The Nampa School District has instituted a district-wide instructional model to support English Language (EL) students. It’s Co-Teaching and it’s having a major and positive impact on student learning. The strategy puts an EL specialist and a classroom teacher together as co-equal instructors who together, teach language skills alongside core content to integrated classrooms of students.
Nampa, with 1,800 EL students, is in its fourth year of implementing the co-teaching model and they are closing the achievement gap for these students. For example, the district’s fifth grade EL students improved from 8 percent proficient on their ELA ISAT scores in 2016 to 37 percent proficient in 2019! The graduation rate for EL students in Nampa has increased at a higher rate (6.8 percent) than the district’s overall increase of 4.6 percent for all students. They are moving the needle!
The model was adopted after a district task force was convened during the 2015-16 school year to research instructional models and programs that focus on inclusion, access to content, teacher collaboration, and perhaps most importantly, that represented a dramatic change in instruction that would best serve the district’s EL student population.
The task force visited the Cherry Creek School District in Colorado to see their co-teaching model in action. Cherry Creek is a large district situated a few miles SE of Denver. Cherry Creek serves more than 55,000 students of which 45 percent represent minority subgroups. The district has more than 150 languages spoken by students across the district. Cherry Creek uses the co-teaching model very successfully.
The task force returned to Nampa and immersed themselves in creating a strategic plan to implement co-teaching in ALL their schools. After one year of implementation, the district received a grant to support a full-time EL Coach, Jill Ayabei to oversee the co-teaching program districtwide. Jill is more than a mere coach for the program. “I have the privilege to see and help co-teachers get through the challenges together as they step out of their comfort zones, try new things, and grow and develop into stronger educators. Additionally, I get to see students valued and supported as they learn and grow in their language content and experience success in the classroom.”
During a recent visit to a Social Studies class at West Middle School in Nampa, we observed the co-teaching model in action. Co-teachers Luiz Novoa and Jesse Rhodes were teaching an eighth grade group of students about Toussaint Louverture and his influence on the independence movement in Haiti in the 18th century. The two teachers were interchangeable sharing equally in the instruction, both in content and language development. They focused on instructional strategies that served all students in the class, of which 30 percent were EL students. They used Thinking Maps, emphasized vocabulary, used choral responses, required answers in complete sentences, and best of all, had students interact and engage in discussions that enriched the learning for everyone. Students were even encouraged to use their native language (Spanish and Samoan) to describe Toussaint to the enjoyment and edification of their peers and teachers. It was difficult to distinguish which teacher was the language specialist and which was the content specialist. Brilliant!
Endeavor Elementary in Nampa has just under 500 students in K-5, of which more than 140 are identified as EL learners, and more than 85 percent of Endeavor’s students are eligible for free-and-reduced lunches. Co-teaching is used in every classroom. We watched Sarah Wang work with co-teacher Jennifer Ballard in a 1st grade classroom and co-teachers Sarah Ziemer and Taylor Warren teach together in a fourth grade class. What stood out watching these co-teachers work was the emphasis on language skills. And the teachers were co-equal in the eyes of the children, although one was an EL specialist and the other a content specialist. As Ms. Zeimer made very clear about the Nampa co-teaching model, “You shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the EL specialist and the content teacher.”
Every student is required to write – a skill that is often under emphasized because of the difficulty in teaching it and the time consuming nature of evaluating and remediating student performance. The staff at Endeavor has made writing a priority. They base their writing instruction on the work of specialist Lucy Calkins and are very intentional in their instruction based on her work. As Heather Yarbrough, the Principal of Endeavor shared with us, “Our students see themselves as writers.”
Other co-teaching resources that have been employed as part of Endeavor’s ongoing training and professional development include the works of AndreaHonigsfeld and Elena Aguilar, author of the book, Onward.
The Endeavor teaching staff is a highly motivated and passionate crew. Everyone is “on-board” and committed because they see the results in their students’ performance and especially the students’ attitudes towards learning. As we finished our interview with a room full of co-teachers, building, and district level administrators, Principal Yarbrough said with a smile and in a tone that exuded the group’s confidence, “Someday they’re going to write a book about us.”
Written by Wil Overgaard and Don Coberly, Co-CEOs of RISE TVEP.