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Effective teacher collaboration to support English learner students

Southwest | December 04, 2023

Five people are on a stage singing and playing instruments. Behind them is a screen with a welcome sign for the La Cosecha event.

Musicians welcome attendees to the 28th Annual La Cosecha Dual Language Conference.

A team of experts from Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southwest and Rio Rancho Public Schools in New Mexico, representing the Southwest English Learner Literacy (SWELL) partnership, presented collaboration strategies at the 28th Annual La Cosecha Dual Language Conference. During this interactive session, the team shared strategies on how to effectively collaborate with colleagues to support English learner instruction with attendees from 10 states across the United States.  

The conference took place in Albuquerque from November 8 to 11, 2023. More than 3,000 educators, caregivers, researchers, and policymakers came together to network and share best practices related to dual language education. During the interactive session at La Cosecha, the SWELL partnership used a hands-on demonstration to illustrate the cycles of coplanning, coteaching, coassessing, and coreflecting.

According to Diana Torres, the REL Southwest SWELL recruitment lead, La Cosecha, "brought together educators from different states who share a passion for supporting English learner students. Participants had access to hundreds of sessions and to be able to be present at this conference and share the work that we are doing at REL Southwest was incredible. The conversations I heard and the interactions I had are reminders of why I do the work I do."

What makes for productive teacher collaboration?

During the 2020/21 academic year, REL Southwest and Rio Rancho Public Schools codeveloped materials for increasing teacher collaboration. These research-based materials support teacher collaboration in any grade range or content area and can be embedded within existing professional learning structures.

English learner students are responding positively to the enhanced collaboration between English learner coordinators and classroom teachers. This collaboration has led to more intentional and targeted instructional strategies, integrating language support into the curriculum. Students benefit from increased engagement and comprehension, creating a more inclusive and culturally responsive learning environment. Overall, the improved collaboration appears to be making a meaningful impact on the educational experience and outcomes of English learner students.

—Suzanne Nguyen-Wisneski, Executive Director of Federal, Bilingual, and Native American Programs, Rio Rancho Public Schools

To foster productive teacher collaboration, the resources guide educators through several activities. One REL Southwest resource, the Collaborative Framework to Support English Learner Students Instruction, shows educators how to establish structural and process norms for smooth and supportive professional interactions, as demonstrated by Babinski and colleagues in their 2018 study on teacher collaboration to support English learner students.1 Teachers then rely on those norms as they dive deeper into teacher collaboration cycles that the WIDA Consortium has suggested can help teachers integrate language and content goals.2

The Collaborative Framework models how to engage in collaborative conversations in four stages:

  • Stage 1: Coplanning: To start collaborating, teachers develop plans for pursuing content and language goals. At this stage, the activities focus on goal development, reviewing materials, and lesson planning.3
  • Stage 2: Coteaching: In this stage, teacher teams integrate academic core content, language, and literacy goals. Key activities include embedding English language development (ELD) supports into general education classroom lessons, engaging both English learner and non-English learner students in language-learning activities, and reinforcing ELD targets during the ELD specialists' instructional time.4

    Coteaching exists in many different formats. It can occur in the same classroom, comprise teaching complementary content simultaneously, or involve English learner teachers pushing into a content classroom.5

  • Stage 3: Coassessing: The purpose of this stage is to evaluate the effectiveness of the instructional approaches and provide feedback to both students and fellow teachers. The focus of this stage is on implementing formative assessments so that educators can understand where instruction was successful and what improvements are necessary.6
  • Stage 4: Coreflecting: The last stage invites collaborating teachers to engage in conversations about what is working (or not) as teachers implement instructional strategies with English learner students. At this stage, the activities may include reviewing assessment data together or discussing which aspects of the process they find most supportive and talking through ways to improve the next cycle.7

Supporting effective teacher collaboration

Building on the teacher collaboration work with Rio Rancho Public Schools, the SWELL Partnership is working with coaches and teachers to enhance literacy instruction through a no-cost professional learning program called Write to Succeed. The professional learning leverages effective approaches to teacher collaboration to help teachers learn about evidence-based instructional strategies that improve student writing skills. Teachers in grades 4–8 who serve at least five English learner students are encouraged to reach out to Diana Torres ( to learn more about participating in the study.

Related resources

Browse the following REL Southwest resources to learn more about how schools and teachers can strengthen collaboration among educators to support English learner students:


1 Babinski, L. M., Amendum, S. J., Knotek, S. E., Sánchez, M., & Malone, P. (2018). Improving young English learners' language and literacy skills through teacher professional development: A randomized controlled trial. American Educational Research Journal, 55(1), 117–143.; Vangrieken, K., Dochy, F., Raes, E., & Kyndt, E. (2015). Teacher collaboration: A systematic review. Educational Research Review, 15, 17–40.

2 WIDA. (2020). Collaboration: Working together to serve multilingual learners. University of Wisconsin–Madison.

3 Babinski et al. (2018); WIDA (2020).

4 Umansky, I. M. (2016). Leveled and exclusionary tracking: English learners' access to academic content in middle school. American Educational Research Journal, 53(6), 1792–1833.; Umansky, I. M. (2018). According to plan? Examining the intended and unintended treatment effects of EL classification in early elementary and the transition to middle school. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 11(4), 588–621.; WIDA (2020).

5 Weinberg, A. E., Sebald, A., Stevenson, C. A., & Wakefield, W. (2020). Toward conceptual clarity: A scoping review of coteaching in teacher education. Teacher Educator, 55(2), 190–213.

6 Klute, M., Apthorp, H., Harlacher, J., & Reale, M. (2017). Formative assessment and elementary school student academic achievement: A review of the evidence (REL 2017–259). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Central.; WIDA (2020).

7 WIDA (2020).


Carol Felicio

Carol Felicio

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