How A Culture of Improvement Goes Hand in Hand With Coaching Teachers

Students build English-language skills in math class by talking and writing about their understanding. (Teaching Channel)

Helping high school students with only basic English improve their speaking, writing and listening skills requires that language be a focus of every content area. The ENLACE Academy at Lawrence High School in Massachusetts serves students who have been in the country only a few years and are just beginning to learn the language. English and content are the twin goals of every lesson.

"Coaching is a big part of what we do here because our mission and our model is really about building language through content," said Allison Balter, principal of ENLACE Academy. "But what we find is that not a lot of teachers come with both of those skill sets."

To continually improve their instruction, content area teachers meet once a week to get feedback from one another on upcoming lessons. Then Balter observes the lesson, video-records it, and meets with the teacher afterward to highlight strengths and ideas for improvement. Balter said learning together is part of the teaching culture within the academy, which is especially important since this style of teaching is new to many teachers.

"I get better; my students get better; and this program is just getting stronger," said Keila, a second-year teacher shown receiving coaching in this Teaching Channel video. "I am not the teacher I was last year, and if it wasn't for the support I don't think I'd be where I'm at today."

During the lesson, Keila asks students to talk to one another several times before she has them write about their math understanding at the end. She also gives them sentence starters and a word bank of math vocabulary to help them express their thinking. These supports help students get comfortable enough with the academic language of mathematics that they don't feel intimidated when asked to express their understanding through writing.

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