Pull-Out vs Push-In ESL Programs in Elementary Schools

After lively discussions on the NJTESOL/NJBE member hotlist and during a Twitter #ELLCHAT, I realized that pull-out ESL vs. having ESL teachers push-in to the general education classroom is still a hot-button issue for practitioners in the field. I invited Monica Schnee, an ESL practitioner in River Edge, a K–6 district in New Jersey, to write a guest blog on this issue.  Monica has gone from teaching exclusively using a pull-out ESL model to mostly coteaching, and I feel that she sees the benefits of each model. Her ESL program is a NJ model program  benefiting all students and practitioners. 

Pull-Out ESL Instruction

Pull-out ESL instruction means that the ESL teacher pulls students out of the general education classroom to work in a small group setting in another room. During pull-out instruction, ELs miss instruction that takes place in the general education classroom. Some ESL teachers pull out mixed-level proficiency groups while others pull out by proficiency level (i.e, newcomers, beginners, intermediate, or advanced students). Some practitioners believe that teaching to meet the needs at each proficiency level is beneficial. Others find that students need that mixed proficiency level to receive comprehensible input +1.

Push-In ESL Instruction

During push-in instruction,  the ESL teacher comes into the general education classroom to support ELs during content-area lessons. The ESL teacher may be supporting ELs during a mini-lesson next to her students while the general education teacher is teaching, or he or she may wait until instruction is completed and then work with ELs in a small group in the classroom.

There are different configurations as to how to group ELs in small groups and where in the general classroom. One popular push-in model is collaborative or co-teaching, where the ESL teacher instructs side by side with the general classroom teacher, at times leading, at times interjecting with specific language pieces, or at times modeling language strategies for all learners. He or she generally calls on ELs so they get a chance to participate in oral discussions while she scaffolds language for them to communicate effectively and move on the language trajectory.

In both cases, coplanning is needed to define the lesson objectives. This can be done by email, short conversations, using google.doc, via text, or sharing a common planning time.

The Debate

Our NJTESOL/NJBE hotlist discussion was very heated, with practitioners at each end of the spectrum. Here are some of the exchanges:

It (push-in ESL) does not work very well; I do not recommend it at all! Students never get a chance to practice speaking nor do they really benefit. You are correct in that they never really develop the grammar skills they need to be successful writers. I know that push-in is the new wave and teaching grammar and reading skills directly are “old fashioned” but there is a reason ESL texts have a scope and sequence, it worked!

POE (Port of Entry) students need to be taught outside the classroom. They are not getting anything out of whole group instruction. I hear your frustration.

I would like to politely disagree with the anti push-in sentiment pervasive in many of these responses. I have done both pull-out and push-in for my ESL students and I can honestly say that both methods work quite well in our district. In fact, I am finding that push-in is every bit as effective/productive as pull-out.

The push-in model is more than providing support; it is planning lessons and teaching parts of the lesson to the whole class, including the non ELLs.

I believe it is crucial for us to be part of general education/content-classroom instruction, whether in a push-in or a coteaching model. In my experience, push-in works amazingly well if properly implemented, particularly in the primary grades. I have found that the key to students’ success is to offer ESL instruction in the classroom and also to pull out ELs at the lower levels of acquisition for an extra ESL period a day to meet the social-instructional and basic academic language needs. I call this a hybrid model of ESL instruction.

Best of Both Worlds: A Hybrid Model

A hybrid model requires buy-in from administrators, professional development for classroom and ESL teachers, and the willingness to collaborate and not work in isolation with a closed-door policy. It is easier for us to pull our students out of their general education classroom, to teach in small groups in our rooms with our strategies and materials at our own and their pace. The affective filter may be lower, they take risks using language, and the results may be faster. However, their lives are in the classroom except for the times we pull them out. Supporting our ELs in the general education classroom accomplishes:

English learners benefit when teachers are

  • scaffolding lessons so that they have a chance to shine amongst their classmates and participate in classroom instruction, discussions, projects, and assignments.
  • immersing them in a continuous communicative experience with their monolingual peers in order to acquire English.
  • implementing comprehensible input +1 so they can learn in their own setting.
  • allowing them to stay in the classroom every day so they don’t feel “different” from their peers.

Teachers benefit because they are

  • collaborating in planning lessons that include language, skills, and content goals ELs need to perform successfully.
  • modeling best practices/strategies for ELs and for all learners.
  • demonstrating what makes us language experts and what we can contribute to instruction.
  • working in small groups after the lesson is delivered, just like teachers differentiate throughout the day.
  • scaffolding so ELs can participate at every level of proficiency in accountable talk, academic conversations, and tasks.
  • providing a continuity of instruction that is seamless for the learner.
  • learning what the quality of a monolingual’s speech is like.
  • ensuring that our students’ experiences are valued the same way as those of their monolingual peers.

These are a few reasons why we should move to this hybrid model, combining push-in or coteaching models for all ELs while additionally pulling out newcomers and very low-proficiency students to support them in small group instruction.

In everyday life, we all work in groups with people who have different levels of skills and competencies, language being just one of them. Replicating real life in the classroom is a way to teach life skills to all students.

Monica Schnee has been in the field of education for more than 15 years. She is an educator/ESL coordinator for  River Edge Public Schools in New Jersey.  She also teaches assessment in the second language classroom at a graduate school of education. She collaborated on the Interdisciplinary Unit Exemplars for ELLs and on the Model Curriculum for the NJ Department of Education.  Monica is also a WIDA Certified Trainer, a contributor to the “Supports for ELLs” for the Preschool Implementation Guidelines for the NJDOE Division of Early Childhood, and a past member of the Bilingual Advisory Committee and the NJTESOLNJBE Executive Board.

from TESOL Blog http://blog.tesol.org/pull-out-vs-push-in-esl-programs-in-elementary-schools/


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