3 Goals of Co-Teaching for Multilingual Learners

How can K–12 educators use co-teaching to strengthen success for the growing number of multilingual learners in schools? That’s the question Holly J. Porter tackles in her new guidebook, Intentional Co-Teaching for Multilingual Learners.

This book, an important read for co-teachers, teacher leaders, and administrators, introduces a proven co-teaching model that Porter’s team developed and tested in the diverse Cherry Creek School District in Colorado. Their goal was to create an effective school or district-wide approach to co-teaching that involved both general education teachers and multilingual learner (ML) specialists. Through their experience with developing and implementing the model, Porter and her team learned that co-teaching programming for multilingual learners must be intentionally designed around three goals:

  • Students will experience meaningful access to grade-level content
  • Multilingual learners will acquire English through content learning
  • Teachers will build their capacity through co-teaching

Read on for Porter’s introduction to each of these critical goals, excerpted and adapted from her book.

Goal #1: Students Will Experience Meaningful Access to Grade-Level Content

One of the most eye-opening learnings we had while starting our co-teaching journey was that elementary students whose parents had refused ELA support in order to stay at their home school were outperforming students who were being bussed to a center-based ELA program. Why was this?

The students were from the same neighborhood and socio-economic status.

Many were from the same language background and immigrant experience.

The only real difference was a lack of consistent access to grade-level content in the center-based ELA programs.

The programs were set up to have between 45 and 120 minutes of pull-out English instruction for each student—mostly in groups of 5–10 students—based on their level of English proficiency, with students at the beginning levels of English language acquisition spending more time out of the grade-level classroom. The multilingual learners were pulled from instruction during either the language arts block or the most hands-on time of the day: science and social studies. In these pull-out settings, games were used to encourage students to practice English and instruction was typically based on themes. Once students returned to their grade-level classroom, they were given computer time to play language games or do packets of work in lieu of the work that other students were completing. Multilingual students were rarely given meaningful access to grade-level content.

In the schools in which parents had refused support through the center-based program, no one pulled the students from class to “teach them English.” The students experienced access to grade-level content all day every day. While the teachers had not yet learned how to be adept at scaffolding or teaching language through content, the students in these settings still outperformed the students in the pull-out setting.

This discovery led us to dig deeper into what it means to provide instruction in the English language. We began questioning whether it had to be done in a separate setting. Multilingual learners who remained in the content-based classroom with one content teacher and one ELA teacher far exceeded the growth and performance of students still being pulled out. We were also beginning to see positive gains from the school that was “pushing in” the services they used to provide outside the classroom. These students were meeting their AYP requirements for the multilingual learner subgroup and for other subgroups for the first time. Based on this, we knew we needed to continue looking into the idea of integrated instruction.

Multilingual learners who remained in the content-based classroom with one content teacher and one ELA teacher far exceeded the growth and performance of students still being pulled out.

Since we began co-teaching with an intentional emphasis on ensuring that students have meaningful access to grade-level content, multilingual learners are far surpassing the performance of the students who experienced instruction in any of the above settings. Meaningful is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It requires intentionality in the ways that co-teachers:

  • analyze data
  • plan for scaffolds and strategies that will meet students where they are and move them forward
  • continually monitor progress so that students are always challenged at an appropriate level, while also maintaining the expectation of attaining grade-level standards

Goal #2: Multilingual Learners Will Acquire English Through Content Learning

Not only did we discover that students needed meaningful access to grade-level content, we also discovered that teaching English in isolation was problematic. The state standards at the time we started our program were heavily based in English language arts and mostly included reading and writing standards that mirrored the English language arts standards for the state.

While we knew that students needed to be able to read and write, such standards were not truly based in language. Because language was embedded in all content areas, our students were thriving as they learned the content and the language simultaneously. Our ELA specialists, who had formerly been pull-out teachers and were now in classrooms alongside content teachers, quickly realized how much language was required to be proficient in a content area. They also learned that language goes beyond just vocabulary and picture support, and that you couldn’t possibly teach all the language necessary to be proficient in all content areas in a pull-out block or separate class. These specialists became some of the biggest advocates for the integration of content and language instruction.

It is important to move beyond the terminology of “ELA specialists.” Through the title of “multilingual specialist,” they can be more accurately described as being experts in the educational needs of multilingual learners, which includes but is not limited to language acquisition.

It is important to move beyond the terminology of “ELA specialists.

Goal #3: Teachers Will Build Their Capacity Through Co-Teaching

Realizing the huge undertaking it would be to attempt to teach the language of all content areas, our ML specialists began to advocate for professional learning for their co-teaching colleagues. They also began to provide helpful supports and explicit language instructional models to their co-teachers so that they could continue providing integrated language and content instruction beyond the co-teaching time, essentially building content-area teachers’ capacity to instruct multilingual learners.

The classroom co-teachers also realized that the ML specialists were not as highly trained or skilled in the knowledge and expectations of the content areas. These content teachers worked to ensure that the specialists understood grade-level content and expectations, thus building the ML specialists’ capacity in grade-level content. This reciprocal relationship ensures that students learn both language and content simultaneously.

In the Cherry Creek School District, these goals have helped co-teachers develop a clear description and definition of co-teaching for multilingual learners as well as create a co-teaching framework that integrates and develops the goals as areas of focus throughout the programming cycle. For an extensive look at how these three goals guide the programming in Cherry Creek—and how they can benefit your school, too—check out the book behind today’s post!

Intentional Co-Teaching for Multilingual Learners
An Equitable Approach to Integrating Content and Language
By Holly J. Porter, Ed.D.

This book is your practical guide to intentionally designing and implementing a high-quality co-teaching framework in a school or across an entire district. Tips, tools, examples, and resources—including engaging online videos and an extensive rubric that helps you evaluate the quality of your co-teaching practices—help you take foundational information and transform it into action in your own school or district.


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