To overcome classroom challenges and collaborate for the benefit of English language learners, teachers need to first recognize that English language learners have unique learning needs that require culturally responsive instruction. In this way, they are more likely to target the areas of instruction that will benefit their ELL students and help them achieve proficiency.
In today’s educational environment when ELL students (English language learners) need to quickly acquire proficiency in the Common Core standards and succeed on high stakes exams. it does not make sense for any teacher to work in isolation. Yet, teachers may not have the skills and strategies to work collaboratively. Simply put, there are often not enough hours in a busy teacher’s workload to collaborate.
Implementing Co-Teaching Strategies
Knowing how to effectively collaborate and engage in co-teaching with the ESL specialist to offer better services for all students is one type of strategy. Different models of co-teaching such as switching roles combining small group and frontal teaching allow teachers to provide some kind of instructional support. But without the knowledge of overcoming the barriers that get in the way of collaboration, English language learners won’t be able to benefit in the best possible way.
Overcome the Barriers that Get in the Way of Collaboration
Teachers need to overcome barriers that can get in the way of establishing a partnership. The first issue concerns all general education and ESL teachers and their preconceived notions of having full control of a class. Additionally, school districts and administrators need to support teachers in their endeavors by helping them put a collaborative plan into action. Newer teachers especially, might feel hesitant at first, to seek help and advice within their school or district, for fear they might be labeled as lacking authority, credibility and knowledge in providing effective instruction and academic support. When teachers get support to overcome classroom challenges, English Language Learners are also academically supported.
Working with Time and Curriculum Constraints
The second biggest issue is working with time and curriculum constraints. Some helpful methods are using email as a limited form of support combined with joint lesson planning during lunch hours or having administration create a “lunch and learn” program so other teachers can learn successful activities in other classrooms. Teachers have also reported some success with sending a personal email invitation to the principal so s/he can witness successful classroom activities on a co-teaching level. In this way, hopefully, s/he can initiate and implement more collaborative activities on a whole school level.
By creating a timetable where both mainstream and ESL teachers are able to co-plan and co-teach during the same periods, teachers can help before the learning and proficiency gaps become way too big.
Overcome classroom challenges for the benefit of English language learners is a necessary step for teachers if they want to collaborate more effectively. By implementing some of the strategies above, they will have a better chance of tackling some of most difficult teaching challenges.
Dorit Sasson is the author of Speaking and Writing for English Language Learners: Collaborative Teaching for Greater Success with K-6 and Listening and Writing for English Language Learners: Collaborative Teaching for Greater Success with K-6. She specializes in helping teachers overcome classroom challenges and collaborate for the benefit of English language learners.