By Steven Krolak
New Albany, IN — Kelli Dehr Bernedo, assistant professor of ENL/ESL education and Molly Riddle, assistant professor of elementary mathematics education, have designed a new approach to preparing the next generation of teachers to succeed in the increasingly diverse K-12 classrooms of Kentuckiana and beyond.
Bernedo and Riddle’s innovation is titled, “Better Together: Co-teaching to Support Equity in Educator Training.”
It aims to address challenges in today’s educator preparation.
Teacher candidates are frequently not adequately prepared to address the demands of diverse classrooms, especially those with high numbers of immigrants and refugees.
Citing a 2023 review from the National Council on Teacher Quality, the two noted that 71 percent of teacher education programs devote fewer than two hours of coursework to working with English language learners, while 88 percent offer no opportunities to work with or teach them in the field. Even at IU Southeast, Bernedo and Riddle recognized that only a few teacher candidates add elementary ENL/ESL coursework to their main subject concentration.
Among the consequences of being unprepared for reality: teacher burnout and K-12 students who are not seen or heard, and who can’t get the most out of the learning experience. Rather than providing a moment of inclusion, schools can deepen the marginalization of individuals and groups that already lack access to opportunity.
To create their framework, Bernedo and Riddle have synthesized two cutting-edge models in teacher preparation: co-teaching and equity literacy.
Co-teaching is generally defined as two teachers in a classroom.
Equity literacy is defined as the recognition of disparities and the willingness to overcome them.
Bernedo and Riddle do not simply incorporate these into the existing structure of the teacher prep curriculum. Instead, they expertly interweave them to redefine the classroom experience.
“Our approach features at least one elementary teacher education content specialist–in this case, math–and at least one ELL teacher education specialist maintaining four interconnected phases (co-planning, co-instructing, co-assessing, and co-reflecting) to model and engage teacher candidates in critical conversations around equitable practices,” Bernedo said.
Materials used by their students have been revised to encourage a more granular appreciation of the uniqueness of each child’s situation and to challenge candidates to question and change inequitable structures and procedures wherever possible.
Bernedo and Riddle piloted the model in 2023. Student feedback was positive.
“Co-teaching was a great way to teach about supporting English Language Learners,” one student wrote. “I feel like it gave us as future teachers better insight on ways to elicit student thinking when it comes to supporting others, not only ELL learners but everyone.”
Beyond the silo
The origins of Bernedo and Riddle’s innovation lie not in theory but in real life. Fifteen years ago, the two were colleagues at Wilson Elementary School in Jeffersonville. They experienced first-hand the changing demographics of local classrooms. They put their heads together to seek out, and where necessary, devise new practices to address student needs. Reunited at IU Southeast and bolstered by a decade of research and professional practice, they have refined their approach to a template that can be applied at all levels, from P-12 to university.
The immediate goal of their innovation is to help teacher candidates succeed in increasingly diverse teaching contexts, and hence to support career longevity.
But Bernedo and Riddle aspire to a larger and loftier outcome.
“By creating a collaborative teaching model and demonstrating how to work together to produce better learning results for students, our teacher candidates are taught how to reach out of their content silos to create a learning environment that is more equitable,” Riddle said.
In making teacher preparation more responsive to the realities of Kentuckiana classrooms, Bernedo and Riddle also help IU Southeast accomplish its mission, preparing graduates–and their classrooms–for productive citizenship in a diverse society.