Leveraging the impact of co-teaching for ELL populations

The rapidly growing number of English Language Learners, as well as the linguistic diversity found within many of those student groups, presents a unique set of challenges for today’s educators. Through the use of effective co-teaching implementation, educators can strategically address the individual needs of their respective ELL populations while maximizing student achievement for all.

ELL populations
  • 4.8 million (9.5%) of the student body with concentrations varying within individual states
  • 21% of the student body of California alone (as of Fall 2015)

National Council of Education Statistics

Co-teaching is defined as the practice of pairing teachers, traditionally a general education teacher and a special education instructor, in order to share the responsibilities of the planning, instruction, and evaluation of a group of students. However, this definition has been extended to incorporate all specialists, including ELL specialists. In this setting the teachers are equally accountable for student success and decision making as they strive toward a shared goal.

Co-teaching models

Developed by Marilyn Friend and Lynne Cooke, there are several models of co-teaching, each with its individual advantages and specific contributions towards student success. Careful examination of each model should be done by each co-teaching pair in order to assess which model best meets the needs of their students at any given time. These models include one teach, one assist; parallel teaching; two group teaching; station teaching; and team teaching. A brief description of each is included below.

1. One Teach, One assist

Within this model one teacher is responsible for the majority of the instructional process; from planning through instruction and evaluation, while the other circulates throughout the room providing assistance and support as needed. Although this type of approach may address student needs immediately, it may create an environment where students view one teacher as the primary authority and create an over reliance on the need for 1:1 attention.

2. Parallel teaching

In this approach, both teachers plan collaboratively and share the responsibilities of planning and instruction. Here, the class is split in two with each teacher taking ownership over one group. In parallel teaching, both groups receive instruction on the same content, although the method of instruction may be differentiated according to meet student needs.

3. Two Group Teaching

In this scenario, one teacher manages the majority of the class while the second teacher pulls a small group in order to strategically address targeted concerns. This method affords the opportunity to better support the individual needs of the students.

4. Station Teaching

With station teaching, both teachers share instructional responsibilities. The class is divided into two or more centers with each teacher facilitating one of the stations. Additional stations would be run independently by the students. Teachers would teach the same content to each group of students as they proceed through the stations as directed. Station teaching affords the benefit of small group instruction with the flexibility to adapt instructional methodologies as needed to address concerns and gaps in understanding.

5. Team Teaching:

In team teaching, both teachers facilitate the instruction of a lesson that has been co-developed. Both teachers actively engage in purposeful conversation to drive learning and deepen the understanding of academic content. Both teachers share the responsibility of classroom management and work conjunctively to clarify misconceptions as needed.

Implementing the right teaching model 

Implementing the right teaching model can make all the difference when it comes to reaching ELL students in an authentic and meaningful way. The teaching pair should be flexible and mindful in selecting a model that is most appropriate in addressing the complexities of the topic to be taught. Additionally, it is important to consider other mitigating factors, unique to a teacher’s individual situation when choosing a co teaching model to implement. For example, parallel, two group and station teaching require additional planning by the co-teaching pair which can often be difficult to come by in a normal school day. More importantly, it is critical to thoroughly understand and consider the needs/levels of the ELL population specific within a teacher’s classroom in order to better select the model that provides the greatest educational impact. 

Class size, educational needs, availability of resources, teacher comfortability and time are just some of the factors to consider when selecting the appropriate model. Each model described above (particularly station teaching and two group teaching) afford both educators and instructional specialist more frequent opportunities to hone in and target the specific learning needs of their ELL students in the most substantial way. Although it may appear at times to be a daunting task, selecting the appropriate teaching model for instruction can yield tremendous results. When in doubt, co teachers should seek guidance, both within the school walls as well as outside resources, to ensure that the best models are implemented specific to the needs of their communities.

Collaboration optimizing outcomes

Effective co-teaching is dependent on creative co-construction, where both teachers work to develop an authentic partnership rooted in genuine and professional interactions. According to the available research on the topic, teacher collaboration is a critical component necessary for increasing student achievement. More specifically, effective collaboration and intentionality among educators and specialists reduces role distinction, creating a shared expertise within the co-teaching partnership. This, therefore, allows for the likelihood of the development of multiple solutions to challenges encountered when addressing the needs of English Language Learners.

Furthermore, effective co-teaching implementation allows for English language learners to receive specific targeted instruction while preserving their connection to their classroom community. Linguistic barriers can often limit the opportunities for ELL students to form meaningful relationships with their peers outside of their cultural or ethnic group, essentially cutting them off from an entire segment of the educational experience. Traditional pull out services further exacerbates this unintended social isolation. Models such station teaching (with flexible groupings) and two group teaching allow for the instructors to conjunctively target ELL needs within a small group without removing them. For example, a co teaching pair when planning stations, may differentiate, or tailor, the lesson specifically for their ELL students, but only use it when a particular group of students rotate through that station. Additionally, remaining within the co-taught setting exponentializes the opportunities for ELL’s to engage with their English speaking peers which the research suggest is the most efficient way to increase the vocabulary acquisition of a second language.

The landscape of public education is a diverse one, riddled with challenges for today’s educators. By effectively implementing co-teaching models within their classrooms, educators not only ensure fair and equitable access for their English language learners, but for all students.

Three ways to hear more from our English Language and Equity experts.

1. "Power-up language learning with dynamic co-teaching" 

A session exploring the ways that focused, effective and good value-for-money implementation of co-teaching strategies can significantly improve language learner outcomes.

Access our session recording

2. "Closing the achievement gap for EL - getting it right form the start,"

An overview of the ways in which our English Language and equity experts help schools, districts and management organisations implement effective and appropriate EL strategies:

Access our session recording

3. Optimizing the impact of English Learner strategies 

An overview of the ways in which our English Language and equity experts help schools, districts and management organisations implement effective and appropriate EL strategies:

Read our three steps to to optimize the impact of English Learner strategies