Collaborative Teaching

Reprinted from Essential Teacher, Volume 4, Issue 3,September 2007, Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)

“The city is more crowded. We would need more signs and traffic lights,” said one student. “We would have to live in apartments,” said another. Eight students in Ms. P’s 4th grade classroom were squeezed into a 4 x 4 square marked by masking tape on her classroom floor. Four of the students were English language learners.

The class was brainstorming how living in the city compared with living in the country. The eight students in the first square concluded that living in a crowded city required different types of transportation and housing. They predicted that they would need more stores, signs and garbage collectors. Students were kinesthetically experiencing the concepts of crowding and privacy. They were gaining hands-on experience with the basic concepts of the unit. This was possible because Ms. P and I were collaborating and had time to plan together.

In a collaborative or co-teaching setting, the ESL teacher “pushes into” the general education classroom to collaborate with the teacher. Co-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. They have equal responsibilities for planning instruction and there are a variety of ways this instruction is delivered. Together the two teachers are lowering the student-teacher ratio and providing differentiated instruction in a manner that is not possible for one teacher.

Co-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 be pulled aside for reinforcement, English language learners are not 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. I spent two hours each week co-teaching in Ms. P’s 4th grade social studies class. Together we were able to lower the teacher-to-student ratio and combine our talents to provide comprehensive instruction for all of the students in her room.

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

Compare the co-teaching experience that I had with Ms.P with that of another ESL teacher in New Jersey.

Paulo is a “push in ESL teacher” in a large school district. 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 he goes into some classrooms, the teacher turns the students over to Paul 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.

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. They are also concerned about ESL 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.

Seven Teaching Strategies

These seven strategies are designed to help teachers meet the needs of all the students in their classes and to help make the mainstream classroom more inclusive for ELLs.

1.Provide comprehensible input for ELLs. Language is not “soaked up.” The learner must understand the message that is conveyed. Comprehensible input is a hypothesis first proposed by Stephen Krashen. (Krashen, 1981) He purports that ELLs acquire language by hearing and understanding messages that are slightly above their current English language level. When newcomers are assigned to a mainstream classroom and spend most of their day in this environment it is especially critical for them to receive comprehensible input from their teachers and classmates. If that teacher provides information by lecturing in the front of a classroom, the English language learner will not be receiving this input. Teachers need to speak more slowly, use gestures and body language to get across the meaning to ELLs.

2.Make lessons visual. Use visual representations of new vocabulary and use graphs, maps, photographs, drawings and charts to introduce new vocabulary and concepts. Tell a story about information in the textbook using visuals. Create semantic and story maps, graphic organizers to teach students how to organize information.

3.Link new information to prior knowledge. Teachers need to consider what schema ELL students brings to the classroom and to link instruction to the students’ personal, cultural, and world experiences. Teachers also need to know what their students do not know. They must understand how culture impacts learning in their classroom.

4.Determine key concepts for the unit and define language and content objects for each lesson. Teachers write the key concept for a unit of study in student-friendly language and post it in the room. New learning should be tied to this concept. Additionally, teachers should begin each lesson by writing a content objective on the board. At the end of the lesson, students should be asked if the objective was met. Classroom teachers also need to set language objectives for the ELLs in their class. A language objective might be to learn new vocabulary, find the nouns in a lesson, or apply a grammar rule.

5.Modify vocabulary instruction for ELLs. English language learners require direct instruction of new vocabulary. Teachers should also provide practice in pronouncing new words. ELLs need much more exposure to new terms, words, idioms, and phrases than do English fluent peers. Teachers need to tie new vocabulary to prior learning and use visual to reinforce meaning. Content area teachers should teach new vocabulary words that occur in the text as well as those related to the subject matter. Word wall should be used at all grade levels.

6.Use cooperative learning strategies. Lecture style teaching excludes ELLs from the learning in a classroom We don’t want to relegate ELLs to the fringes of the classroom doing a separate lesson with a classroom aide or ESL teacher. Working in small groups is especially beneficial to ELLs who have an authentic reason to use academic vocabulary and real reasons to discuss key concepts. ELLs benefit from cooperative learning structures. Give students a job in a group. Monitor that they are participating.

