Facilitating Effective Pair and Group Work with ELs—Part 3: Curriculum as the Coach

February 23, 2022

“Every time I do pair or group work, I’m pleasantly surprised [by] what I'm hearing. I’m pleasantly surprised about the level of engagement.”

This teacher observed what we at ELSF know to be true of pair and group work in classrooms. When used effectively, pair and group work have the potential to significantly support the development of academic concepts, skills, and language, as well as increase student engagement. Research in the field details that “Conversations act as scaffolds for students developing [academic content-specific] language because they provide opportunities to simultaneously make meaning and communicate that meaning (Mercer & Howe, 2012; Zwiers, 2011). They also allow students to hear how other students express their understandings” (Zwiers et al., 2017).

Most teachers acknowledge the great potential of pair and small group work. Yet, they are also aware of the very real challenges of implementing this practice successfully, particularly with English Learners who may find it more challenging to engage without support. At ELSF, we’ve observed that without sufficient guidance to successfully implement pair and group work with their English Learners many teachers avoid the practice altogether.

That’s why many of us on ELSF’s inquiry team were compelled to explore ways to support teachers to successfully implement pair and groupwork with English Learners (see Facilitating Effective Pair and Group Work with ELs - Part 1 and Part 2). In the Fall of 2021, ELSF’s inquiry team coached OUSD teachers to use “before, during, and after” strategies to successfully use pair and group work in their classrooms. As illustrated by the initial quote in this blog, coaching seemed to work… but coaching resources are limited. What if instead the curriculum became the instructional coach? How could the curriculum guide teachers to incorporate these practices into daily instruction so that English Learners can reach their full potential in pair and group work?

Research proves that a high-quality curriculum is critical for teaching and learning. In this blog, we report our initial findings from our Fall inquiry coupled with specific guidance for content developers, so that developers can include these best practices directly into the curriculum itself. While our findings are considered within the context of effective pair and group work with ELs, the implications of our findings speak to the needs for content-specific language instruction more broadly.

While these recommendations specifically target curriculum materials, we make the case that curriculum-aligned professional learning is also essential. When ELSF inquiry team members implemented these recommendations through coaching and professional development with teachers, the results were noticeable for students and teachers alike.

So far, our approach has been very inquiry-based and exploratory. Next steps for ELSF include developing tools and possible trainings to provide support to content developers in incorporating the above recommendations into their curriculum materials.

Stay tuned for future next steps with this project. In the meantime, feel free to email opportunities@elsuccessforum.org with any questions or to share your own experience with how curriculum materials support pair or group work.

Lauren Stoll works at SCALE Science at Stanford University, focusing on NGSS-aligned curriculum, assessment, and professional learning development. Prior to her work at SCALE, she taught science in large and diverse urban public school districts in Oakland and Berkeley, California. Lauren’s experiences of making critical connections between theory and practice within her own classroom led her to a need to investigate how advances in curricular and assessment approaches can be a tool for social and racial empowerment on a broader scale. In her work as an education consultant, she seeks to blend her classroom experience, an expertise in the Next Generation Science Standards, and a grounding in equitable instruction to design materials that support all teachers and all students. She hopes these materials will support students’ science and language learning in integration by emphasizing and scaffolding language output for science-specific sense-making.

Colette Kang is an Instructional Coach for grades 6-12 with the Oakland Unified School District where she coaches teachers and collaborates with school leaders to ensure that all students are demonstrating College and Career Readiness. During her tenure as an educator, Colette has worked for public and private schools in the Bay Area and Seattle as a teacher of English Language Arts, Secondary Mathematics, and English Language Development. Colette specializes in developing English Learners' sense of belonging, disciplinary language, and critical thinking skills across content areas. Colette received her B.A. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Washington and completed her M.A. in Education with an Emphasis in Teaching at Mills College, where she received the “Social Justice Research Award” from the Mills faculty for her work on developing math confidence with girls, students of color, and English Learners. Colette originally hails from San Francisco and now lives in Hayward, CA.


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