What is Co-Teaching
Co-teaching is an instructional method in which two or more educators collaborate to plan, teach, and engage students in the same physical classroom using one of several co teaching models available. Also known as “push-in teaching,” co-teaching is frequently used in inclusion classrooms where both general population learners and special education students learn together. In these contexts, a general education teacher may co-teach alongside an English Language Learner (ELL) specialist or a special education teacher. This one of the co teaching models allows for extra support for students with additional learning needs, and teachers can differentiate learning material based on the differing levels in the classroom.
Benefits of Co-Teaching
Co-teaching holds benefits for both students and teachers as can be viewed in the list below of co teaching models.
First, co-teaching can help ensure that special education students remain in general education classrooms, have access to the same curriculum as their peers, and are not isolated according to learning needs. This reduces stigma, promotes a more cohesive school community, and provides more opportunities for social interactions with peers.
For example, a history classroom may have a co-teaching team if it includes both students who are English Language Learners as well as the general population. A co-teaching team made up of a history teacher and an ELL specialist would ensure that non-native English speakers can interact with peers, practice their English, and learn from the same curriculum as their classmates. General education students, likewise, benefit from the diverse perspective of ELL classmates.
The general education learners also benefit in other ways. History lessons will draw on the strengths and ideas of both teachers, and are therefore more interactive and can apply to a variety of students’ learning styles. The co-teaching model also reduces the student to teacher ratio, allowing all students to receive more individualized instruction and build relationships with teachers.
Teachers can also reap the benefits of a co-teaching team. Teachers are able to learn from one another’s teaching methods, monitor and respond to student behavior, and provide and receive professional feedback.
Co Teaching Models:
Co-teaching teams can choose a variety of formats to best support students in their classroom using one of the co teaching models below.
One Teaches, One Observes
In this method, one teacher provides the bulk of instruction while the other observes the students at work. This method is used when the two teachers are hoping to gain insights into student’s behavior, work, or understanding, and allows one teacher to make observations and collect data throughout the lesson.
In station teaching, the two teachers break the class up into two or three different groups, all circled around different “stations” that present material in different formats. Teachers run two of the stations, while students lead other stations themselves. This method allows co-teachers to engage students through targeted teaching styles, promotes collaborative group work, and reduces the student to teacher ratio.
In this model, the teachers break the students up into two different groups in the classroom. Both teachers deliver the same content, but utilize different teaching styles that are tailored to the unique needs of students. For instance, one teachers’ lesson might include more visual components and easier texts for students with reading challenges, while the other included more difficult texts on the same subject.
In an alternative teaching setting, the two teachers work to identify students who are most at-risk of falling behind in the classroom. One teacher leads a small group session with at-risk students, while the other continues to provide the curriculum at an accelerated pace to the rest of the class.
The “two bodies, one brain approach,” teaming involves both teachers delivering the same content together. One teacher might facilitate a discussion with the students, while the other writes notes on the board or draws out key themes as their co-teachers speaks.
One Teaching, One Assisting
In this format, one teacher is the primary instructor, while another teacher floats throughout the room to assist students. For example, one teacher may give the bulk of the lesson, while another rotates among the students, monitors their work, re-directs students who have lost attention, and answers questions students might have. This allows the first teacher to focus on providing high quality instruction, while the second focuses on promoting positive behavior and helping students with challenges.
Challenges of Co-teaching
And while co-teaching can benefit both students and teachers, it is not without its challenges.
Some co-teachers can feel as though there is a lack of parity between the “lead teacher” and the “support teacher.” If students believe that one teacher is the primary instructor, while the other is merely an assistant, students may choose to only listen to or respect the lead teacher.
Co-teachers might also disagree on different modes of instruction, behavior management, and teaching methodologies. Constant communication is necessary to ensure that teachers have a shared understanding of the lesson plan.
Co-teaching also raises challenges in evaluating students. Co-teachers must decide if both teachers grade all the students’ work, if they split grading, and what to do if they disagree on a student’s evaluation.
Tips for Successful Co-Teaching
Many of these challenges can be mitigated through strong communication, planning, and reflection.
Strong communication begins with the teachers knowing one another personally, and taking time to establish rapport and respect between each other. Co-teachers should take time to discuss what makes them feel respected, what is most likely to make them angry, and how disagreements should be solved if they arise during class. Co-teachers must constantly negotiate between differences in teaching styles, and appreciate and learn from each other’s ideas.
Strong co-teachers also plan together before the class begins. By establishing clear roles and responsibilities for the lesson beforehand, co-teachers can ensure that their strengths compliment one another and that there is parity in the classroom. Teachers should also plan how to respond to behavior challenges in the classroom. Teachers can post clear rules and consequences in the classroom, and use these as visual references. Clearly set rules and expectations communicate to students that the co-teachers are an equal team, and that both are responsible for managing the classroom.
Finally, co-teaching teams should take time to hold regular reflections together. Reflections can happen during planning periods, at the end of the day, or at the end of the week. Reflections are an opportunity to discuss what went well during a class and what can be improved, and provide a continuous feedback loop so that teachers can improve.
Co-teaching can be an effective strategy for differentiating lesson plans and creating a supportive, inclusive space. Co-teaching teams may utilize any of the six methods listed above, and adapt their strategies based on their learner’s needs. In doing so, co-teaching teams can be a support system for teachers, and promote equality and inclusivity for special education students.