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Research on Push-In Versus Pull-Out


A comment by Zoe Ann about a recent blog entry on how some schools are moving toward a push-in model and away from a pull-out model for teaching English as a second language, sent me in pursuit of research on the effectiveness of either educational approach.

The answer so far (readers, tell me if I'm missing something): There's not much out there.

With the push-in approach, ESL teachers work with ELLs in their regular classrooms; with the pull-out approach, ESL teachers work with such students in separate classrooms, whether for one period a day or a much longer time.

Two recent reviews of research on ELLs say little or nothing about push-in versus pull-out. In one of them, Educating English Language Learners, I found the following paragraph on page 187:

Fulton-Scott and Calvin (1983) found that bilingual/bicultural and integrated ESL programs in which ELLs were integrated with English-proficient students yielded higher achievement test scores and GPAs than a segregated ESL program that provided limited opportunities for ELLs to interact with English-proficient students.

I interpret this summary of a single study to mean that push-in ESL could have some advantages over pull-out ESL. Donna Christian, the president of the Washington-based Center for Applied Linguistics and one of the authors of Educating English Language Learners, said she didn't know of any other studies that address the issue. And Diane August, a senior research scientist at the Center for Applied Linguistics, said the review of research on ELLs by the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth didn't find any research that directly addressed the effectiveness of push-in versus pull-out.

I then placed a call to Gary Lewis, the director of student services for the Northfield School District in Minnesota, which plans to implement, on a limited basis, a push-in approach to ESL next school year. I asked him why he felt that research supports such a move, which he is quoted as saying in his local newspaper. He said he couldn't lay his hand on a particular study that supports push-in ESL at the moment because he'd just boxed up all the documents used to support the plan for ELLs next school year and sent them to another office.

Some of the research supporting a more inclusive approach comes out of the field of special education, he noted. He said that the school district made the decision to move to a push-in approach for ELLs in the kindergarten and 1st grades and for some middle and high school ELLs (a more limited implementation than I understood initially from the Northfield News) after looking at research, reviewing handouts from conferences and workshops, reading educational journal articles, and visiting an elementary school in St. Paul, Minn., that has had success with a push-in model.

Mr. Lewis cited two books that he says have been helpful in understanding how teachers can work with ELLs in a regular classroom: One is Promoting Academic Success for E.S.L. Students: Understanding Second Language Acquisition for School, published in 1995 by Virginia P. Collier. The second one is Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning: Teaching Second Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom, published in 2002 by Pauline Gibbons.

In carrying out the push-in approach, Mr. Lewis said, "Everything we've learned is that you have to train people in co-teaching, and not everyone can co-teach."


Thanks, Mary Ann, for exploring the push-in v pull-out issue further. But there is still confusion between scaffolding of content (which is done in the regular classroom and team teaching can help)with the teaching of language (which is best done in small groups with students at similar levels of the L2)!

Minor point: Instead of referring to a "regular" classroom, many educators use the term "general education" when referring to this type of classroom (e.g., "With the push-in approach, ESL teachers work with ELLs in their general education classrooms")

Who knows... Perhaps there is an even better term out there....content area classroom? No, not a good term because ELLs should be receiving content instruction during pull-out or pull-in instructional time. Any thoughts on other terms?

Okay, this is a perhaps minor haggling over terms but the label "push-in" strikes me as a bad way to describe a co-teaching situation which relies on both teachers' cooperation and commitment. Our school system uses the term "plug-in" which isn't a pleasant sounding term either. But at least it doesn't raise the hackles of classroom teachers who don't particularly like ceding some of their authority to another teacher whose qualifications they often misjudge und underestimate.

Lynn's and Gail's comments go right to an essential issue that continues to plague the education profession: agreeing on a consistent terminology that reflects the intent of a program or method. I think it's important to question terms - as you both have done - because it forces us all to think critically about what we're doing.

I'm not sure either about general education classroom, but I agree that it's preferable to "regular" ed because the latter implies that ELLs are somehow "irregular."

In terms of "push-in" I also agree that the word seems to connote forcing something on someone. What we're really talking about here is integrating ELLs and native speakers together in the same classroom.

By the way, in my research on two-way classrooms, I found that the presence of even one or two English-speakers seemed to affect the amount of English - including both social and academic English - that ELLs spoke, both in the classroom and on the playground. It also may be one of the factors that leads to higher academic achievement. We need more research on this, but I would say it is definitely a promising practice, even for all-English programs.

It's all modeled on special education and what people are doing with special education. ESOL students need time to actually learn the language and not be distracted by other things going on in the classroom. Also, when "push-in" is used, most of the time it is based on curriculum that is modified from what the other students in the classroom is working on. ESOL students are not able to access information that they may have no background in, and be taught things that they may never have been taught. Kids with lack of prior education or interrupted formal education may have a lot of trouble and their needs may never be satisfied. The whole drive is what the "other kids" are doing. I don't disagree with students included in mainstream classrooms or having the lessons modified for them but they also need their time with the ESOL teacher to learn things that are not part of the curriculum for other students. Most educators forget that one criteria for special education is that the student has to have been exposed to the material before and had trouble learning it. It is illegal to place a student in special education for not having been exposed or taught something. The push in model for special education is created for students who have been exposed to the general curriculum for their whole educational lives but need something different. That is not the case for ESOL students who are learning a new language and most likely new content without having ever been exposed to the old content before. The push in model is mainly coming from administrators who have special education background and no background in ESOL. There are also very few states that offer even a certification in TESOL so ESOL specialists may not have the best educational training in town. There really hasn't been good research into the area either. I do agree that just isolating ESOL students from mainstream classrooms until "they're proficient" isn't an answer either.

In my experience, ELLs benefit from participating in mainsteam classes with both ESL support and lesson scaffolding by the Common Branches teacher. What research is available regarding a self-contained classroom of predominantly ESL students, with little or no interaction with English speakers throughout the entire day? They are forced to use English as the "lingua franca", but have few models of correct languge usage. How do we help these students develop native like fluency?

At this time I push in (yes, it is a pushy situation, until the co-teachers develop a marriage-like relationship)
for 2 periods daily with each class. I would like to correspond with ESL teachers in similar programs in order to maximize the time I have to work with over 20 mixed language, mixed level students. They are required to take all state tests and achieve appropriate scores based on date of arrival. How does the "support teacher" (that's me) scaffold for all the needs in the given time? and keep appropriate student records? and know what to prepare for each lesson, when the "cooperating teacher" is not always able to cooperate because of her own time constraints?

All the theory is fun to talk about, but I would like to see some practical, hands on advice. I'd love to hear fom anyone whose professional responsibility is similar to mine.

This is a very interesting topic and one that requires much research.

So long as teachers are up in the air as to how to work with ELLs in varying situations, I think collaborative strategies serve an important role between ESL and ELL teachers to support ELLs to become more fluent. This is precisely why I am researching and cowriting a book on the subject. I am reading that teachers all over are hungry for solutions and this can be a one with lots of pedagogical relevance for both sides.

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