When I taught overseas, the expectation was that each of my elementary ESL students would be mainstreamed after one school year.
Depending on where you teach, your administration may have different goals for your ESL students.
Thankfully, most of my students came into my ESL class with some knowledge of English, so mainstreaming after a year didn’t seem impossible. But that wasn’t true of every student in my class. There were others who came with lower level English skills who would need more help if they were to be successful in the mainstream classrooms the following year.
To help those students, I talked with a fellow teacher about class sharing, which we ended up doing. Here is a little information about what it is and how we made it work for our students.
What Subject Should You Share?
My ESL students were in second and third grade. I taught them every subject area, not just English. So my lessons for them included content areas like math, science, and social studies in addition to various English classes.
I contacted the second and third grade teacher at my school to see if she would be interested in sharing one or two classes each week. She was, and we decided to class share mathematics. I would teach some of her students; she would teach some of mine.
We chose math because that was the subject area least dependent on the English language for student success in. In other words, even students who had poor language skills could do well in math class since most of the class dealt with numbers rather than vocabulary and grammar. We decided, with our administration’s approval, that we would share our classes two days a week.
If you considering class sharing and are wondering which subject to class share with a mainstream class, choose one your students might already have significant knowledge in. If they already know the content, they will be more successful when it comes to deciphering the language to access that content. Since your students will be challenged by the language aspect, their previous knowledge won’t cause boredom but will give them confidence in the tasks they will complete. Good choices include math, science, and social studies.
How Should You Split Classes?
Since I taught at an international school, the second and third grade teacher had nonnative English speakers in her classroom too, though all of her students had tested well enough to place out of English as a second language classes. Still, she had students who struggled with English. We pooled our classes together and then split them into two groups – a second grade math class and a third grade math class.
I took the second grade math class since most of my students who had lower English skill levels were in second grade. It worked out that the students she had who struggled most with English were also in second grade. Our math classes were nearly the same size after the shuffle with the less proficient language students in my class.
If you have learners whose English skills are very limited, keep them with you, the ESL teacher. If you have students whose English skills are stronger but not strong enough to let them manage in a mainstream class, put them with the mainstream teacher. That way they will not be overwhelmed by language but instead will be challenged by the instruction of the mainstream teacher. And you will be there to help your students with the language aspects of class as necessary. At the same time, since you’ll be teaching others who are fluent in English, your speech will naturally be more like theirs and less like you usually use in ESL classes, so your ESL students will still be challenged by the arrangement.
How Can You Help Your Students Succeed?
The ESL students in your class will be challenged by the content and delivery you give the mixed fluency level class but they will not be completely lost when it comes to understanding language. They will know your voice and accent, you will talk in a way they can understand, and those things will help them be successful as part of a class with fluent English speakers.
But don’t feel that just because they still have you as their teacher that they won’t need any additional help. Use strategic scaffolding to give your students an extra boost when it comes to success in class.
One way to scaffold your material is to give your ESL students more time to complete assignments and take tests. I think our instinct can be that giving some students more time than others isn’t fair, but don’t let that discourage you from doing it. Because students are facing language challenges as well as content challenges, it’s really okay to give them more time. Your native speaking students won’t be jealous or resentful. And your ESL students will be less stressed and more successful when they don’t feel the time pressure on their performance.
Preteach vocabulary as part of your ESL lessons before classes combine. You will give all your ESL students a comprehension boost when they know the vocabulary from the lesson ahead of time. This will aid both the students you keep with you and the students who go to class with the other teacher. It doesn’t take a lot of time to review words with your students, and there are plenty of fun ways you can teach new vocabulary.
You can also assign work to be completed outside of class before you cover the same material in class. For example, have students watch a video on the water cycle before they attend a science class that explains the same topic. You can watch these videos as part of your ESL class or assign them for homework or to be completed during free study time. For more information on this type of instruction, read our articles on flipped classrooms and employ those techniques with your ESL students.
Not everybody likes to jump in the deep end of the pool the first time they swim.
Likewise, not all of your ESL students will be gung ho to leave the safety of the ESL classroom and move into mainstream classes. By sharing your class before taking the plunge to mainstreaming, your ESL students will be set up for success, and you can be confident that they will be okay once they leave your classroom.
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