7.Modify testing and homework for ELLs. Content area homework and assessments needs to be differentiated for ELLs. Teachers should allow alternative types of assessment: oral, drawings, physical response (e.g., act-it-out), and manipulatives as well as modification to the test. Homework and assessment should be directly linked to classroom instruction and students should be provided with study guides so that they know what to study. Remember that the ELLs in your class may not be able to take notes.

Methodology and Teaching (DART)

Interacting with texts – Directed activities related to texts (DARTs)
Cheron Verster, teacher trainer and materials writer, South Africa
Good readers use what they know about language and the world to interact with what they are reading. This helps them create meaning from the words on the page. Classroom activities that encourage interaction with texts, like directed activities related to texts (DARTs), improve students’ reading comprehension.
What are directed activities related to texts (DARTs)?
DARTs are activities which get students to interact with texts. Their aim is to improve students’ reading comprehension and to make them critical readers. They can be done by individual students or in groups
What type of activities can you use in DARTs?
DARTs can be divided into two groups: reconstruction activities and analysis activities:

What type of texts can you use in DARTs?
You can base a DART on traditional language texts like poems and extracts from short stories, novels and plays. You can also base them on extracts from magazines, newspapers, pamphlets etc, and passages from history, geography, science etc textbooks.
What are the advantages of using DARTs?

  • When students interact with texts, their reading comprehension improves.
  • They also become more aware of how texts are constructed.
  • This makes them more critical of texts. They begin to ask questions about the information that has been included in, and excluded from, the text.
  • And about the words and sentence constructions that the writer chose.
  • As students’ understanding of how text is constructed improves, so too does their own writing.
  • Research has shown that interacting with texts also improves students’ cognitive development.
  • You don’t need fancy equipment and resources to use DARTs. You can use textbooks from various subjects. Therefore, DARTs can be used in under-resourced schools.
  • DARTs can make your students’ textbooks more interesting.
  • If you teach English is a context where English is the medium of instruction but it is not the students’ first language, using DARTs based on passages from the students’ textbooks will help prepare them for the texts they will encounter in other subjects.
  • It will also help prepare them for the types of tasks they will encounter in other subjects. For example, filling in tables, labeling diagrams, completing Venn diagrams etc.
  • DARTs also help students learn how to use texts without plagiarizing them.

And they help students learn how to produce their own graphic information like tables, flow charts, branch diagrams etc.

How can you develop your own DART?
Here is one method you could use:

  • Once you have chosen the text, read it carefully. As you read, interact with the text. For example, underline or circle important information, write questions which you think the text raises or doesn’t answer, list the main ideas and the supporting detail, draw a table or a diagram etc.
  • Take note of how you interacted with the text. Did the text lend itself to a particular type of interaction. For example, it is often quite natural to develop a graphic organizer when we are reading and interacting with some types of texts. So…
     
 
  If the text    
 
 
  you may have developed    
 
 
  compared and contrasted two or more things    
 
 
  a table or Venn diagram    
 
 
  described a process    
 
 
  a flow chart.    
 
 
  described a fictional or non-fictional sequence of events    
 
 
  a flow chart.    
 
 
  described how something can be classified    
 
 
  a branch diagram.    
 
 
  described an object    
 
 
  a labeled diagram.    
 
 
  presented an argument    
 
 
  a spider diagram or mind map.    
 
 
   

Decide whether you want your students to do a reconstruction activity or an analysis activity.

  • Use how you interacted with the text as a basis for your DART.
    • For example, if you developed a flow chart while reading the text and you want your students to do a reconstruction activity, develop a relevant flow chart and then delete some of the information from the chart. Your students must fill in the missing information as they read. Write the instructions for the task.
    • Or, if you developed a flow chart while reading the text and you want your students to do an analysis activity, write the instructions that will help them construct their own flow chart. There might be several steps in this activity. Firstly, you might ask your students to underline the steps in the process that is being described. Then you might ask them to draw a flow chart and fill this information in to it.

