Effective Collaborative Practices in ESL Education | EdCan Network (2024)

Promising Practices, Research, Teaching

Conditions that nurture best practices

by: Ana Vintan, Dr. Tiffany L. Gallagher

English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers need to work with classroom teachers and other colleagues to ensure optimal learning for English Language Learners. This qualitative study looked at the barriers and facilitators to effective collaboration.

Contemporary English language learners (ELLs) have language learning needs that are often supported through a complement of in-school professionals, including English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers, classroom teachers, educational resource teachers, coaches, ESL consultants, and administrators. Integrating content-based teaching with appropriate skill-level tasks for ELLs requires a collaborative effort between classroom teachers and ESL teachers.

To understand the factors that facilitate collaboration in ESL education, we interviewed and observed the teaching practices of four ESL teachers in Southern Ontario. Based on the findings of these qualitative data, which complement and are supported by existing research, we provide some conditions that truly nurture innovation between ESL teachers and classroom teachers.

When ESL teachers and classroom teachers collaborate, each educator brings a unique perspective and repertoire of knowledge and experience, and it often takes time to negotiate ways of combining these lenses to create an educational plan. Thus, one condition of collaboration is for educators to feel supported in contributing their specialization area within a collaborative relationship. Administrative support is also essential.When collaboration is prioritized by school administrators, resources and allocated time for collaborative practice are designated with an ESL focus, facilitating more authentic collaboration.

Our research revealed that ESL teachers negotiated collaboration based on a desire to work together and a belief that a cohesive educator team is important in ESL education. However, these ESL teachers encountered barriers such as a lack of training, technology and tools to facilitate collaboration and lack of time to do so. This resulted in limited and informal, surface-level collaboration.

Teaching approach

ESL educators often work with several different students at several different schools, so collaboration with the classroom teachers is essential. When ESL teachers and classroom teachers collaborate, there is potential for consistency and efficiency in pedagogical planning of targeted learning strategies for ELLs. Caroline, an ESL teacher, told us, “I love collaborating with teachers because I feel like it’s taking a little bit of stress off of them, initially, but it’s also giving them a toolkit so they’re prepared the next time around.”

Echoing this sentiment, other ESL teacher participants talked about successful collaborative relationships with classroom teachers that develop over time. Professional relationships among ESL teachers and classroom teachers that were described as authentic extended beyond situational conversations about particular events in the classroom. These relationships were rooted in a sense of reduced role differentiation between the ESL teachers and classroom teachers.

The time crunch

To collaborate effectively, educators working with ELLs need to have dedicated time in order to meet and co-plan, co-teach to some extent, and co-evaluate curriculum planning for ELLs. This need for devoted time for teachers to meet is a pervasive issue cited by others as well.1Grant, an ESL teacher, talks about the challenge of finding meeting time:

“The challenge I think in terms of collaboration is sometimes finding that time to meet with the teacher… Because classroom teachers have so many things going on, so it’s tough…”

Caroline spoke of the difficulty of carving out time for ESL among competing priorities:

“I try to invite myself to those collaboration meetings [laughs], because then you can put an ESL perspective on the table. We have a half day each term that we’re allowed to use… to meet with teachers, but a lot of us find that’s just not enough time to meet with all the teachers we need to meet with… I do a lot of my meetings unofficially… And I’m always apologetic for using their time, because I know that prep time for them is so precious. But… in the end, it’s beneficial for both of us, because I can do a lot to help support them. I might co-teach a lesson, or I might, you know, plan a lesson based around something that they’re working on so that they don’t have to plan that lesson, and now they have time to do something else.”

This is a testament to the struggle experienced by all ESL teachers to liaise and support classroom teachers’ practice as well as meet Ministry of Education mandates to complete required documentations for ELLs.

Central to this collaboration is a shared desire to approach curriculum mapping with an ESL-specific focus, to set goalsforas well aswithELLs, and to evaluate and modify plans along the way. ESL teacher Nicole talks about collaboration to build on ELLs’ strengths: “It’s like optimizing the support, but seeing that all the kids are capable and competent. [Focusing on] what do they know, and how can we move them forward, instead of looking at them as having a deficit.”

