An Elementary ENL Collaboration and Co-Teaching Success Story

We have been getting a lot of interest from ENL teachers wanting to share their stories about the successes, challenges, and strategies they’ve used so far this school year. This month’s blog features an interview with Laura Stevens, an Elementary ENL teacher from the Oswego City School District. The interview was conducted by Diane Garafalo, who asked Laura a variety of questions about her experiences with co-teaching during the 2015-16 school year.

Q1. Can you give me a short biography of your teaching career?

A1. I am an Elementary ENL teacher at Oswego City School district, and I have been educating ELLs for over fifteen years. I have a B.A. in TESOL and English from SUNY Oswego and an M.A. in TESOL from Le Moyne College. In 2011, I became the leader of the Northern ESL PLC, a group of ENL professionals in the region.

Q2. How do you plan lessons for co-teaching?

A2. I meet once a week with general education teachers either before school starts or after school. The general education teachers share the content curriculum for the week, and I discuss how we can embed language into the week’s content through writing and posting language objectives.

Q3. What is your role and what are responsibilities? What is the role of the content teacher?

A3. My role is to write language objectives including language functions and forms, and to provide supports and language learning activities which assist ELLs and all students in successful learning. I look at the content objective and then decide on the forms and functions of language I need to meet that objective. I believe oral language is the foundation for language development, so I like to infuse a lot of conversational activities into the lessons. One strategy I like to use is the “Tell me” strategy. I ask students to say it out loud to someone before writing. I tell students that if they can say it well, they can write it well. Some supports I use include visuals, graphic organizers, word banks, and sentence frames. The general education teacher is responsible for providing the content knowledge to the students.

Laura’s Language Objectives

Q4. How does the co-teaching classroom run?

A4. I generally push-in during ELA time which begins with a general class discussion on a particular topic. This is when I introduce different language learning strategies. Then the class breaks up into centers, so we can work in small groups. I am responsible for one of the centers, and I work with both ELLs and other students on a particular activity. I am also responsible for posting the daily language objective in the front of the classroom which is written as an “I can” statement. I explain what the objective means, and the students repeat it out loud. The student language objective for this week is: This week I can write a great opinion about my family with the pronouns he, she and it using a graphic organizer.

Q5. What are challenges you’ve faced with co-teaching? How were they solved?

A5. I feel that compared to last year, I don’t know as much about exactly how my students are progressing in language. This is due to being in different classrooms much of the day and not in my own as much anymore. ELL students don’t get direct instruction from me every day in the ENL classroom. On the other hand, I know more about how they are doing in the content classrooms. I have tried to resolve this by being especially focused on teaching specific language skills such as pronoun and verb usage when I have ELL students in my classroom.

Q6. Can you give an example of a co-teaching success story at your school?

A6. I believe we had a breakthrough in co-teaching here at my school when I explained the difference between ELA objectives and language objectives to the general education teachers. Using information from “Language Objectives for Elementary ELLs: Rigor in Reading and Writing,” by Linda New Levine and Laura Lukens, I was able to show them that ELA objectives are really content objectives focusing on the skills to be learned and not language objectives. Language objectives specify the language forms and the language functions to be learned. I showed them the basic framework for writing language objectives as: I can (language function) with (language form) using (supports). I used the example above: I can write a great opinion with the pronouns he, she, and it using a graphic organizer. This gave the general education teachers a deeper understanding of what I do as an ENL teacher.

Q7. Why do you think co-teaching is successful?

A7. I think co-teaching is a good way for teachers to help each other through collaboration. Each teacher needs the knowledge of the other to be truly effective in teaching ELLs and all students. ENL teachers need to learn more about content, and content teachers need to learn more about effective language learning practices.

It was interesting to hear about Laura’s experiences with co-teaching this year and to learn that she Is excited about the many positive changes that have occurred as a result of teacher collaboration.

Resource: Language Objectives for Elementary ELLs: Rigor in Reading and Writing

Garafalo_Diane_150pxDiane Garafalo is an ENL Consultant with DSF Consulting

If you are interested in sharing some of your experiences on the Mid-State RBERN blog, please contact Sara Peters at

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