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|Volume 25, No. 2||Spring 2002|
By Bronwyn Coltrane, Center for Applied Linguistics
Do we have enough cut-outs for the jacket activity? Oh, good. We can finish that today, then … Is Ms. Robinson here yet? She'll be working with a sub this time. I'm sure plans are in the room … Hi Susan, we definitely need to go over the directions for the revising worksheet, I don't think they all got it yesterday … No, that's fine, we can suggest some topics from last year that worked well and then have them work with a partner to decide.
During the last moments before the school day officially begins, Georgia Portocarrero, teacher of English for speakers of other languages (ESOL), hurries down the hallway and into a first-grade classroom. After going over the day's lesson with the teacher there, she heads to a kindergarten classroom to discuss a supply list, then stops at a second-grade classroom to review potential project topics that students will discuss in class. This constant rush of brief meetings continues nonstop until the bell rings, at which time she has discussed over a dozen different lessons and activities-all of which will be implemented that same morning.
This bustling morning routine is typical at Viers Mill Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland, where for the last 7 years ESOL and mainstream teachers have implemented a model of instruction for K-2 students based entirely on collaborative team teaching. Rather than pulling intermediate- and advanced-level English language learners out of their classrooms for separate instruction, the ESOL and mainstream teachers work together to develop lessons and activities that are effective for all students, then co-teach these lessons within the context of the regular classroom. Like other educators who have implemented this model to serve English language learners, the teachers at Viers Mill have found team teaching to be extremely effective in spite of the challenges inherent in any team-based effort.
The teachers at Viers Mill are not alone. In recent years, a variety of programs, institutions, and even individual teams within schools have experimented with many different collaborative teaching models in order to find new ways to meet the needs of English language learners. Team-teaching programs exist at all levels of education: Bilingual or ESOL teachers are teamed with mainstream teachers at the elementary level (Sakash & Rodriguez-Brown, 1995; Wertheimer & Honigsfeld, 2000); high school ESOL teachers team with content-area teachers to teach both subject content and English (Anstrom, 1997); there are even teams of ESOL and social science teachers at the community college level (Gee, 1990). There seems to be a common thread across these variations of team-teaching programs: When teachers collaborate and combine their talents, everyone benefits.
Like many schools that have implemented team teaching as part of their ESOL program, Viers Mill uses this model to help integrate, rather than isolate, English language learners. These students are not separated or singled out at any time during instruction, yet they receive the additional language support they need from both the regular classroom teacher and the ESOL teacher. Students work cooperatively with peers during the course of the school day, and these natural classroom interactions serve to foster their English language development. Because learners are not pulled out of their regular classrooms for ESOL instruction, they are able to participate fully in lessons that incorporate grade-level content, rather than focus only on their English language development.
Modeled on a writer's workshop concept, each team-taught lesson at Viers Mill focuses on the process of writing. Instructional units may focus on a specific writing genre, such as informational writing, and individual lessons incorporate activities such as brainstorming, drafting, revising, and editing. These activities are carried out in groups that include both English language learners and native English speakers. According to Portocarrero, "ESOL students' writing skills have improved significantly since the program was implemented, and best of all, our students aren't afraid to write" (personal communication, January 2002).
Within the context of the writer's workshop, teachers are able to integrate language instruction with county-level reading and language arts objectives rather than focus on a separate ESOL curriculum. English language learners also receive content-area instruction along with their peers, with mainstream teachers using scaffolding techniques and other modifications that have been modeled by the ESOL teacher to make the content comprehensible for all students.
Team teachers work collaboratively with other teams in Grades K-2 to ensure that their lessons and teaching strategies are consistent for students as they progress from one grade to the next. For example, the revising stage of the writing process might be introduced by the team teachers in kindergarten, then expanded to include more sophisticated strategies as learners move on to first and second grade.
Inger (1993) suggests several elements that are critical to the success of any collaborative teaching model, including school-level leadership that supports cooperative work; material support; time for teachers to meet within their daily routine; and adequate training and assistance for teachers. Without these elements, teacher collaboration becomes quite a challenge. Other difficulties may include not having enough ESOL teachers to work with mainstream classrooms or resistance from teachers who would prefer not to teach in a team. For the team-teaching program at Viers Mill, the major challenges have stemmed from difficulties in scheduling and finding time for teams to develop lesson plans together.
Scheduling becomes more complicated as a program expands, particularly when each ESOL teacher is teamed with a number of different mainstream teachers. There are many scheduling issues to consider, including how students' lunch schedules are arranged and whether or not team teachers' planning times coincide. Various teams also need to meet together by grade level to discuss long-range plans and to ensure that all grade-level curricular goals are being met. This additional planning time may not be built into the teachers' daily schedules, which can make it particularly difficult to find time to meet.
