44. The Collaboration Continuum: Forms of Teacher Co-Planning

collaboration continuum for teacher co-planning - EL Strategies

This is Part 2 of the Co-Planning Series.

collaboration continuum for teacher co-planning - EL Strategies

Continuum of Collaboration

I have been lucky enough to collaborate with dozens of truly amazing teachers. What has surprised me the most about my collaborations is the various forms that they take.   

After analyzing all the ways I collaborate with colleagues, I created this Collaboration Continuum to describe the different types of collaboration  between content teachers and English language teachers (ELTs) and what needs they address. This Collaboration Continuum includes levels of both co-planning and co-teaching.  However, I’ll focus on just co-planning in this article and will discuss co-teaching in a subsequent series.

Informal Co-Planning

For content teachers who need just a little support, Informal Co-Planning works best.  Informal Co-Planning is when two teachers collaborate on a specific aspect of a lesson and the ELT can explain the solution quickly and with little effort. These teachers usually have only a few ELs who are also fluent in social,  but not academic, language.   

In one example,  Ms. Mary, a 9th grade science teacher at my school,  was struggling to explain the concept of validity and reliability to her ELs.  When Ms. Mary emailed me to ask for suggestions, I directed her to my article about writing a science lab report.  The article gave examples of built-in scaffolds like sentence frames and the diagrams that supported students in Mr. Arno’s science classes.  

When we found 10 minutes to conference, I showed her the sample scaffolded lab report.  I pointed out the two diagrams below that were used to visually communicate the concepts of reliability and validity.  I also explained the two questions above them that were designed to help students complete this section.

Example of Sensory Scaffolding - ELL strategies WIDA Essential Actions

The advantage to Informal Co-Planning (next week’s article) is that you don’t need to spend a lot of time or energy when using it and you can easily participate via e-mail if you don’t have time to meet. However, if the task is not so specific, consider the next level instead:

One-Off Co-planning

One-Off Co-Planning   (also called “Low Risk Co-Planning”) is when two teachers collaborate on just one aspect of a lesson, but the solution takes slightly more time to address or implement. While there might be a few more ELs in the class,  these ELs usually have a strong command of social language but a developing mastery of academic language.

The request for support is also usually one-time event to help the content teacher scaffold one activity or prevent an assessment from becoming a reading test.  Because an ELT can’t briefly explain the solution, One-Off Co-Planning requires more than a 10-minute meeting.

For example, Mr. Mark , the Physical Education teacher, once asked me to look over a document he planned to have students work on.  He knew that there were three ELs in particular who would benefit from having a scaffolded document and e-mailed his draft to me.  Once I finished scaffolding it, we scheduled a one-time meeting to go over the changes.  

I wanted to meet with him in person to ensure that the scaffolding improved students’ comprehension of the instructions without changing the skills being assessed. Unlike the insertion of a simple diagram from Ms. Mary’s example, the collaborative discussion Mr. Mark and I had on his document could not have been completed with a quick e-mail.

Temporary Co-Planning

Temporary Co-Planning requires even more time than the previous two forms because the content teacher wants support that spans over several days.  It’s also likely that there’s a sizable group of ELs, but most should have developed at least social language.  

Often, content teachers will have a multi-day activity that requires the assistance of an ELT.  A one-time event is not sufficient to guide the ELs through the learning experiences because each phase of learning is connected to the next. Scaffolding needs to occur at each phase of learning.  

For example, Mr. James, a history teacher, wanted to teach his students how to assess the reliability of a resource through a process called Origin, Purpose, Value, and Limitation (OPVL).  He emailed me in frustration because he struggled with having many students, not just ELs, misunderstand this complex process.  We decided to meet to collaborate.  

In the first meeting, we talked about each part of the OPVL process and analyzed what had stumped the students.  We decided to turn the process into a flowchart and scheduled another meeting.   At our next meeting, I shared a draft flowchart I had created, and we spent the entire period making modifications.  I finished the second draft and we met one final time to finalize the flowchart below:   

Mr. James liked the flowchart so much that he decided to use it for all his students, and he offered them the opportunity to create their own flowchart using the same infographic software (Piktochart) I used to create the OPVL flowchart.  We never know how much impact our collaboration can have on students and teachers.  