When educators took the time to co-plan in preparation for an upcoming unit, observations showed that they used instructional strategies such as small groups or one-on-one conferencing with ELLs, and as a result, provide differentiated instruction. There are recent examples of ESL teachers and content-area teachers co-planning using the principles of differentiated instruction in cooperative learning-centered approaches.2 This is beneficial to ELLs, as each of these students has unique learning and language needs.

When ESL teachers and classroom teachers collaborate, there is potential for consistency and efficiency in pedagogical planning for English language learners.

The crucial follow-up to this teaching approach is creating opportunities for teachers to discuss their observations and review effective teaching strategies. Thus, in addition to planning and teaching systems, it is crucial to also incorporate assessment systems in order to adjust pedagogy to meet ELLs’ needs. Collaboration among educators on assessment that informs ESL instruction (and not just program placement)3is also an area for professional growth.

Technology as a collaborative tool

We asked how ESL teachers collaborate with in-school teams of educators to use instructional resources (digital and/or non-digital) to promote language instruction with ELLs.

We found that ESL teachers supplemented non-digital resources with resources created by classroom teachers. Collaboration was focused on the goals of educational plans for ELLs, and resources to support ELLs in achieving these goals. In terms of non-digital resources, an emergent theme was that ESL teachers had over time created a repository of tools that could be adapted to fit individual ELLs’ learning needs. One aspect of collaboration that teachers considered valuable was how the ESL teachers shared these resources with other educational professionals (such as resource teachers) as a way of optimizing the time of all educators.

A second important finding was that, although ESL teacher participants saw the benefits of using technology to aid ELLs, collaboration in relation to the use of technological platforms in ESL education tended to remain at the surface level. For example, imparting technological resources was limited to sharing websites and pass codes for English translation or leveled texts.

Google Drive is one technology that is being used as a dynamic tool to support sharing and collaboration in literacy pedagogy and language instruction in the Canadian ESL classroom.4Caroline, for example, had developed a bank of resources that she was willing to share with any teacher that could use them: “The beautiful thing about Google Drive is, once you kind of get it organized, it’s there for you. So next year, I don’t necessarily have to do that again, I can just pull it out and add or adapt what I need to do.”

To improve the use of technological platforms in ESL education, it is imperative that the technological tools chosen by educators provide students with immediate feedback, to prevent students from making schematic integrations of incorrect responses. In this way, students gain an awareness of where errors are made, and can apply this new learning in the future. Platforms such as chatrooms in educational apps are being used with great success.5Educators need opportunities to collaborate on integrating technology in instruction in ways that promote critical thinking and problem solving to guide students to meaningful learning.

Expanding collaboration

Our research reveals that ESL teachers value shared professional development as a way of enhancing collaboration with classroom teachers.

ESL teacher participants in this research project recognized that collaborating with educators within as well as across other school boards, may introduce them to innovative practices that they had otherwise not considered. Lauren recalled her involvement in an ESL symposium during the summer hosted by the local school board. The symposium was focused on ESL instruction and included ESL educators from various boards. Lauren found it beneficial to share experiences with different ESL teachers. Her recommendation was for more ESL teachers to be aware of such initiatives and become involved in large-scale events to interact and collaborate with various educators. Both Caroline and Lauren talked about the benefits of partnering up with other school boards to collaborate and share strategies. These ESL teachers recognized that collaboration is required to improve and incorporate strategies that have been successful for other educators.

Facilitating connections among educators working with ELLs across the province to share successful approaches and develop tools that can be adapted and utilized in ESL education is a way to hasten the spread and uptake of innovative practice.

A collaborative approach in ESL education creates more supportive and nurturing environments for ELLs to thrive in. When ESL education is prioritized and approached as an inclusive practice aimed at blending the professional knowledge of several educators and backed by administrative support,6ELLs as well as ESL teachers are not marginalized, and the success of students with various literacy requirements are considered as part of an inclusive practice.

Photo: iStock

First published inEducation Canada, June 2020


1A. Honigsfeld and M. Dove, “When Do Teachers and ESL Specialists Collaborate and Co-teach?” inCollaboration and Co-Teaching: Strategies for English Learners(SAGE: 2010).