While special education teachers have been working in collaborative teams and team-teaching with their mainstream colleagues for years, the model is relatively new to many ESOL programs. As with any shift in program structure and implementation, moving to a team-teaching model has its pitfalls. At Viers Mill, teachers have found that being flexible and open to trying different solutions is extremely important. For example, some teams meet on certain days after school to plan, have set times to discuss lessons over the phone from home, or are able to do some planning and sharing of ideas via email. As Portocarrero points out, "This model is not perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect model. You have to be open to trying new solutions, and they don't always work for everyone. It is continually a work in progress" (personal communication, January 2002).
Prior to implementing a team-teaching model, Viers Mill's ESOL program was based on a pull-out model in which English language learners were removed from their regular classrooms to receive specialized instruction with an ESOL teacher for approximately 45 minutes each day. Because teachers felt that these students were being isolated from their peers and were not being exposed to the same curriculum as mainstream students, they decided to try team teaching instead. The model began on a voluntary basis; teachers could choose whether or not to participate. As teachers and administrators began to see the positive results of team teaching, they decided to implement this model in all primary classrooms.
Like many educators who have implemented a collaborative team-teaching approach, teachers at Viers Mill agree that the benefits far outweigh the challenges. ESOL teacher Rebecca Vasquez, who has been a part of the program at Viers Mill since it began, says that team teaching "requires a lot of time and commitment, but it's worth it - it's definitely worth it, because of the many benefits for the students" (personal communication, January 2002). This sentiment is echoed by many others at Viers Mill who have found that they truly enjoy learning from their colleagues and are able to expand their expertise and find new ways to reach all of the students in their class, regardless of language or cultural differences.
The benefits of team teaching have been well documented. Researchers have noted that collaborative teaching models in general "can result in a shared commitment to systemic school reform leading to higher achievement and greater multicultural understanding" (Sakash & Rodriguez-Brown, 1995, p. 1). Wertheimer and Honigsfeld (2000) assert that team teaching in an ESOL program ensures that students' needs are met more adequately than in programs where learners are separated for instruction. Some of the major benefits of team teaching in an ESOL program are described below.
In team-taught classes, English language learners are exposed to the same concepts and instruction as their native-English-speaking peers. As a result, teachers may expect all students to progress and to master the same skills, while English language learners are provided with daily support for language development to meet those expectations.
Because they plan lessons and activities collaboratively, both mainstream and ESOL teachers derive many benefits from team teaching. These include an opportunity to share ideas and perspectives, as well as the chance to pool resources such as instructional units and lesson materials they have developed for their classes.
Team-taught classes include both English language learners and their native-English-speaking peers, so this model has many social benefits for the students. ESOL students learn in a language-rich environment that does not isolate them from their peers. For native-English-speaking students, team teaching provides an opportunity to interact with students from other cultures. In addition, team teaching exposes both English language learners and native-English-speaking students to a variety of teaching styles and strategies and reduces the student-teacher ratio so that all learners receive added support during lessons and activities.
Team teaching can be a very effective way for ESOL teachers and teachers in content areas such as U.S. history or biology to work together to ensure that instruction is comprehensible yet includes high-level concepts that are vital to students' development in content-area studies. Content-area teachers, who are specialists in a specific area, teach alongside ESOL teachers who have the ability to ensure that input is comprehensible to learners. This combination of skills has the potential to provide English language learners with high-level instruction and ensure that they do not fall behind in their content-area skills while they learn English.
As more and more educational institutions incorporate various models of team teaching in programs that serve English language learners, we may be able to determine which models are best suited to particular schools, departments, or student populations.
In a 1993 report, the Council of Chief State School Officers indicated that state directors of bilingual programs consider team teaching at the secondary level to be a promising practice, and it would seem that the educators who have worked in team-teaching models on a variety of levels would agree.
For Viers Mill Elementary School, team teaching has resulted in significant gains in student achievement, as measured by both formal and informal assessment tools (Portocarrero & Bergin, 1997, p. 9). Perhaps more importantly, students are able to learn alongside their peers following the grade-level curriculum, while teachers have the rare opportunity to combine their talents and efforts to help students achieve academic success.
Anstrom, K. (1997). Academic achievement for secondary language minority students: Standards, measures, and promising practices. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED417596)
Council of Chief State School Officers. (1993, July). A concern about limited English proficient students in intermediate schools and in high schools. Washington, DC: Author. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED364111)
Gee, Y. (1990). An ESL adjunct class for Asian American studies. Unpublished manuscript. Glendale, CA. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED352812)
Inger, M. (1993). Teacher collaboration in urban secondary schools (ERIC/CUE Digest No. 93). New York, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED363676)
Portocarrero, G., & Bergin, J. (1997, March). Developing literacy: A co-teaching model using readers' and writers' workshop. Paper presented at the annual meeting of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Orlando, FL. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED414740)
Sakash, K., & Rodriguez-Brown, F. (1995). Teamworks: Mainstream and bilingual/ESL teacher collaboration (Program Information Guide No. 24). Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education. Retrieved December 11, 2001, from http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/ncbepubs/pigs/pig24.htm
Wertheimer, C., & Honigsfeld, A. (2000). Preparing ESL students to meet the new standards. TESOL Journal, 9 (1), 23-28.
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