A Bird's Eye View

A Special Education Teacher's Reflections

Co-Teaching Structures July 25, 2010

This is a response to “Creating Optimal Opportunities to Learn Mathematics: Blending Co-teaching Structures with Research Based Practices” By Sileo, J.M. and Van Garden, D. Teaching Exceptional Children. Vol. 42 No. 3.

Building on Strengths

More and more, students with special needs are receiving the majority of their instruction within the general education classroom. This can be frustrating for general and special educators because we are both taught such different methods. General educators are the experts of the content area, and special educators are experts of accessibility, but we are each sometimes dogmatic about our way being the best. However, when teachers collaborate and capitalize on each other’s expertise, ALL students benefit. Using different co-teaching structures is a good way to start doing just that.

The Structures

Here is a list and description of common co-teaching structures that are useful in the general education classroom. I also elaborated with a few ways that I have used these structures in different co-teaching situations.  It is important to be aware of all of these tools so that you can use any of them or a combination of several depending on what suits your goals the best:

One Teach, One Observe

One teacher instructs the whole class while the other observes the students. This is especially useful at the beginning of a co-teaching relationship so that the other teacher can become used to procedures in the classroom. It can also be a useful tool for collecting data on who is or is not participating.

I use this when I am first starting a co-teaching relationship with a general education teacher who is nervous about having a co-teacher. This can help them to feel at ease, and then I gradually become more involved. Also, it is useful for if I am doing an interobserver reliability test for collecting data to make sure that my numbers are similar to the general educator’s because it is unobtrusive.

One Teach, One Drift

Similar to one teach-one observe except for there is more involvement of the other teacher. This can certainly be used interchangeably with the other method as well. While one teacher delivers instruction, the other one drifts through he classroom. Some things the drifter do are check for understanding, use it for one on one instruction, monitor for goals (such as making sure students have all materials, are taking notes, etc).

Aside from the uses I already mentioned, this is  something I use all of the time in Algebra because many students are afraid to go up to the board to do a problem in front of the class if they are unsure that they have the correct answer. I can float around, see who had the correct answer or offer assistance before I call one the students to the board, thus avoiding panic stricken students.

Team Teaching

When you and your co-teacher get into a groove where you both share equally in planning and delivering all of the instruction that goes on in the classroom, you can team teach. This is the most fun in my opinion, but it takes practice and planning. Both teachers address the whole class for instruction, either by standing side-by-side or doing a trade off for each mini-segment within the lesson.

The way I did this in Biology and Algebra was to have us both at the board, one taking notes for the other one, while we both taught the lesson at the same time. Especially in Algebra, the math teacher would do an example and do a Think Out Loud, and then I would do the next example, and then back to her. This can be a fluid lesson where who teaches what is improvised on the spot, or it can be planned ahead of time. The biology teacher and I would plan our lessons in detail about who would teach what part of each lesson, or demonstrate which part of the lab. I also used this in Spanish when the profesora and I would role play dialogues for the students. I love teaching this way, but you have to be patient and not expect everything to be perfect right away.

Alternative Teaching

When one teacher teaches the whole class while the other teaches a small group, you are using alternative teaching. Obviously, this allows students to get intensive individualized instruction, whether it is for more guided practice or for enrichment. This is also a great place to to tier 2 interventions for RTI.

It is important to not always have the same group of kids be in the small group or students can become stereotyped. There is also the danger of  inadvertently taking students in special education out of the least restrictive environment if they are always the ones pulled out. In Algebra, I took struggling kids some of the time; sometimes it was the general educator who took them. Sometimes we did enrichment or peer tutoring in the small groups. Other times, it was an opportunity for reteaching to students who had been on a field trip during the last class.

Parallel Teaching

Parallel teaching requires the co-teachers to have the same amount of comfortability with the lesson as the team teaching approach because both teachers deliver the same exact lesson to 2 groups instead of one large group. Also, just an aside, because of No Child Left Behind, special educators are in danger of not being in compliance of they deliver initial/primary instruction in a subject in which they are not highly qualified. So, if that is the case, you should try to only do parallel teaching for guided practice, independent practice, and review activities.

This structure was especially useful for doing reviews before tests because then the struggling students felt less awkward about asking questions. Also, I did the same lesson, but included more guided practice. This can also be helpful if you need smaller groups to be able to use manipulatives or to do a complicated lab. Additionally, you can alter this method to do jigsaw instruction in which each teacher teaches half of the lesson, and the students then get into groups and teach each other.

Station Teaching

Station teaching is when each teacher teaches part of the lesson to part of the class, and then the student groups switch and each teacher teaches that next group.

I did this with the history teacher, But we organized it a little differently. We had several stations set up around the room with instructions (an article or primary source to read and then do some activity with like political cartoons or questions) so that the students could be self-directed. The groups were hand tailored to make sure that each struggling student had other stronger stuents to help him/her out. Then, we each floated around the room to facilitate.

And There You Have It

I hope this gives you some more ideas for how to shake up co-teaching in your classrooms. Please comment and share things that you have dome with these different structures. Happy teaching!