Teaching small classes

Most teachers would agree that teaching a small class comes with many benefits. Teachers can offer one-on-one assistance at times and are more likely to meet the individual needs of their students. Some teachers, however, find it quite challenging to keep their students interested and excited about learning in a small class. Depending on the location you are teaching in, small classes range from about three to seven students. In countries where large classes are the norm, classes of twenty may still be considered small. There are numerous coping strategies and activities that teachers can use to deal with the challenges of timing and student engagement.

Advantages of Teaching Small Classes

Comfort: Teachers and students often feel more comfortable when the class size is smaller. Students generally feel more comfortable voicing their questions and opinions.

Students’ needs met: Teachers can design customized lessons to meet the needs and interests of all of the class members.

Student centred: Teaching is student centred and often more communicative than is possible in large classes. Students also have more opportunity to speak.

Space: Students have plenty of space to move around in the classroom. Teachers can also arrange excursions (or suggest spontaneous ones) outside of the classroom where students can be exposed to real world English.

Attendance: Class attendance is usually high because students know they will be missed if they are absent. They also feel like they belong to the group.

Tasks Completed: Assignments and homework are more likely to be completed because the teacher is more likely to check.

Preparation time: Less preparation time is required for photocopying. There are generally enough textbooks to go around so photocopying is limited to extra activities.

Detailed Feedback: Teachers have time to provide detailed feedback when marking assignments and tests, so students get a better sense of how they are improving and where they need to work harder. Teachers also have more time to answer questions before, during, and after class

Challenges of Teaching Small Classes

Timing: Activities finish quickly, so teachers may need to prepare more lessons and games.

Distractions: Pairs can get distracted easily since they can hear what each other are saying.

Attendance: If a few students do miss a class, planned lessons can occasionally flop. For example, you may plan a lesson that requires pair work, and then find that only three of your six students come to class.

Fillers: Teachers must always have plenty of fillers on hand for times when lessons or activities get completed quickly.

Boredom: Students may become bored working with the same pairs or groupings all of the time. There may also be less energy in the room in a small class.

Anxiety: While you will likely feel more comfortable teaching in a small class, shy students who are used to blending into a large class may be uncomfortable participating. You will have to take special measures to help them gain confidence.

Activities not always suitable: Some activities in textbooks, such as debates or role-playing, may not be possible if a class is very small. You will have to spend some preparation time adapting textbook activities.

Strategies for Coping with Small Classes

Fillers: Always have plenty of fillers (such as puzzles and games) ready in case activities finish quickly. Keep a list of games or warm ups on hand to use when energy gets low. Some may need to be adapted slightly if the class is very small.

Review often: Take the time to make sure that your students understand the lessons and material.

Encourage confidence: Help shy students to feel more comfortable by trying not to put them on the spot. Let them get comfortable with you and their classmates before you start calling on them to speak up more. Remember to praise them often and save criticism for private interviews.

Change the dynamics: Invite students from other classes in once in a while. Prearrange pair group and getting to know you activities with other teachers who have small classes. If you have high level students pair them with lower level students and give them the opportunity to teach.

Ask for feedback: Take time to find out whether or not students are happy with the class. Ask for suggestions regarding activities they want to do or skills they would like to improve. Put a question box or envelope out so that students can remain anonymous if they want to.

Teaching large classes

Most teachers agree that teaching a small group of students is easier, more enjoyable, and less time consuming than teaching a large group. Unfortunately, due to budgets, space, or lack of teachers, many ESL schools only offer large classes. In some schools, large classes may consist of up to 50 or more students. While your class may look more like a University lecture hall, your job is not to lecture. Just like teaching a small class, you must come up with engaging activities that keep all of your students interested and participating with the goal of improving their communication skills. While there are numerous challenges when it comes to teaching large classes, there are many coping skills and activities that you can use to make your job easier.

Advantages of Teaching Large Classes

High Energy: Classes with many students may be noisy, but they are also fun and exciting.

