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Monday / October 25

Co-Teaching Multilingual Learners After COVID-19 

Listen to authors Debbie Zacarian, Margarita Calderon, and Margo Gottlieb talking about re-engaging multilingual learners on the Leaders Coaching Leaders podcast with Peter DeWitt: 

We Have to Change Anyway! 

What a great opportunity to invent and innovate! Since we can no longer operate the same way we did in previous years, we might as well see this interlude as a great opportunity to create the school structures and protocols we have dreamed about. We have already seen that through technology ELs talk more, are more focused, and benefit from home assignments they can do at their pace or without interfering with their jobs. Using these observations as a point of departure, how can we ensure excellent participation for all ELs? This beginning will, of course, be supplemented and honed over time, but its goal is to bring continuity, consistency, quality, and comprehensiveness to the many aspects of student success.  

What was typical schooling conventions is now up for grabs! This is a great time to collaboratively make changes to the barriers that keep the ELs and other students from achieving their capacity. Here are some micro shifts for school committees to consider 

  • More collegiality and coaching 
  • More student interaction 
  • More SEL for everyone 
  • Sustaining quality implementation 

Here’s to a Better Normal: Co-Teachers Keeping the Flow 

The flow charts below are examples of how co-teachers map out and deliver instruction in 30 or 60 or 90-minute blocks. It is important to stay on task within projected time limits for each. As partners, they are also modeling how student partnerships can work effectively without wasting time. The co-teaching modeling is critical for Álvaro in his middle school and for his sister Inés in her elementary school and their partners. The teachers are aware that the partners’ relationship takes precedence and allows time and assistance for it to develop. The co-teachers are just as mindful that it is important to be flexible. There will be times when a student experiences an unexpected or unfortunate occurrence that will warrant a pause and special attention.  

Below are three examples illustrative of an all-school professional development for all core content and ESL/ELD teachers. As co-teachers, they keep the flow during preteaching of vocabulary, modeling reading comprehension before students read, and the drafting-editing-revising processes before students write. Teachers’ turn-taking and timing is included in the flow of activities. A similar graphic organizer is given to the students so that they can anticipate time slots and transitions. It will help students internalize what 10 minutes or whatever time frames you use are like.  

Co-Teaching Vocabulary 

The ten minutes of preteaching five Tier 2 words (e.g., transition, connectors, polysemous words) from the text students are about to read helps Álvaro and all students. It provides specificity even for native English speakers. It facilitates word recognition and meaning in context once the ELs start to read the assigned text. There is still a lot of misconception and wrong information about Preteaching those five words. Some educators think that the words should come from a long list of words in isolation that someone says they should teach this year. Others think that if they are doing inquiry-type lessons, ELs should not be given the meaning and that they should discover it during an inquiry. Regrettably, we have seen ELs discover the word by copying its meaning from someone else without comprehending its meaning and relevance to the lesson. They waste time on task and don’t understand why or what they are supposed to be doing. Hence, even in those methods, it is important to preteach ELs five or so Tier 2 words, but not preteach Tier 3 (content specific like photosynthesis or germination). Later, the inquiry teacher or ESL teacher can make sure they know them or teach them at the end.  

Another frequently asked question is, “Do I reteach these words the next day?” Not really. There is no need to worry about having to reteach those words. By the end of the instructional cycle below, the ELs will have used those five words in their reading, verbal summaries, in their discussions and in writing, at least 35 to 40 times. Students master vocabulary by applying it in all the domains (listening, speaking, reading and writing).  

Preteaching five words only takes ten minutes. For each word, Mrs. Rozier has a Power Point slide or Google Doc that explains the meaning and gives examples, and how to pronounce the word, which only takes one minute. Pairs of students practice using the word with their own examples guided by a sentence frame or sentence starter. Each partner gives 5 or 6 examples during one minute. Thus, it takes two minutes total for each word. Preteaching helps remember the meaning when they read it in the text. They use the new words again as they read aloud with their partner and stop to verbally summarize after each paragraph, using the pretaught words as well as other new words they picked up as they read each paragraph.  

Álvaro’s peer practice of vocabulary and partner reading with summarization after each paragraph is usually done remotely in breakout rooms. The content teachers monitor the practice and when the whole class comes together again, the teacher calls on one or two random pairs to share their examples with the class. Figure 5.1 conveys the flow of the delivery of vocabulary instruction before reading. 

Co-Teaching Reading 

Science, social studies, language arts, health or math problems have distinct jargon/discourse conventions, grammatical features and structures. Syntax and semantics are different across the disciplines. Students have to read in all the disciplines: more so now due to asynchronous learning. For this reason, it is a must that all subject teachers teach how to read the assigned texts.  

