students in Pre-K-1. It's hard to believe this site is free.
Reading is Fundamental. Look at the many stories for grades 2-6 students. -a site with online stories and activities. Grades pre-K-Kindergarten.
British Council Stories -This site has many stories that are read aloud. Check for spelling and pronunciation differences.
Games on PBS Kids - Games for K-2. "WordPlay" can be used for students in grades 3-4.
Arthur -Sequencing activity where students hear a story and put pictures in order.
Storyline Online -A terrific site with stories read by actors from the ScreenActors' Guild. Grades 1-4.
Reading-A-To-Z - This is a commercial site with free books that you can download and print. Grades 1-4. and listening activities for elementary age students. This is not a free website but is well worth the minimal cost.
Tumblebook Library – This is a wonderful collection of online books that is well worth the cost. Prices are for schools, school districts or public libraries, not indiviiduals. Take the free trial to check it out.
Berenstain Bears Games and Songs - Great activities for young children including word games, songs and puzzles. Grades K-1.
Enchanted learning Printable books and information written for students in grades K-5.
Continent song Good for students learning the names of the continents.
Sites for Grades 3-5
Discover Science Simulations Science content from Houghton Mifflin Science Series. Gr. 2-5
KidsKnowit Network - Learning videos for students is grades 3-6.
Grammar Gorillas for Advanced Beginners in Grades 3-5 -This site has multicultural children's stories told by famous storytellers. Be sure to
Postcards from Buster - See Buster�s adventures from various places in the U.S. Each city has video, audio, map skills and games. Grades 3-5.
Scholastic - A program for kids to make flashcards. Grades 3-5
Surfing the Net with Kids -Site with games and puzzles in different subject areas.
Book Report - Students make a book report sandwich. Grades 4-5.
Literactive This site has great oral stories and games for grades 1-12.
Spelling Wizard - Use spelling words to make a word search or sentence scramble. Grades 3-5.
Songs and Rhymes- Songs for students in all grades.
Zoom - Games, activities and science experiments from the TV Show Zoom. Grades 4-5.

Friday, February 5, 2010

20 Tips on Communicating with English Language Learners

Teachers and students can communicate with new non-English speaking students from the very first day. Here are some suggestions to aid that communication:

1. Use drawings, dramatic gestures, actions, emotions, voice, mime, chalkboard sketches, photographs and visual materials to provide clues to meaning.
2. If necessary, repeat your actions using the same simple structures and actions.
3. Simplify your message as much as possible breaking them into smaller, manageable parts to give newcomers a chance at comprehending.
4. Make sure the student's attention is focused.
5. Don't insist, however,that students make eye contact with you when you are speaking to them. This is considered rude in many cultures.
6. Modify your speech. Talk at a slow-to-normal pace, in short sentences. Use a pleasant tone of voice.
7. Use simple sentence structure (subject-verb-object) and high-frequency words
8. Use names of people rather than pronouns.
9. Pause after phrases or short sentences, not after each word. You do not want to distort the rhythm of the language.
10. Avoid using the passive voice and complex sentences.
11. If you have something important to convey, speak one-on- one to the student rather than in front of the class. The anxiety of being in the spotlight interferes with comprehension.
12. Ask simple yes/no questions. Accept one-word answers or gestures.
13. Be an active listener. Give full attention to your newcomer and make every effort to understand his / her attempts to communicate. Smile.
14. Talk in a calm, quiet manner. Raising your voice does not help comprehension
15. Demonstrate your patience through your facial expressions and body language.
16. Give your English language learners extra time to respond.
17. Encourage new learners of English to act out or to draw pictures to get their meaning across. Don't jump in immediately to supply the words for the student.
18. Correct pronunciation and grammar by repeating the response accurately. Do not ask the student to repeat the correction. This can be very embarrassing. Resist the urge to over correct. This will inhibit newcomers so that they will be less willing to speak.
19. Allow students to use a bilingual dictionary or electronic translator for words that can not be acted out.
20. Check comprehension frequently. Don't ask "Do you understand?" This is not a reliable check since many students will nod "yes" when they don't really understand.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Teaching English Language Learners Across the Content Areas

I am proud to announce the publication of Teaching English Language Learners Across the Content Areas (ASCD, 2010). I had a wonderful time writing this book with Debbie Zacarian, whom I met at TESOL when we both wrote columns for the TESOL publication, Essential Teacher. Writing a book alone is a long, lonely task but co-writing can be a wonderful journey where authors grow as writers. This was the case with my collaboration with Debbie.  

Our book can be ordered now on the ASCD website.  In fact, the table of contents and the first two chapters are available at ASCD Bookstore. It is also available on and at Barnes and Noble.

Here is what ASCD writes about the book on their site:

Taking off from the ideas in our best-selling book Getting Started with English Language Learners (Judie Haynes, ASCD 2007) here’s a book that helps teachers in every subject area become expert teachers of English language learners (ELL). Using classroom scenarios that depict common challenges in elementary, middle, and high school content area classes, the authors describe the basics that every teacher needs to begin teaching both content and the English language, including
  • Learning environments that provide ELLs with multiple opportunities to practice activities and connect learning to personal and cultural experiences.
  • Lesson plans that identify core ideas, tap students’ background knowledge, and use visuals, think-alouds and other ways to engage ELLs.
  • Small‑group configurations that include ELLs in mainstream instruction by involving them in activities with their fellow students.
Discover how mainstream, subject area teachers can modify instruction to involve ELL students—while still engaging the whole class—by implementing proven classroom strategies, including
  • Visual and tactile activities that provide ELLs with adequate repetition and practice of new vocabulary words and concepts.
  • Six essential reading comprehension strategies that should be taught to ELLs in all grade levels.
  • Five do’s and don’ts for teaching writing to ELLs.
  • Techniques for assigning homework and creating assessments that are appropriate for the stages of English language acquisition.