Co-teaching offers new approach to learning for Moffat County students

Expanded English Language Learners program addresses need

Lauren Blair
Misty Jones, an English Language Learner program teacher at East Elementary School in Craig, works with a small group of students in Alisha Brown's second grade class Thursday. Brown is one of several teachers Jones co-teaches with at East. During this lesson, the pair helped students learn simple addition and subtraction.
Lauren Blair

— Students in Moffat County that don’t speak English as their primary language are getting some extra help in the classroom this year.

Moffat County School District’s English Language Learners program expanded for the 2014-15 school year to include four new ELL teachers, one dedicated to each elementary school.

“The purpose of those teachers is to implement programming to help kids acquire English more quickly and be more successful in the English-speaking classroom,” said East Elementary School principal Sarah Hepworth.

East has one of the highest populations of ELL students in the district — 53 of its 260 students speak a primary language other English at home, about 20 percent. Sandrock Elementary School has a similarly high population.

According to Hepworth, MCSD has been out of compliance with state expectations for the performance of ELL students for several years. The continued sub-standard achievement of the district’s non-native English speakers led program administrators to look for a new teaching model and to assert the need for more staff.

The addition of the new staff have allowed for a model known as co-teaching to get off the ground in the district’s four elementary schools this year.

“The true nature of co-teaching is two certified teachers working together in the same classroom with equal responsibility for learning,” Hepworth said. “The combination of those teachers — having a regular teacher and ESL (English as a second language) teacher — is that the ESL teacher can embed those learning strategies that those ELL students need right there in the classroom.”

In short, ELL teachers partner with other teachers from grades kindergarten through fifth to create lesson plans which allow them as a pair to address the needs of both native and non-native English speakers in the same classroom setting. Sometimes this means standing in front of the classroom teaching together, and sometimes it means breaking into smaller groups.

“I love it because it gives kids the opportunity to have two teachers in the classroom to do something that one teacher can’t necessarily do independently,” said Misty Jones, ELL teacher at East. “When two minds can come together to prepare the lessons, they’re much deeper in learning; it’s not just surface learning.”

Co-teaching has only been in practice since December, following months of teacher preparation and training. Even so, Jones said she has already seen it have positive benefits for all of the students, not just ELL students.

“Some of the kids have kind of come out of their shell,” Jones said, relaying feedback she’s heard from several teachers at East. “We ask them to talk more about the things they’re learning.”

Jones explained that engaging students to share their learning is easier to do with a smaller teacher to student ratio.

The teachers benefit as well, Hepworth said. While the ELL teacher is working to support ELL students, she is also imparting useful techniques and skills that teachers can incorporate into their own classrooms down the line.

With the new model still in its infancy in Moffat County, results will be hard to measure for some time.

Both Hepworth and Jones both affirmed that benefits of the program extend beyond student achievement, however, as the integrated approach allows ELL students to learn alongside their peers instead of being singled out or separated.

“That’s a huge advantage is students don’t feel labeled or different because they’re being pulled out of the classroom all the time,” Hepworth said.

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or or follow her on Twitter @CDP_Education.

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