There are also some theories out there, without evidence, that say that ELs learn to read by reading. This is true only if they have been shown through modeling, lots of practice and feedback on how to read each genre. Think of Newcomers or other students who have not had the luxury of being read to or taught fundamental reading conventions. Besides giving them some comprehension strategies, give them a nice buddy to do partner reading; preferably a partner who is a native English reader to serve as a model. Students learn more from students when given the opportunity. Partner reading or pair reading is also beneficial for striving readers and special education students from any cultural background. When all teachers show the text features and text structures that pertain to the assigned text, all students are able to delve deeper into comprehension. Moreover, they actually begin to like reading. Figures 5.2 and 5.3 show how the ESL and core content teacher plan and deliver their instruction, taking turns instructing, monitoring and collecting student performance data during partner reading. 

Co-Teaching Writing 

Academic writing in the content areas is one area that receives most complaints from teachers, colleges, and the business sector. All students need explicit instruction on drafting, editing, revising, editing again, writing powerful and accurate conclusions that vary across the disciplines. Students use the words the teacher pretaught at the beginning and additional words they learned when they read and summarized aloud with a partner. Teachers explicitly teach the words they want to see in their writing, assign readings about the content the teachers want them to explore, and provide discourse protocols and sentence frames on Padlets or Google Docs to enable deep discussions. The teacher or the students themselves formulate questions that take them back into the text or additional texts on the subject to immerse into the subject and the language before they start drafting. Students in advanced placement classes report that their test scores have risen, particularly in their SAT scores (Calderón & Montenegro, 2021). In Figure 5.3 we see Lisa Tartaglia, high school reading teacher, teaching Newcomers/SIFE to edit their own writing. 

Figure 5.4 below illustrates the beginning of the writing process which is ‘drafting.’ Similar processes would be used by the co-teachers for the subsequent stages of writing: editing, revising, final editing, and composing a powerful conclusion and title.  

We know from empirical research in the 1980’s and application of that research since then that teacher collective efforts yield the highest student effect sizes, particularly for schools with large diversity (Joyce & Showers, 1981; Calderón, 1984; Hattie, 2017). Collegiality will be most advantageous now that teachers have to transition to unfamiliar instruction and have so much to learn and unlearn. Teachers need companionship to do problem solving, get targeted feedback, share lessons, share successes, motivate one other to keep on trying, and occasionally cry on each other’s shoulders (Calderón, 1999).  

Teachers have shared tips with us that help them go through difficult times or times when they have to readapt to fit in a new curriculum or textbook adoption. These seem quite relevant to the changes they now have to make. We asked them to write one or two tips for teachers under the label “change is difficult” and these are some of the tips they shared.  


Change is DifficultVoices from the Field 

  • It takes a lot of courage to change. It is easier when there is support from peers, coaches, and supervisors. 
  • Moving away from generic instruction is quite difficult – takes time and collegial support. 
  • Teacher observation protocols focusing on quality instruction for ELs that are specific to academic discourse, reading comprehension, and writing help teachers create that positive change and climate in the schools. 
  • Teacher observation protocols specific to teaching vocabulary, reading comprehension and writing guide our lesson designs and the delivery of that a lesson.  
  • Practice one new strategy at a time, video record your lessons, and use the observation protocol to reflect as you view the tape. Make notes. 
  • Once you feel comfortable with recording and self-reflection, use a video to seek feedback from trusted peers and experts. 
  • Know that coaches and supervisors need a lot of support and professional development to give accurate feedback —particularly for observing quality instruction for ELs in secondary schools. 
  • Coaching is a powerful tool, but a comprehensive staff development program that focuses on student outcomes must precede it. 
  • Coaching is caring. It takes a lot of love and skill to be a good coach. 

This post is an excerpt from Beyond Crises: Overcoming Linguistic and Cultural Inequities in Communities, Schools, and Classrooms. 

Written by

Debbie Zacarian is known nationally for her work in advancing student achievement PreK-16. A policy and practice expert, she has provided professional development for thousands of educators, written policies for numerous urban, suburban and rural districts and state agencies, and supported the efforts of many school and district improvement initiatives. She is a popular and frequent speaker at state, national and international conferences of major education organizations. Debbie is also a prolific author. Some of her professional books are In It Together, Mastering Academic Language, and Transforming Schools for English Learners. Schedule an on-site or virtual consultation, seminar, or workshop with Zacarian today!

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