by Valentina Gonzalez
(adapted from ValentinaESL.com)
Co-teaching can be a powerful instruction approach and beneficial to the students in the classroom. One of the best things about co-teaching is that it can lower the student-teacher ratio, allowing for more interaction with individual students and customized instruction. Yet sometimes, co-teachers in reading and writing classrooms find themselves feeling underused. When one teacher reads aloud to the class, what can the co-teacher do to add value to the lesson? Or, when one teacher conducts a shared reading, how can the co-teacher support instruction?
Many ESL teachers who find themselves co-teaching in classrooms during reading and writing blocks wonder how co-teaching fits in with literacy components. They want to know how to best utilize two teachers in the room during reading and writing instruction. The last thing any teacher wants to do is spend their days standing at the back of a classroom, watching and listening while another teacher models reading and writing. Knowing which co-teaching approach best fits each literacy component helps maximize the time spent in the classroom.
Main Components of Literacy We’ll Merge with Co-Teaching
A read-aloud is a planned oral reading of a text. Depending on the students’ grade level, reading level, and language level, the read-aloud could be a wordless picture book, a picture book, a chapter book, an excerpt from a book, a song or poem, etc. The read-aloud allows students to hear text at a higher level than they can read independently. It also supports vocabulary development, critical thinking, comprehension, listening, speaking, reading, writing, and more. Read-alouds usually happen in a whole group setting.
The mini-lesson is a short, explicit, whole-group lesson that teaches one skill students can use in reading or writing. Then students are sent off to read or write independently while the teacher confers with students or gathers a small group for guided reading/writing or strategy lessons (see more under Small Groups).
During shared reading or writing, the teacher and the students work together to read or write a text. Often teachers use big books or enlarge a text for all students to see for shared reading. Shared reading/writing is part of the “WE do” in the Guided Release of Responsibility. Shared reading and writing can be done in whole or small group settings.
Independent reading or writing is the time when students read or write on their own. To become stronger readers, students benefit from time practicing reading. Students read books of their choice during independent reading. Independent writing is very similar, but students are writing on self-selected topics instead of reading.
Word Work/Word Study
Students study letters, sounds, words, and their connections during word work or word study. This is a great way to build vocabulary that will be useful in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Word work is very beneficial to language learners, but lessons should be quick, authentic, and engaging. Word Work can be done whole group but is also effective in a small group setting tailored to group/student needs.
Small Groups Activities
Guided reading is gathering a small group of students who are reading at a similar level and listening to them read a given text. The purpose of guided reading is to help students grow as readers. The teacher begins by introducing the book or text, and then students read while the teacher listens in on each student. The teacher is able to offer support, guide, and confer with each student in the small group setting.
Similar to guided reading, strategy groups are small group instruction. But rather than based on similar reading levels, students work on a certain reading or writing skill. Students may be on varying levels. The teacher begins with a mini-lesson and then invites students to practice the strategy while they are with the teacher in the small group. The teacher is there to guide and support each student as they try the strategy.
Conferring is the smallest version of a small group and is simply a one-on-one conversation with students about their reading or writing. The formative assessment gathered during conferring helps teachers build strategy groups and guided reading groups. This individual attention is valuable to student growth and progress, and it can also help build relationships and support each student where they are as readers and writers.
Six Popular Co-Teaching Approaches
One Teach, One Assist
This is one of the least effective approaches yet most observed in classrooms. During this co-teaching approach, one teacher leads instruction while the other assists a student or wanders around the room to help a few students as needed.
One Teach, One Record
This approach is helpful prior to a staffing, RTI meeting, ARD, LPAC, or parent-teacher conference, but it should not be overused. During this co-teaching approach, one teacher leads instruction while the other observes a particular student and gathers data. The data can be used to guide instruction or to bring to the upcoming meeting.
This approach is highly effective because it lowers the student-teacher ratio. During this co-teaching approach, the class is divided equally into heterogeneous groups. Each teacher teaches the same content to the group of students, and it’s helpful to separate the groups based on student needs.
This approach is another highly effective method of lowering the student-teacher ratio while differentiating instruction. The class is divided into three groups, and each will rotate through 3 stations. Each teacher will facilitate a station, and the final station is independent reading or writing.
This approach is highly effective because it allows for small group teaching and differentiation based on needs. While one teacher leads instruction with the majority of the class, the other teacher gathers a small group. Alternative teaching offers the ability to meet with a group of students who have a similar goal, such as word work, pre-teach vocabulary, reteach a skill, or enrich and extend learning.
Though this approach is effective, it is often misunderstood and confused with One Teach, One Assist. Team Teaching requires complete sharing of responsibilities in the classroom, including planning, assessment, teaching, etc. When team teaching is effective, both teachers have planned instruction together and work like a well-oiled wheel to present content in the classroom.
In the following chart, we merge the literacy components and co-teaching approaches. (PDF of the chart.)
Effective co-teaching happens when teachers build a strong, healthy relationship with one another, respect each other, plan together, and see one another as equals in the classroom. All students should see both teachers as “their teachers.” If you are the ESL teacher or a support teacher going into a classroom, always remember to think of yourself as another teacher in that room and not as a guest. On the other hand, if you have an ESL or support teacher coming to your classroom, remember to share the space.
Valentina Gonzalez is a content creator, educational consultant for Seidlitz Education, and the co-author of Reading & Writing with English Learners: A Framework for K-5.