Our schedules didn’t align so that I could co-teach the flowchart myself, but we had a brief, informal follow-up one day while passing each other in the hall.  Mr. James reported that students found it much easier to analyze the reliability of a resource following the visual scaffold.    

example of visual scaffolding - EL strategies

Sustained Co-planning

Sustained Co-Planning is the most robust form of collaboration because the content teacher and ELT co-design all aspects of the unit together – from mapping out the sequence to teaching the standards, scaffolding learning experiences  and creating assessments.  

Usually, Sustained Co-Planning is needed if  one or more of three factors apply:

  1. You have a group of 2-3 Beginning ELs who are completely new to English,
  2. You have a large group of Developing ELs (10+), or
  3. Your ELs have a wide range of language proficiency.  

Often, all three converge into a perfect storm.

This is what it looks like in practice:

Currently, I have Sustained Co-Planning partnerships with three science teachers and three history teachers who each have a group of beginners in their classes.  I’m assigned to work with them the entire year or until the Beginning ELs have developed sufficient independence.  

I meet once an eight-day cycle with each of the departments to discuss EL supports.  During the meetings, we establish specific co-teaching practices, which I’ll cover more extensively in future posts.  

In an ideal world, the content teacher and ELT would co-plan daily.  However, I am only able to co-plan with each teacher once every eight days. Mr. Arno created a clever solution to managing this time gap: a Google Doc that keeps track of the learning objectives.  He fills in the table, and, after reviewing the objectives, I describe how I’ll scaffold learning.

co-planning table for EL and content teachers - EL strategies

Because Sustained Co-Planning requires the content teachers and ELTs to be interdependent , it naturally leads to co-teaching.  Co-planning coupled with co-teaching is one of the most effective models of collaboration.

Notice that Sustained Co-Planning provides the greatest opportunities for students to develop academic language.  This is because the content teacher and ELT have a continuous working relationship where content and language standards are taught together.  When students regularly read, write and speak about content, they reinforce their literacy skills.  Though this is the best-case scenario, I understand that it’s not always possible to have Sustained Co-Planning due to staffing limitations.

These Co-Planning examples from my Collaboration Continuum are by no means exhaustive; they’re just representative of my experience.  But they do show that whatever your needs, there’s always a way for ELTs to support content teachers.  And when teachers and administrators can easily identify these different forms of co-planning,  a school can better utilize their faculty’s expertise.


I hope that this article has provided you with a basic introduction to the forms of teacher co-planning.  I also hope that it has peaked your interest and calmed your concerns about collaboration with content teachers.  
If you’d like an in-depth inquiry into teacher collaboration, I strongly encourage you to read Andrea Honigsfeld and Maria Dove’s book entitled Collaboration and Co-Teaching: Strategies for English Learners because they are the ultimate gurus of collaboration within the context of EL instruction.

Next Post

Now that we have a firm understanding of the basics of collaboration, I’ll describe each of the phases of the Collaboration Continuum next week, starting with Informal Collaboration.  I’ll share two philosophies that work well with Informal Co-Planning, in particular, but that can also be applied to any form of teacher collaboration.

Which level of co-planning do you find the easiest? Or the hardest? Let me know in the comments below.


Honigsfeld, A. & Dove, M. (2010). Collaboration and Co-Teaching: Strategies for English Learners. SAGE Publications. [Kindle version]. Retrived from http://www.amazon.com/WhereYouDownloadedTheBookFrom


The Collaboration Continuum: Forms of Teacher Co-Planning
Article Name
The Collaboration Continuum: Forms of Teacher Co-Planning
The Collaboration Continuum for teacher co-planning identifies and explains the various levels of co-planning for content and ELL teachers.
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Empowering ELLs
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