Welcome to the Collaborating for English Learners Series.  When collaboration and co-teaching time was planned into my schedule, I had no idea how to work with content teachers.  I was thrown in the ring without ever receiving training.  I wish that I had had these four teacher collaboration faqs to point me in the right direction.

teacher collaboration faqs for EL instruction

Collaborating allows me to share literacy practices with content teachers who are usually (and understandably) focused solely on developing content instruction. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship because, in collaborating with content teachers, we create a context for ELs to use language and provide opportunities to make connections between ideas.

There are many frequently asked questions about collaboration, many of which can be answered by reading Collaboration and Co-Teaching: Strategies for English Learners by Andrea Honigsfeld and Maria Dove.

Before we consider specific teacher collaboration strategies, let’s examine a few FAQs about collaboration in general.

Q1: What is Collaboration?

Friend & Cook (1992) define teacher collaboration as, “[a] style of direct interaction between at least two co-equal parties voluntarily engaged in shared decision making as they work toward a common goal ” (p. 5).   In our field of work, collaboration is when at least two teachers have equal opportunities to decide curriculum and shape instruction in order to enhance learning for ELS.  

Sometimes the journey of collaboration can be smooth and at other times rough, but if you have these essential elements in place, they’ll act as like guardrails to direct your work and prevent you from falling off the track.

Q2: Why should teachers collaborate?

We should consider collaborating with other educators because research on teacher collaboration proves that it leads to increased academic achievement for ELs.  Pardini (2006) conducted a multi-year study of the effects of teacher collaboration in St. Paul’s School District in Minnesota.  After looking at the results from the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment Test, he found that the reading gap between ELs and non-ELs fell 7 percentage points (from 13% to 6%).  Pardini also looked at results from the Test of Emerging English from 2003 to 2005 and found that ELs who attended St. Paul’s Public Schools consistently outscored their peers statewide in reading and math for those three years.  

Pardini also looked at results from the Test of Emerging English from 2003 to 2005 and found that ELs who attended St. Paul’s Public Schools consistently outscored their peers statewide in reading and math for those three years.  
Pardini suggested that the positive academic achievement occurred because the content teachers and English language teachers (ELTs) collaborated to make content more comprehensible.  Studies such as Pardini’s encourage us to collaborate beyond our individual departments because such partnerships produce measurable academic achievement for all students, not just ELs.

Q3: How does collaboration work?

Teacher collaboration is usually divided into four categories: co-planning, co-teaching, co-assessing, and co-reflecting.  In this series, I’ll mainly be commenting on co-planning and co-teaching.  Co-planning means jointly making decisions about curriculum, unit design, lesson planning, and prioritizing state standards.  Co-teaching means agreeing on how to deliver content, clarifying the roles of each teacher, and identifying ways to differentiate and scaffold instruction.  

It’s important to have both of these because co-planning informs co-teaching and vice versa. Collaboration is a cycle – not an event; a process – not an outcomeTwitter .

Co-teaching without co-planning relegates an ELT as an education aide by disregarding the valuable contributions an ELT makes in directing ELs’ education.  Furthermore, it always puts the ELT behind the 8-ball, scrambling to find out the lesson’s objective instead of spending the time working with the ELs.

Moreover, co-planning without co-teaching disproportionately places the burden on the content teacher. For example, a reading strategy that was shared during co-planning is best modeled by an ELT, who has expertise in that area.  The content teacher might need the ELT there to describe the strategy or help students as they implement it.

Q4: Who does what when collaborating?

I liken the roles of a content teacher and an ELT to oars on a rowboat.  Although the person in the front provides the momentum while the person in the rear stirs the boat, both are needed to successfully arrive at the dock.  Content teachers offer expertise of a specific discipline such as nuances of the content, the sequence of content standards, and the connections to things outside of school.  Content teachers should be the ones deciding the content standards, selecting the topics, arranging the scope and sequence, and sequencing the learning activities.  

ELTs play a significant but distinctly different role during this collaboration.  Our expertise is in supporting language development, ensuring that all cultures are respected, and scaffolding activities to facilitate student engagement.  We’re particularly valuable when working with ELs new to English, helping ELs understand instruction, and empowering ELs to demonstrate their thinking though differentiated tasks.    

Without the expertise from ELTs, ELs might not fully access or engage with content.  Without the expertise of content teachers, ELs might not form a deep understanding of the content or have a context to apply language (Honigsfeld & Dove, 2010).

Ying can exist without Yang in the short run, but it produces an unbalanced, disjointed reality in the long term.


It takes a village to educate a child, and everyone is invited to contribute from their area of expertise.  Content teachers offer content knowledge while English language teachers support language development.  They each play a distinct, but vital role in teaching ELs.

Next Post

Now that we have a shared understanding of collaboration, I’ll examine co-planning and co-teaching respectively in the following post.  There’s a range of strategies on the continuum between co-planning and co-teaching, and knowing what type of collaboration to offer is critical to successful collaboration.

What should other FAQs about teacher collaboration? Please comment below.


Friend, M., & Cook, L. (1992). Interactions: Collaboration skills for school professionals. White Plains, NY: Longman.

Honigsfeld, A. & Dove, M. (2010). Collaboration and Co-Teaching: Strategies for English Learners. SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

Pardini, P. (2006). In one voice: Mainstream and ELL teachers work side-by-side in the classroom teaching language through content. Journal of Staff Development, 27(4), 20– 25.

Ronfeldt, M., Farmer, S., McQueen, K., & Grissom, J. (2015). Teacher collaboration in instructional teams and student achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 52(3), 475-514.