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Collaboration Among English Language Specialists and Classroom Teachers
By Heather Vlach 22-Dec-17
The International School of Prague (ISP) Elementary School English language specialist (EAL) teachers and mainstream classroom teachers are increasingly working together through co-teaching models to support and enhance student learning. Most of the students at ISP are non-native to the English language, which is why the elementary school values and maintains the important practice of having one EAL specialist teacher as part of each grade-level team. These partnerships between EAL specialists and classroom teachers offer powerful opportunities to more collaboratively support student learning, as well as English language development. Here are just a few reasons why co-teaching is important in the ISP teaching and learning environment and how it benefits student learning. With a co-teaching model in place, EAL students are exposed to the same content and vocabulary as their peers. This allows the students to better learn and understand the common language. This advantage occurs through consistent communication and planning among mainstream and EAL teachers. When classroom and EAL teachers are in the same room working together, EAL students benefit from greater immersion into the curriculum and classroom experiences. The children also leave the classroom less often, meaning they spend less time transitioning from the EAL classroom to their mainstream classroom and as a result do not lose valuable instruction time. EAL students have increased opportunity to talk with and interact with peers in academic learning. With effective co-teaching practices in place, EAL students have exposure to comprehensible grade-level content and expectations, so they know what grade-level success looks like with their peers as language and learning role models. Co-teaching allows for an additional set of teacher eyes and ears on all students. EAL and classroom teachers are able to observe and listen to students at the same time and can later discuss their observations about student learning and better plan next steps for instruction. Co-teaching practices acknowledge and celebrate linguistic and cultural diversity. All student knowledge and background experiences enrich the teaching and learning environments. Our EAL students often have unique ideas and linguistic understandings to share that enhance and expand thinking and understanding. Effective co-teaching practices can result in increased student engagement time, which has the potential to generate greater student participation levels. Here is what some of the ISP teachers say about their co-teaching practices and experiences: “Co-teaching (whether it is station or teach assist or team teaching) leads to discussions about children’s needs and helps me to see things from another angle,” says Tracy Rops, ISP Kindergarten teacher). “I also love watching my colleagues teach and talking to them about teaching. I always come away with ideas to improve my practice and to better meet the learner’s needs.” Grade three teacher Minnie Engleson feels that “co-teaching creates an opportunity for teachers to observe the learning and behavior of their students when someone else is teaching. This provides a valuable point of view that increases a teacher’s understanding of his or her students.” “Greater collaboration with a wider group of teachers makes me a better teacher because I learn so much from my colleagues,” insists Laura Cox, an ISP Learning Support specialist. As co-teaching helps improve practice among teachers, it means greater learning opportunities for all students. It is a win-win for everyone.” For Gary Shipley, ISP’s third-grade EAL specialist, “co-teaching is more than just two teachers in the classroom teaching at the same time, it is the result of collaboration that focuses on the language needs of all the learners in the classroom to craft learning experiences that will interest and challenge students.” While the benefits of co-teaching are evident, it is important to note that EAL specialist teachers also recognize that it is not uncommon for students who are newer to English to need small-group instruction in an EAL classroom with strategies and materials that are at their individual level and pace. These “pull-out” learning experiences often support EAL students in taking risks using language, providing more confidence for the mainstream classroom environment. The pull-out classes also support transition into the English immersion environment, while additionally providing EAL students the opportunity to work alongside peers who are at a similar language level. This need is valued and supported at ISP. In response to the diverse language and learning needs at ISP, the EAL and classroom teachers maintain more of a “hybrid” approach, combining practices of co-teaching while also recognizing the value of pull-out English classes. ISP teachers do recognize that students’ school lives are primarily in the classroom. As a result, the ISP elementary school EAL specialist and classroom teachers communicate and collaborate to find the most appropriate balance of pull-out English classes and “push-in” co-teaching experiences to benefit the language and learning needs of the students. Heather Vlach is an English language acquisition and learning specialist at the International School of Prague. firstname.lastname@example.org
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