Washington Middle School Teachers Collaborate For ELA Success

Washington Middle School students Ablet Rosario Rodriguez, Cathrine Tompkins, Madison Taylor, and Dylan Ocasio work with co-teachers Sarah Stewart (English as a New Language) and Jason Williams (ELA) on a project during ELA class.

“Who do you think wrote the better speech, Atticus Finch or Martin Luther King, Jr.?” asked Washington Middle School English as a New Language (ENL) teacher Sarah Stewart.

“Once you decide who wrote the better speech, we need you to produce at least three pieces of evidence. How can we get evidence that we are correct?” asked Washington English Language Arts (ELA) teacher Jason Williams.

“From the text,” said the eighth graders.

“And what is an example of details from the text that will help you prove that either Atticus’ or Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech is better?” asked Ms. Stewart.

“Quotes,” said a student.

Ms. Stewart and Mr. Williams co-teach three classes that integrates English learners into a traditional ELA class. In the eighth grade classes, students read To Kill a Mockingbird as part of their unit and were comparing a speech by the main character with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Last year, the ENL program for middle school students was housed at Jefferson Middle School. The decision was made to bring students back to their home schools so that they could be in their own neighborhoods and interact with their peers. The integrated ENL/ELA classes are run just like any other ELA class. Both teachers educate the students and work together to plan ways to help all students succeed. English learners are being exposed to same content and vocabulary as native speakers. English learners have an opportunity to talk to their classmates daily through peer learning, a method research has shown to be a powerful tool for language development. Teachers are able to observe students at the same time and discuss their observations about student learning. Also, all stakeholders see ENL as less of a negative — everyone starts to understand the benefits to bilingualism.

“The students not only receive their academics but also a social piece,” said Mr. Williams and Ms. Stewart. “It makes all students feel included and part of the school and appreciated for their input. Everyone in the class contributes, no one feels singled out. And the native English-speaking students see a different side of their peers and how hard it is to learn a new language. Often after taking an integrated class, their judgments about English learners are different and much more positive. It opens up everyone’s world.”

The students agree.

“It really helps to have an integrated class,” said Washington eighth grader Ezequiel Alejandro Lopez. “It’s good because if I don’t understand a word I can ask another Spanish-speaking student or Ms. Stewart to translate but I can also help the non-Spanish speaking students when we go to Spanish class. It builds up a relationship between us.”

” I think having English learners in ELA class is really beneficial,” said Washington eighth grader Madison Taylor. “We are taking Spanish and it’s extra practice for us both in class and when we meet friends in the hallway. I also love having two teachers who can help us and the class is just really fun. I look forward to coming every day.”