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Is co-teaching always the answer?

Social media is all a-twitter these days about co-teaching. There are a couple of new books out, and the topic of co-teaching for EAL/ELL learners is now the theme of the moment. While I think that successful co-teaching can be a great thing, I don't think that it is the only answer for schools, and that the decision to adopt a co-teaching model shouldn't be taken lightly.

Here is a brief overview of models for EAL/ELL support, along with pros and cons of each:

1. Stand-alone, with a specialist teacher (also called withdrawal or pull-out)

Pros: Students get dedicated time with a specialist, usually using a strong language-based curriculum, to focus on language development

Cons: Students spend time outside their normal class, and this can perceived as negative.

Fact: For students who are new to English, the classroom is not always ideal for learning language, as the bar is too high, and they won't be learning much content anyway. A sheltered environment for a short period of time can build language skills more quickly, and in a more supportive environment.

Who it works best for: Students who arrive with little/no English, especially after Year 2-3

Getting it right: A good stand-alone programme has a clear curriculum, with entry and exit benchmarks from each phase

2. Integrated support, with a specialist teacher (also called push-in or co-teaching)


a. Teacher teaches, EAL teacher supports

b. Teacher plans, gives EAL teacher small group to work with on specific tasks

c. Teacher plans, EAL teachers chases after them to try and find out what they can do

d. Teacher and EAL teacher co-plan, and share teaching of the whole class, according to needs

As per the above, there is a wide range of efficiency in 'co-teaching' models. Unfortunately, the vast majority of co-teaching I see falls in the a-c categories, rather than in the most effective model, which is d. The pros and cons assessment below applies only to model d.

Pros: Students get wrap-around support for language and content learning.

Cons: Time for co-planning is key, and teachers need to get used to working together, which can take time, so it's not a quick fix.

Fact: For international school with high staff turnover, embedding a successful integrated model can be almost impossible. It can take several years before the whole team is comfortable co-planning and co-teaching, with each new teacher adding to this time frame.

Who it works best for: Schools with a stable teacher population, and the means to provide the time necessary for planning.

Getting it right: A good integration programme has ample time for co-planning, and ample support for implementation from a teacher perspective.

Planning for EAL/ELL support shouldn't be seen as a one-size fits all. What works well in one school may not work at all in another, and a programme that is easy to set up in one school may be impossible in another. Students with different levels of English, and starting at different ages, will have their needs best met in different ways, and a good programme recognises this as well. Schools need to assess their own assets and challenges, in terms of time, teachers, and resources, and develop a model that can meet the needs of their language learner students as far as possible. In any school with significant numbers of language learners, there should be a designated (qualified) staff member who can carry out a needs analysis and an inventory of resources and create and manage a language acquisition programme (EAL/ELL or other) that is well organised, well documented, and responsive to student and staff needs.

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