Timing: Classes go by quickly in a large class, and you will rarely catch yourself looking at the clock. You will regularly find yourself with extra activities that you did not complete that you can save and use in your next class.

Participation: There is always someone who is willing to answer questions even if they are just guessing. Make sure to take answers from a variety of students.

Fillers: Teachers have less need for fillers since core activities and lessons take longer to complete.

Challenges of Teaching Large Classes

Intimacy: Remembering student’s names can take a while. Teachers may feel that they do not get to know their students as well as they would like to.

Anxiety: Some teachers feel anxious being so outnumbered by the students. In addition, some students are afraid to ask questions or participate in a large class.

Student needs: Meeting individual needs can be difficult or impossible when class size is very large.

Marking: Grading assignments and tests can be very time consuming, and your pay will generally be the same for a smaller class.

Distractions: There are more distractions for teachers in large classes, such as latecomers and people chatting while you are teaching.

Preparation: Making photocopies for a large class can be very time consuming. Other teachers may be bothered by how much time you spend using the photocopier.

Noise level: Large classes can become out of hand when students are working in pairs or groups. At times you may feel more like a disciplinarian than a teacher.
Monitoring students: Teachers may find it difficult to keep students on task as they monitor pair and group work.

Space: There is limited space in a classroom for energetic activities such as role-playing.

Textbooks and resources: There may not be enough textbooks or computers available for all students.

Strategies for Coping with Large Classes

Use a teacher’s notebook: Attach a small notebook and pen to your belt loop. Take notes while you are monitoring pair or group learning. Review common errors as a whole group after an activity is complete.

Spread out: Find another space that your class can use for energetic whole group activities. Find a lobby or spare classroom in the building that your students can spread out into when they are preparing a project or performance. Take students outside if there is no indoor space available.

Create a participation grade: Make homework and attendance count by doing regular checks and making it part of their final grade. Giving a daily exam tip also encourages attendance.

Encourage competition: Establish a fun and competitive atmosphere within the class, by dividing the class into teams. You may change the teams once in a while or leave them the same throughout a semester. Teams can win points for certain accomplishments (If noise and behaviour is a problem, students can lose points too.).

Relax: Find ways to relax before class so that you don’t feel anxious. Never attempt to prepare a lesson in the morning, right before class. Always have a water bottle handy. Always have an extra activity on hand in case something doesn’t go as you expect it to.

Establish trust: Learn unique ways to remember names and do your best to get to know something about each of your students. Create a seating chart on the first day and ask students to stick with it for a while. Tell your students at least one or two things about yourself beyond your role of teaching.

Manage the noise: Establish a signal that you want your class to stop what they are doing and listen. This should be done from the first day, so that students become accustomed to it right away. Be careful not to use gestures or sounds that would offend anyone.

Reduce marking and preparation time: Design quizzes and tests in a way so that you can reduce the amount of marking. Use peer evaluations when possible. If students submit journals, just read them and leave a short comment and/or suggestion, rather than fixing every grammar mistake. Designate a specific time when the teacher’s room is slow to do most of your photocopying for the week. This will save you from feeling guilty for taking up the photocopier for a long time when another teacher only has a few copies to make.

Enforce a late policy: Notify students of your late policy on the first day and stick to it. For example, don’t let students enter your classroom after a warm-up has ended. If students miss class, make it their responsibility to catch up, not yours.

Share your e-mail address: In a large class, you will find yourself feeling drained before and after class if you let students come early or stay late to ask questions every day. This alone can make you hate your job, especially if you are not paid for hours when you are not teaching. Encourage students to e-mail you with questions, and answer them on your own time. If you don’t like the e-mail suggestion, try finishing your class ten minutes early once in a while and allow your students free conversation time. Take questions on a first come basis during this time.

Activities to use in Large Classes

Small group discussions: Use topics related to a theme, or ask students to submit topic suggestions.

Who Am I?: Tape the name of a famous person to the back of each student. Students go around the room asking questions and trying to identify themselves. Once they guess who they are they can place their nametag on the front and continue helping other students identify themselves.

