The ENL Specialist as a Co-teacher

Last month co-teachers Andrea Calabrese (ENL) and Mike Garguilo (Science) shared tips and strategies emerging from their successful collaboration in the 7th grade Living Environment classroom.  As a follow-up, Andrea shares some thoughts on what has helped her become a successful ENL co-teacher;

Many content area teachers feel that allowing the ENL teacher to adapt/modify the material means that the content will be watered down. As my co-teacher and I have worked together, we haven’t found that to be the case.  On the contrary, in most cases we are able to pare down the language, without losing any essential content.  The big question is:  HOW?  My co-teacher and I plan to have at least three support lessons for each topic, or “lecture”.  The support lessons are primarily experiential learning activities, which have been expertly designed by my co-teacher to actively engage all learners, regardless of language ability. As the ENL teacher, I build in language supports, before, during and after these science “experiences” to build content vocabulary.

I’d like to suggest some guiding principles for the ENL teacher:

  • A Different Role:  As language professionals, it is in our nature to want to read, write, speak and listen for multiple purposes at all times.  However, when co-teaching with content area specialists, we must shift our focus.  The purpose of the class is to understand and apply the content, and so our roles are not really to teach English, rather to use strategies and scaffolds to make the content accessible, even with limited English skills.  Keeping that purpose clear in my mind has made all the difference in my approach as a co-teacher.  The science class is not another English class.
  • Language Objectives:  With limited time and so much content to cover, the most important language objective is that students use (read, write, listen and speak) academic vocabulary appropriately.  When students get to a place of ownership of these Tier 3 words, they are able to use them to engage with the content in meaningful ways.
  • Communication is Key:  I have found it imperative to closely collaborate with my science co-teacher at every step of the modification process.  Many times, even with stated content objectives, I need to ask my co-teacher what the “bottom line” of the lesson is.  I then ask him to review my modifications to ensure that in my attempts to pare down the language, I didn’t inadvertently remove or misinterpret a key concept.
  • Time Commitment:  Unless the ENL teacher is also a science teacher, there is a large time commitment embedded in the co-teaching relationship, especially at the beginning.  Often I spend 2 or 3 hours (or more!) adapting a 45-minute lesson for our ELLs.  I can only do that because my co-teacher has a well-laid out, detailed curriculum map that is updated at least a week ahead of time.  These modifications cannot simply be done “on the fly”.

Mike and Andrea’s co-teaching strategies caught the attention of Dr. Andrea Honigsfeld, co-author of COLLABORATION AND CO-TEACHING FOR ENGLISH LEARNERS, at the NYS TESOL conference.  As a result, some of their strategies will be included in an upcoming Honigsfeld/Dove publication.  We’ll continue to share winning approaches from ExcEL teachers, and Mike and Andrea always welcome the chance to share with colleagues.