“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 email@example.com with any questions or to share your own experience with how curriculum materials support pair or group work.