2G. M. Awada and K. H. Faour, “Effect of Glogster and Cooperative Learning Differentiated Instruction on Teachers’ Perceptions,”Teaching English with Technology18, No. 2 (2018): 93-114.

3B. A. Green, and M. Andrade, “Guiding Principles for Language Assessment Reform: A model for collaboration,”Journal of English for Academic Purposes9, No.4 (2010): 322-334.

4N. Slavkov, “Sociocultural Theory, the L2 Writing Process, and Google Drive: Strange bedfellows?”TESL Canada Journal32. No. 2 (2015): 80-94.

5A. Sari, “EFL Peer Feedback Through the Chatroom in Padlet,”LLT Journal: A Journal on Language and Language Teaching22, No. 1 (2019): 46-57.

6Honigsfeld and Dove, “When Do Teachers and ESK Specialists Collaborate and Co-teach?”

Meet the Expert(s)

Effective Collaborative Practices in ESL Education | EdCan Network (1)

Ana Vintan

Professor, Seneca College

Ana Vintan, MEd, is a professor in the School of English and Liberal Studies at Seneca College in Toronto. She has a passion for teaching, and research in the areas of professional learning, connections among curriculum, instruction and assessment.

Read More

Effective Collaborative Practices in ESL Education | EdCan Network (2)

Dr. Tiffany L. Gallagher

Professor, Dept. of Educational Studies and Director, Brock Learning Lab, Brock University

Tiffany Gallagher, PhD, is a professor in the Faculty of Education at Brock University in the Niagara Region (ON) and Director of the Brock Learning Lab. She is recognized for her research that aims to enhance teachers’ professional learning through coaching, and the learning of students with literacy difficulties and learning challenges.

Read More

Effective Collaborative Practices in ESL Education | EdCan Network (2024)


What are the 5 types of collaborative teaching? ›

They include: one teach, one support; parallel teaching; alternative teaching; station teaching; and team teaching.

What are collaborative practices in education? ›

“Collaborative learning” is an umbrella term for a variety of educational approaches involving joint intellectual effort by students, or students and teachers together. Usually, students are working in groups of two or more, mutually searching for understanding, solutions, or meanings, or creating a product.

Why is collaboration an important practice when instructing ELLs? ›

Encouraging peer interaction and collaboration not only provides opportunities for language use and practice — it builds community in the classroom! ELLs also benefit from observing how their peers learn and solve problems.

What is collaborative learning in ESL? ›

Collaborative learning is when a group of two or more students work together to achieve a shared goal. Students interact and share their knowledge to complete a task, learning together along the way.

What are the eight 8 key elements of collaborative practice? ›

Mutual respect • Trust • Sensitivity to the other's perspective • Ongoing, open communication • Recognition and valuing of the unique contribution and strengths of the partner • Shared decision making. Describe a situation in which you have collaborated with a child or another adult in your service.

What are the 4 basic principles of collaborative management? ›

The principles are: focus on mission before organi- zation; manage through trust, not control; promote others, not yourself; and build constellations, not stars.

What is an example of collaborative approach in classroom? ›

Ask students to sit in groups of three. Assign roles. For example, the person on left takes one position on a topic for debate, the person on right takes the opposite position, and the person in the middle takes notes and decides which side is the most convincing and provides an argument for his or her choice.

What is the importance of collaboration in e learning? ›

It allows students to learn from the ideas, skill sets, and experience of others enrolled in the course. By engaging in a shared task (whether it be a project or lesson) pupils gain the opportunity to learn a variety of skills, such as group analysis and collaborative teamwork building skills.

What skills are necessary for collaboration to be successful in the classroom? ›

Identify the specific collaboration skills that students need. Many of the skills required for success in group work are common speaking and listening skills such as listening without interrupting; summarizing, paraphrasing, or adding to others' ideas; and asking questions to clarify someone else's idea.

What is collaboration in language teaching? ›

Collaborative learning occurs when a group of two or more students work together to achieve a shared goal or learning objective. Students interact and share their knowledge to complete a task, discuss concepts or to find a solution to a problem their language teacher has posed.

