Collaborating to Ensure Success for ELL/ESL Students

Collaborate to ensure students learning in English as a second (ESL) or additional language have the best possible learning environment.

Classroom teachers and ESL teachers benefit from each other’s support. In this way, the teachers work together, not side by side on parallel agendas. ESL teachers can model explicit language teaching while classroom teachers model age-and grade-appropriate curriculum content. (Brownlie, Feniak, McCarthy, p.2)

Collaboration within schools works best when the classroom teacher and the resource teacher work together, sharing their expertise through team planning and teaching. This model provides the most effective school-based planning and an optimal learning environment for ESL students.

Why collaborate?

English language learners’ needs, interests, abilities and experiences vary greatly within classrooms, across classrooms, and between schools. Variables include

  • culture
  • language background
  • age
  • gender
  • socioeconomic and world experiences
  • students’ previous exposure to English as a language for learning
  • in some cases, specific learning challenges

Only a model with collaborative teamwork will really support ESL students.

Who should collaborate?

For learning how to learn in the classroom:

Collaboration is most powerful when the classroom teacher and the ESL resource or learning support teacher co-plan and team teach, each bringing their unique expertise to the teaching and learning situation. Why?

The classroom teacher:

  • spends the most time with the student and knows the student’s work
  • plans and implements curriculum
  • is in charge of learning and instruction for the student
  • understands grade/age appropriateness
  • knows the content of what will be taught.

The resource or ESL learning support teacher:

  • understands how students learn in English when it is not their primary language
  • has unique understanding of diversity and how it affects learning
  • brings expertise about scaffolding learning and instructional strategies for ESL learners
  • knows how to teach to a range of abilities.

For issues related to orientation to school, family and student challenges:

In these situations, discussions about ESL students learning are most effective when the classroom teacher and the ESL resource or learning support teacher, include others in the conversation. For example:

The cultural support or home school worker:

  • makes home visits or arranges to meet the family at the school
  • understands the culture and can speak to the family in the language of the home
  • provides orientation to the school
  • is aware of resources in the local community
  • can explain classroom or school activities to families so there is continuity between home and school.

The student:

  • identifies best what kind of support they need
  • knows what is and what is not working and how they learn best
  • can help set goals, monitor their own success, and work with their teachers to improve learning.

The family:

  • shares critical information about the home situation, learning and development over time
  • works with teachers to support and reinforce learning.

In some situations the administrator, school counsellor, psychologist, speech language pathologist and others with specific expertise will need to be called into a school-based meeting or a team to deal with specific challenges.

Ways of collaborating:

There are many ways of collaborating in the best interests of ESL students.

The classroom teacher and the ESL resource or learning support teacher:

  • co-plan within content areas, and team teach in the classroom so that learning is enhanced for all learners.
  • can use their collective expertise to extend and reinforce classroom learning and thinking in short-lived small groups as needed.

The school team:

  • co-design and provide orientation activities at school for new families.
  • meet regularly to share expertise about ESL students new to a school as a check in to see how they are adjusting and/or to make program adjustments so additional support is provided as needed.
  • identify cultural and socio-economic issues that need addressing and send the home school worker and others in to support the family.

How does collaborating help the student?

ESL students learn best when they are engaged meaningfully in their own learning, and when the activities that they undertake for learning are interesting and challenging. Teams of teachers working together create the best environment for this learning.

In Instruction and Assessment of ESL Learners: Promoting Success in Your Classroom, we demonstrate how effective school-based planning for ESL learners works. Suggestions are made to both personalize and differentiate learning for a range of abilities within a classroom. We also provide practical lesson plans and instructional strategies that we have used to demonstrate how to do this well.

Guest Contributor
Vicki McCarthy, PhD
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