Team spelling contests: Each student who gets the spelling correct gets a point for their team.

Balderdash: Large class can be split into teams. Teacher calls out a word and students have to write down the part of speech and definition. Each student to get both correct gets a point for her team.

Write the question: Large class can be split into teams. The teacher calls out an answer and the students have to write the question. (ex. “Lynn”) Each student to write the correct question gets a point. (ex. answer: What’s your middle name?”)

Questionnaires: Students circulate around the room asking each other questions. Students can create their own questions on a given topic or theme, or you can provide the questionnaire handout. Follow up by asking each student to report the most interesting answer they received.

Categories: The teacher calls out a category, such as fruit, and each student has to name a fruit when it is his turn. If a student hesitates for more than five seconds, he or she has to choose a new category and sit out the rest of the game. The last person to get out wins.

teaching mixed ability classes 2

Gareth Rees, teacher/teacher trainer, London Metropolitan University, UK

You may often be teaching a class which has students who are clearly of different levels. They may have different starting levels of English or they may learn at very different speeds – for any number of reasons. There are several strategies that a teacher can use to deal with this situation. This is the second of two articles on the topic.

The first article deals with…

Discussion and needs analysis

Student self awareness

Work groupings

This second article deals with the following strategies.

* Range of tasks

* Extra work / Homework

* Student nomination

* Error correction

* Conclusion

Range of tasks

This involves creating or providing different tasks for different levels.

For example, the number of comprehension questions for a text. You might have two sets of questions, A and B. Perhaps all students have to complete set A, the stronger ones also have to complete set B. Or, they even have an extra reading text.

This obviously increases the amount of lesson preparation. However, it is possible to think of fairly simple extra tasks. For example, during a reading lesson, the stronger students have to do detailed dictionary work on vocabulary in the text. It takes very little time to select words for the students to research. With the stronger students spending 10 minutes working with dictionaries, you have time to monitor and help the weaker ones with the text. Then you can go through the shared comprehension tasks as a class, and perhaps the stronger students can make a presentation about the words they have researched.

Extra work / homework

It is straightforward to give different students different homework – unless it is part of a standardised assessment procedure. Give weaker students homework which really does consolidate the class work, and give the stronger students work that will widen their knowledge or put it to the test a little more. When teaching mixed ability classes, the weaker students will be missing things during the lesson, or failing to understand. Use homework to address this. The stronger students may feel held back during the class, so homework can now really push them (if they are so inclined!)

Writing tasks are great for homework, as a productive skill that can be performed individually. You can expect more from the stronger students, and use it as a way to identify their weaknesses, which may not be so apparent during the class.

Student nomination

This is a simple classroom management technique that really helps in the mixed ability class.

When asking for answers to questions, ask particular students, rather than asking the class in a open fashion e.g. ‘What’s the answer to number 9?’ is an open question, whereas ‘What’s the answer to number nine, Maria?’ is a nominated question. If you ask open questions, the same old strong students will provide the answers. This creates a poor dynamic to the class, for many reasons.

When nominating…

* Ask the question before you give the name of the student. That way, everyone has to listen

* Consider how easy it is for the student to answer. If a weak student will struggle, perhaps ask a stronger student. If a weak student should be capable, then ask them.

* Avoid making students seem foolish, and yet also avoid patronising them by only asking super simple questions

* Nominate with variety. Be careful to avoid nominating the same selection of students. In a large class, I keep a note of the students I have asked over a lesson, just to make sure I haven’t developed a pattern.

Error correction

In a mixed level class you can have different expectations of the language the different students produce. Sometimes, it can push stronger students if you correct them heavily – although you should be sensitive about this. And for weaker students, be more selective in your error correction.

To conclude

The key strategies for teaching mixed level classes are probably developing a positive and collaborative working atmosphere and providing a variety of work suitable for different levels. It probably doesn’t work to stick your head in the sand and pretend the class is all of one homogenous level, a situation which doesn’t exist anywhere.