How do you implement collaborative learning in the classroom? ›

Curating assignments or group activities for the students that improve their creative and soft skills. Giving students proper feedback for them to improve. Guiding them towards the right path. Grouping the students wisely in order to improve communication and collaboration.

What are the four characteristics of collaborative learning? ›

Characteristics of a Collaborative Classroom
  • Shared knowledge among teachers and students. ...
  • Shared authority among teachers and students. ...
  • Teachers as mediators. ...
  • Heterogeneous groupings of students.

What are two ways used in collaborative learning? ›

Collaborative learning can occur peer-to-peer or in larger groups. Peer learning, or peer instruction, is a type of collaborative learning that involves students working in pairs or small groups to discuss concepts or find solutions to problems.

What are the three 3 important aspects of collaboration? ›

Ok, so what are 3 important skills for teamwork and collaboration...
  • Workplace communication.
  • Respect for diversity in the workplace.
  • Build trust with employees.

What are the five principles of effective collaboration? ›

The Five Principles of Collaboration: Applying Trust, Respect, Willingness, Empowerment, and Effective Communication to Human Relationships.

What are the five C's of effective teamwork behaviors? ›

A great way to help your team come together is to strive for the five C's, which stand for communication, camaraderie, commitment, confidence and coachability. When you begin working on each of these areas, you will notice significant changes to your teammates and yourself.

What are the 6 C's of collaboration? ›

What are the 6 “C”s? Character, Citizenship, Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical Thinking.

What are the 7 Ps of collaboration? ›

1) pausing, 2) paraphrasing, 3) posing questions, 4) putting ideas on the table, 5) providing data, 6) paying attention to self and others, 7) presuming positive intentions.

What are the 4 C's communication collaboration? ›

Communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity are considered the four c's and are all skills that are needed in order to succeed in today's world.

What are the key elements of collaborative practice? ›

7 Essential Elements of Collaboration
  • Cooperation.
  • Assertiveness.
  • Autonomy.
  • Responsibility/Accountability.
  • Communication.
  • Coordination.
  • Mutual Trust and Respect.

What is effective collaborative practice? ›

According to WHO: "Collaborative practice happens when multiple health workers from different professional backgrounds work together with patients, families, carers and communities to deliver the highest quality of care across settings[1]."

What are collaborative practice models? ›

The concept of collaborative practice is based on the premise that excellent patient care relies on the expertise of several care providers. Collaboration is a complex behavior that requires time, energy, and patience to implement.

What are four 4 ways to build collaboration? ›

How can you build team collaboration?
  • Pinpoint and promote a purpose for collaboration. Until your employees understand why they should collaborate, building team collaboration will be an uphill battle. ...
  • Lead by example. ...
  • Celebrate diverse personalities. ...
  • Offer rewards or incentives for collaboration.
Aug 11, 2022

What are the three ways of collaborative teaching? ›

Three Models for Collaborative Teaching

There are three models that the CFT describes here for faculty and student consideration as you contemplate collaborative teaching: traditional team teaching, linked courses for student learning communities, and connected pairs of courses meeting at the same time.

How eLearning promote active and collaborative learning? ›

Dividing students into smaller, more intimate groupings can create opportunities for collaboration and address the more reserved student learner. Additionally, creating collaborative groupings in this way encourages learners to become active participants in the collaborative learning process.

What are the 5 benefits of collaborative learning? ›

Below are just five of the many benefits of collaborative learning for students.
  • Leadership and Self-Management Skills.
  • Wider Range of Knowledge and Skill Acquisition.
  • Improved Student Relationships.
  • Better Concept Retention.
  • Promotes Active Listening and Critical Thinking.
  • Establish group goals and values.
Dec 3, 2020

What is the need for collaboration in teaching? ›

Active collaboration is particularly important for creating a growth-based learning environment and for increasing student learning progress. Research shows that teachers who work together and learn from each other are more successful in improving student outcomes than those who work alone.

