ELLs are Everyone’s Kids: The Role of Collaboration in the CCSS

As I’ve been attending meetings in Washington, DC (such as last week’s Alliance for Excellent Education CCSS ELL briefing and TESOL International Association’s convening on the role of the ESL teacher in the CCSS), I’ve been hearing a strong theme emerge from these discussions.

What I’m hearing - and it’s no surprise - is that all educators of ELLs (whether they are ESL, content, or general education teachers) will need to collaborate to effectively teach ELLs under the new paradigm of the CCSS. This sentiment regarding the crucial role collaboration will play in successfully implementing the CCSS for ELLs was also echoed in Monday night’s #ELLChat on Twitter. One crucial aspect to consider is how collaboration will need to change to be effective with implementing the CCSS for ELLs. To that end, I’ll take a closer look here at teacher collaboration as one way to share the responsibility (and joy) of teaching ELLs the CCSS.

Teachers Feel Unprepared to Teach ELLs the CCSS

A recent survey conducted by the EPE Research Center (an arm of Editorial Projects in Education and the publisher of Education Week) and accompanying article in Education Week shed more light on the degree to which teachers described their level of preparedness in teaching the CCSS to all students. Teachers in states that had adopted the CCSS were asked to rate their preparedness for teaching the CCSS on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being "very prepared" and 1 "not at all prepared." When asked how prepared they felt to teach the Common Core to their own students, 49 percent rated themselves a 1, 2, or 3.

While most survey respondents described themselves as moderately well prepared to teach the CCSS to their students as a whole, they reported feeling much less ready in the case of teaching ELLs in particular. 76 percent of the 536 of voluntary survey respondents who answered that question rated themselves a 1, 2, or 3 when it came to specifically teaching the CCSS to ELLs. Even though the survey’s sample size is not large, the big takeaway for me is that there is a notable difference between self-reported levels of teacher preparedness when it comes to teaching all students the CCSS as compared to teaching ELLs the CCSS.

ELLs are Everyone’s Kids: Collaboration is Key

On the same survey, teachers indicated that additional collaboration with colleagues (along with other resources) would help them better implement the CCSS for all students, a point which echoes the CCSS/ELL discussions I’ve been privy to lately. Teachers, administrators, and researchers say that the CCSS are putting more focus on ELLs being everyone’s responsibility, and the increased need for quality collaboration supports that assertion.

One reason is that since the Common Core State Standards themselves call for all teachers to teach academic language and challenging content simultaneously, all teachers must be skilled with new strategies that they can use with their ELLs (as well as with their other students) under this new paradigm. Collaboration is a key step in the process of content and general education teachers learning those important language-focused strategies from their ESL and bilingual teacher colleagues. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that ESL and bilingual educators don’t need to become content experts across the curriculum - that’s the beauty of collaboration.

Reconceptualizing Collaboration

The new demands of the CCSS for ELLs call for a reconceptualized framework for collaboration among ELL and general education teachers as well as administrators. Teachers must have a structure in place so that sustained collaboration on teaching ELLs the CCSS can occur regularly and teachers can share their expertise with each other. Some key pieces of this new framework include:

  • Ensuring that ESL teachers are involved in decisions that affect ELLs at the school level: As I shared in my previous post, some school leaders are taking a lead in this area. For example, when CCSS professional development is offered, ESL as well as content area teachers attend together so that they can share strategies for teaching ELLs within the CCSS framework.
  • Creating structures that make collaboration possible: In order for effective collaboration to occur, administrators must set the tone by understanding what it means to teach ELLs the CCSS and providing a structure for teachers to collaborate. Administrators don’t always have the time to research strategies for teaching ELLs the CCSS on their own, so ESL teachers might need to help keep them up to date and share relevant resources with them.  Administrators must also build time into schedules for collaboration to occur and make it a priority for the staff. For example, a school that Colorín Colorado visited for its Common Core work has built collaboration time into the teachers’ contract, indicating a significant commitment to and expectation of professional collaboration.
  • Creating Professional Learning Communities or PLCs: PLCs offer a venue to sustained collaboration and professional development instead of a one-time event. One Californian contributor to Monday’s #ELLChat commented that his district in California focuses on continual learning and scaffolding units for ELLs throughout the academic year.

Suggestions from Experts

Collaboration Andrea Honigsfeld and Maria Dove, authors of Collaboration and Co-Teaching (Corwin, 2010), share some thoughts on how teachers can collaborate so that ELLs can achieve under the CCSS.

In a recent article for the Winter 2013 The RI-TELLER (the newsletter for Rhode Island Teachers of ELLs and ELL professionals), they outline six instructional conversations and activities that concentrate on the CCSS, which may include:

1. Joint planning: ESL and general education teachers contribute to lesson planning collaboratively guided by the CCSS

2. Curriculum mapping and alignment: ESL and general education curricula are mapped and aligned to follow shared CCSS goals

3. Parallel teaching: During a pull out ESL program, the ESL teacher focuses on the same or similar instructional outcomes as the general education teacher

4. Co-developing instructional materials: ESL and general education teachers create multilevel, differentiated instructional resources that help all students make steps toward meeting the CCSS

5. Collaborative assessment of student work: ESL and general education teachers analyze the same student product and offer their unique perspectives to each other on areas of student needs

6. Co-teaching: ESL and general education teachers share the classroom to deliver instruction together that is driven by the expectations of the CCSS

Additionally, Honigsfeld and Dove suggest that teachers may also engage in non-instructional collaborative activities together such as:

  • Joint professional development that encompasses Common Core expectations
  • Teacher research to determine the effectiveness of certain programs, curricula, and teaching strategies to assist ELLs in reaching linguistic and academic benchmarks
  • Preparing for joint parent-teacher conferences and writing report cards that address students’ progress toward meeting the Common Core goals
  • Planning, facilitating, or participating in other related activities

Final Thoughts

How are you collaborating around the CCSS for ELLs? What are some of your successes and challenges? Our readers would love to hear what’s working for you!

Share My Lesson. For teachers, by teachers.

National Education Association. How Educators Can Advocate for English Language Learners.

Comments

This was very nicely written on the importance of collaboration in helping ELLs meet the CCSS, including a great resource from two experts in the field of TESOL. I am looking forward to reading Common Core for the Not-So-Common Learner, Grades K-5: English Language Arts Strategies (Corwin, March 2013) and Common Core for the Not-So-Common Learner, Grades 6-12: English Language Arts Strategies (Corwin, August 2013) when they are out in print later this year.

As someone who has been collaborating and team teaching for the past 7 years, I believe that it is time for ESL professionals to start spreading the word that our language strategies are best practice of all learners, not just ours. The educators I work with constantly rely on my experiences working with ELs. Our collaboration has led our Kindergarten ESL program to be recognized by the New Jersey DOE Bilingual Office as a Model Kindergarten Program for the state. This recognition would not have been possible without the daily collaboration, support and trust that the classroom teachers have in what I bring to our team as an ESL professional.

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