English as a New Language Teachers Collaborate to Improve Student Learning

     Published on 4/22/16   Tagged under:    District News    LeMoyne Elementary School    Nottingham High School   

English as a New Language (ENL) students across the SCSD have had a great new asset in their classrooms this year: a team of both content and ENL certified teachers working together to help them achieve more.
While ENL teachers previously worked in more of a standalone way to help ENL students learn English, new requirements from New York State are now bringing them into content classrooms on a large scale to help expose students to academic material with additional support.
The SCSD started ENL co-teaching on a small scale over the past couple of years, but this year, nearly all ENL teachers are doing some kind of integrated co-teaching. In fact, in their core classes (English Language Arts, Social Studies, Math and Science), all ENL students now take part in a combination of standalone ENL instruction and integrated instruction or just integrated instruction, based on their proficiency level. This means that no ENL student is left with entirely separated instruction.
To make this happen, the District has added 11 new ENL teachers this school year. Jackie Leroy, Director of ENL, World Languages and Bilingual Education, said this new change has improved the way ENL students are learning.
“It’s great to have support in the content area where the ENL teacher is working side by side with the content teacher and really providing the language support in that classroom,” she explained. “The content teacher may not have the strategies on what methods work best with ENL students to provide access to the content. But the ENL teachers can work within a student’s proficiency level to ensure that students have access to that grade-level content.”
At Nottingham, for instance, ENL teacher Lauren Cirulli now teaches in two science classrooms. In Rebekah Farrell’s Living Environment class, she has used bilingual dictionaries and a vocabulary wall to help the class of sheltered ENL students learn. In Jaime Hoey’s Environmental Science class, she works with both ENL and general education students to help them grasp difficult concepts. She said her presence in the classroom seems to be beneficial, even to the non-ENL students, because she is able to help break down difficult concepts so they are easier to understand.
“This setup is ideal because it provides students with a content specialist and a language specialist,” Ms. Cirulli explained. “I’m able to reinforce concepts, like how to comprehend a text and promote understanding. It also helps me better understand where my students are coming from and what their difficulties might be. If I see them later in the ESL classroom, it helps me understand what they’re learning and better help them work through any difficulties.”
Environmental Science teacher Jaime Hoey Rodriguez agreed that the experience working with Ms. Cirulli has been beneficial for all students involved, noting that because there are now two teachers in the classroom, students are able to get more individualized attention.
“The class we co-teach is a mixed class of both ENL students and non-ENL students,” she said. “We have focused on reading skills as well as text-based writing skills, and we have noticed huge gains in several ENL students. We have seen students who were reluctant to use a textbook or read passages now be able to look up information on their own and interpret that information to answer questions and support their answers with information from the text they read.” 
Ms. Hoey added that Ms. Cirulli’s background knowledge of ENL strategies has also helped her plan lessons that are engaging and level-appropriate for all of the students in her class. “When necessary, I modify my readings or questions to help meet the students where they are,” she explained.
Living Environment teacher Rebekah Farrell said this tailored lesson planning is one of the reasons ENL students really enjoy the sheltered class she and Ms. Cirulli teach.
“I go out of my way to plan lessons that make lessons personally and culturally relevant to them,” Ms. Farrell explained. “A lot of times, we take for granted what we think they should know because they’re in high school. But many of them come from a huge multitude of circumstances and we try to meet them where they are and start from there.”
How does she do that? Through differentiation and scaffolding, as well as lessons that meet different learning styles. She has made a special effort to decorate her room with words, images and vocabulary related to the content to help reinforce comprehension. Students even have the ability work with language partners, where they serve as peer coaches.
“A lot of what they have to do is verbal, so they have the opportunity to do a lot of translating,” Ms. Farrell said. “They have the option to draw a picture or translate something into their own language. Then, I’ll give that to another student and ask them to translate it back to me. It gives them literacy skills and makes them so proud of who they are and where they’re from. That’s so important. The power of collaboration is incredible!”
At LeMoyne Elementary, ENL teacher Kristina Crehan meets once a week after school with Math teacher Sarah Scott, to plan their lessons for the following week. Together, they teach math to a first grade class of ENL, non-ENL and special education students.
“It’s working really well,” Ms. Crehan said. “I had never thought about how language intensive math was. But there are tons of words we think of that the kids need to know—whether they’re ENL students or not. Now, we’re adding a language objective to every lesson and the students are responding well—they get more individualized attention.”
For students, the individualized attention and language-specific strategies that co-teaching can provide is one of the biggest advantages.
“Vocabulary is the hardest for us to learn,” Nottingham sophomore Alanood Balwi explained. “Having our ENL teacher in class with us makes it easier, because she knows how we learn best. I wish there was an ENL teacher in every class!”
Thank you to all of our ENL teachers—and the content teachers they are collaborating with—for their efforts in making content more accessible to our English as a New Language students!