What strategies help collaboration be positive and effective? ›

Collaboration Strategies
  • Share the company's mission over and over again.
  • Communicate your expectation for collaboration.
  • Define and communicate your team's goals.
  • Highlight individuals' strengths.
  • Promote a community working environment.
  • Foster honest and open communication.
  • Encourage creativity.
Jan 9, 2023

What strategies were most effective when practicing collaboration skills? ›

Recognizing results and celebrating positive outcomes together are essential activities for effective collaboration. If you're managing a team, set up performance rewards or bonuses for collaborative efforts to show employees that teamwork is equally important as individual achievement.

What are the four types of collaboration in education? ›

Within this continuum, four types of teacher collaboration are described: 1) storytelling and scanning for ideas; 2) aid and assistance; 3) sharing methods and materials; and 4) joint work.

How to integrate communication and collaboration in learning? ›

One of the most powerful strategies to integrate communication and collaboration into student learning is to incorporate academic/student teaming. In doing so students engage in productive struggle, practice employability skills and increase engagement and develop their voice.

Is collaborative learning a teaching strategy? ›

Nevertheless, structuring learning so that students are required to respond to one another's ideas, create a product together, and, more to the point, teach each other, can be an effective teaching strategy. Collaborative or cooperative learning (or, on occasion, “group work”) has stimulated significant literature.

What makes a classroom group and collaboration successful? ›

Knowledge can bring focus which leads to understanding. Establish norms around working in a group. The best teams understand that common expectations are crucial for success. Take time before the first meaningful collaborative work to create norms around communication, meetings, organization, and decision making.

How can the school promote stronger collaboration among teachers? ›

Strategies for Building Teacher Collaboration
  1. Create a truly shared vision and goals. The level of ownership they feel in the process influences how much teachers actually invest in collaborative work. ...
  2. Develop a sense of community. ...
  3. Identify group norms. ...
  4. Use discussion and dialogue. ...
  5. Work through conflict.

What are the 5 elements of collaborative learning? ›

  • Five Elements of Collaborative Learning.
  • Positive interdependence.
  • Face-to-face promotive interaction.
  • Individual accountability.
  • Interpersonal and small group skills.
  • Group processing.

What are the 4 C's of learning in a connected classroom? ›

The 4Cs: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Collaboration in Schools.

What are the basic principles of collaborative learning? ›

The eight principles are heterogeneous grouping, teaching collaborative skills, group autonomy, maximum peer interactions, equal opportunity to participate, individual accountability, positive interdependence and cooperation as a value.

How can collaboration help teachers with ELLs? ›

Encouraging peer interaction and collaboration not only provides opportunities for language use and practice — it builds community in the classroom! ELLs also benefit from observing how their peers learn and solve problems.

What is collaborative learning in the English language classroom? ›

What is collaborative learning? Collaborative learning is when a group of two or more students work together to achieve a shared goal. Students interact and share their knowledge to complete a task, learning together along the way.

What is effective collaboration in education? ›

The primary purposes of collaboration include: identifying and sharing effective academic, behavior, and social-emotional instructional practices, ensuring that practices are consistent across all providers, and ensuring that the students benefit from those practices.

What are the 5 principles of collaborative way? ›

The Five Principles of Collaboration: Applying Trust, Respect, Willingness, Empowerment, and Effective Communication to Human Relationships: Agbanyim, J.

What are the 5 steps collaborative learning process? ›

You will probably remember the five phases for cooperative learning described earlier, in the "Exploration" section. They are (1) forming a question, (2) identifying goals, (3) creating a rubric, (4) assigning a specific assessment task, and (5) reflecting to adjust.

What are the 5 components of collaborative success? ›

Without one dominant classification of key elements of team collaboration, we have instead chosen to focus on five key areas that play a deciding role in the quality and efficiency of collaboration: communication, coordination, transparency, accountability, and trust.

What are the 3 C's of collaboration? ›

Communication, collaboration, coordination: The 3 Cs guiding successful cross-functional teams.

What are the 7 Cs of collaboration? ›

Tannenbaum and Salas (2020) suggest that there are seven “Cs” (or drivers) of teamwork, namely: capability, cooperation, coordination, communication, cognition, coaching, and conditions.

What are the 3 phases of effective co-teaching? ›

Gately and Gately (2001) indicated that there are three stages to the development of co-teaching relationships; the beginning stage, compromising stage, and the collaboration stage.


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