Co-teaching is gaining steam in the education community and for a good reason — it allows teachers to truly differentiate instruction for students with varying learning needs. And there's more than one way to do it.
Marilyn Friend, chair of the Department of Specialized Education Services at The University of North Carolina and Lynne Cook, former dean of the College of Education at California State University identified six models for capitalizing collaborative instruction. In this article, we'll walk you through what those are as well as three best practices for effective co-teaching.
Co-teaching is when two teachers are paired together to instruct a classroom, usually both responsible for planning, organizing and assessing a diverse group of students at varying levels of learning. General education teachers are often paired with teachers certified in special education, TESOL or ESL to offer inclusive instruction to students in integrated classrooms.
In this model, one teacher plans and delivers instruction to the whole group, while the other observes students to identify learning gaps and assess individual performance. The observing teacher may also distribute materials or correct posture, but their primary responsibility is to collect data on student performance that informs future planning and instruction.
Benefits of this co-teaching model: Students have additional supervision; observing teacher can collect purposeful data; less time is spent collaborating and distributing materials.
Challenges of this co-teaching model: Lead teacher may be perceived to have more authority than the observing; students may get distracted by the observing teacher walking around.
This co-teaching model is similar to previous except that in this one, the assisting teacher actively supports struggling students while the lead teacher instructs the larger group. The assisting teacher might also prepare targeted teaching plans for students based on previous subject performance which they will use to guide students throughout a lesson.
Benefits of this co-teaching model: Students receive individualized support; teachers can individualize lessons for struggling students; assisting teacher can instruct struggling students in a smaller group.
Challenges of this co-teaching model: Students may become dependent on or begin to expect assistance from the observing teacher.
In the parallel co-teaching model, students are divided into two groups and both teachers teach the same information simultaneously.
Benefits of this co-teaching model: Students can receive differentiated instruction; teachers have an easier time managing students; students who need to be separated can be placed in different groups.
Challenges of this co-teaching model: Both teachers need to have content expertise to deliver quality instruction; collaborative planning takes more time; noise level must be controlled to work.
In station teaching, each teacher owns a piece of content and teaches mini-lessons to groups of students who rotate from one station to the next. An additional station, either run independently or led by a teacher's aide, can allow students to practice what they learned on their own.
Benefits of this co-teaching model: Teachers are clear on teaching responsibilities; teachers' strengths can be capitalized on; more material can be covered in a shorter period of time; prone to fewer discipline problems.
Challenges of this co-teaching model: Materials must be organized in advance; stations must be paced so they end at the same time; stations can get noisy quickly.
Alternative teaching is when one teacher instructs most of the students while the other works closely with a smaller group at a back table or outside of the classroom. Depending on the second teacher's intent, this co-teaching model can allow students to catch up on content they missed, fill in their learning gaps or practice the subject in an advanced setting.
Challenges of this co-teaching model: If groups are not varied, students may label small groups; teachers must have adequate space to teach simultaneously; if both teachers are working in the classroom, noise level must be controlled.
When teachers team teach, they are equally responsible for planning and instructing the lesson. Team teaching works particularly well when the personalities of both teachers complement one another, allowing students to more deeply engage in content conversations.
Benefits of this co-teaching model: Both teachers play an equally active role throughout; both teachers can be viewed as equal;
Challenges of this co-teaching model: A healthy relationship amongst teachers is required to work; teachers might interrupt or jump ahead one another if responsibilities aren't clearly defined.
In order for co-teaching to truly work, both teachers need to commit to communicating openly and often. Planning ahead is essential for delivering inclusive instruction.
Models like the team teaching and parallel method will require immense joint planning before instruction in order for both teachers to cover information as thoroughly and accessibly as possible. In other models like the station teaching method, planning separately and coming together to review before instruction could work well for lesson prep.
For new teachers especially, leading a lesson under the supervision of a talented teacher can allow them to apply observations they made in their assistant roles to their own practice. It can also blur the lines between authority figures in a classroom by allowing students to see assistant teachers in lead positions, and can push teachers to gain subject matter expertise in areas they otherwise wouldn't have.
For these dual teaching models to work for students and not against them, both teachers must view their collaboration as a team effort toward supporting student learning. Teamwork can also prevent both teachers from contradicting one another, over or underworking and un-purposefully staggering the pace of student learning.
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