Beginning in preschool, students learn the importance of sharing and teamwork. As they age, teamwork fundamentals transition to group work in the classroom. For teachers, sharing and teamwork can come in the form of co-teaching. Co-teaching creates an exciting space for teachers to collaborate in an effort to reach more students. This blog provides some of the most powerful ways for teachers to make the most of their co-teaching relationship. At its center, co-teaching involves a lot of transition and flexibility from both teachers. To aid this transition, we have collected five co-teaching approaches, as well as suggestions for developing and strengthening your co-teacher relationship.
What is Co-Teaching?
Co-teaching is most commonly defined as two teachers who teach together in a classroom filled with diverse learners (1). While teacher pairings may differ, some common ones include:
- One general education teacher and one special education teacher
- Two general education teachers
- One general education teacher and one teacher’s assistant or student teacher
The function of co-teaching relationships often takes five different approaches that are used interchangeably based on student learning needs, teacher specialties, and space. Five common approaches include:
- One teach, one assist
- Station teaching
- Parallel teaching
- Alternative / differentiated teaching
- Team teaching
Co-teaching presents an opportunity to provide students with more intensive instruction, more hands-on support, reduce the stigma around special education, and increased classroom learning opportunities (1).
One Teach, One Assist
One teach, one assist is a fairly traditional co-teaching style between general education and special education teachers. In this approach, one teacher, typically the general education teacher, takes the teaching lead and the second teacher, assists throughout the room (2). Assisting encompasses a wide variety of tasks including ensuring students are engaged and on-track, answering student questions, and asking the lead teacher questions that clarify questions for students or push them to think harder (3). In taking this approach, it allows the lead teacher to focus fulling on teaching the lesson and remaining on pace. One potential concern with this approach is students viewing the assisting teacher as merely a helper and not a teacher. To combat this view and ensure both teachers maintain a strong presence in the classroom. Alternating lessons and roles is encouraged (4).
Station teaching is an approach that involves transitioning the classroom into an interactive learning zone. To do so, co-teachers divide the room into learning stations, each with a different lesson or concept. Students rotate through the stations, two of which are occupied by their teachers, the others operating independently. Each teacher takes individual responsibility for planning his/her own station and the rest they develop together to supplement learning (2). While this approach can be an effective small group learning tool, it does require a lot of pre-planning. Stations must be paced the same, students must be divided into groups, and the noise level is bound to be at a maximum (4). Despite these challenges, this tool provides opportunity for small group and one-on-one instruction, ensuring every learner’s needs are clearly met throughout the lesson.
Parallel teaching resembles station teaching in that it splits the class into smaller groups. However, in parallel teaching, co-teachers teach the same instruction to only half the class simultaneously (5). Parallel teaching enables teachers to cut their student-teaching ratio in half, increasing their ability to confirm student understanding. To give this approach maximum effectiveness, both teachers must have an equal mastery of content so students are all receiving the same level of knowledge (1). Parallel teaching can often be difficult if space is an issue. Finding adequate space where students can focus on just the instructor in front of them is important to maintaining focus and noise level (4). However, when these elements come together, this approach can be incredibly beneficial for student learning, particularly those who struggle with participation.
Alternative / Differentiated Teaching
In this approach, one teacher manages a large group of students. Meanwhile, the other teacher takes a small group for a specific instructional purpose (6). This approach is effective on both ends of the spectrum. The small group of students may be composed of those who need to be given a greater challenge in their instruction or those who need to be caught up or have special learning needs. The most delicate part of this strategy is ensuring students never feel divided and that the groups are maintained with a positive outlook (1).
Team teaching requires a delicate balance of give and take between co-teachers to collectively deliver a lesson. Together the teachers, “actively engage in conversation, not lecture, to encourage discussion by students” (4). When done correctly, this approach allows both teachers to have an active role and for students to see them both as equals. However, this approach requires extensive content knowledge and comfort with your co-teaching counterpart (1).
Together, both teachers work as one well-oiled machine — bouncing questions off one another and balancing on each other to each carry half the content.
Making Co-Teaching Work
Like all relationships, co-teaching relationships take work and effort from both parties. We collected several tips for making your co-teaching relationship flourish.
- Respect Each Other — Respect is key in the classroom; both among students and teachers and co-teachers. Respecting each other as teachers and individuals is important for a healthy relationship. Respecting each other’s strengths and weaknesses can help eliminate feelings of disrespect in the classroom (7). Take time to host conversations about how each teacher views respect in the classroom and within the co-teaching relationship.
- Plan Together — Plan together, you both have skills and expertise to bring to the table. Special educators are typically skilled in individualizing curriculum and instruction based on children’s needs. General educators often have broad knowledge of the curriculum, standards, and desired outcomes for the larger group (8).
- Determine Logistics Early — Planning is key to successful co-teaching. This involves planning your approaches and details of your co-teaching relationship. Starting the conversation prior to starting back to school can be beneficial. Take time to discuss which models each teacher is comfortable with, how will you each present your positions to the students? What will your typical class day look like (10)? Working out logistics early and in a low-pressure environment, can be beneficial in avoiding frustration and arguments later on.
In attempts to better reach all learners, co-teaching has been on the rise. While several co-teachers have taken it upon themselves to create resources for those entering co-teaching, research about co-teaching and best practices is still developing. If you are a co-teacher and have an interest in sharing your experience, please check out our guest blogging platform, The Art of Teaching. Looking for other teaching strategies and resources? Check the links below.
Proven Teaching Strategies for Special Education
Students with special needs both require and deserve the most reliable, proven instruction that educators have to…
Feedback, Growth, and Positive Change in Teaching Communities
By Principal and Guest Blogger Derek McCoy
Great Teaching is at the Heart of Learning: The Science to Prove It
Q&A with Dr. Christine Gouveia, Vice President of Applied Learning Sciences
5 Guiding Principles of Social and Emotional Learning
Now Updated to 7 Guiding Principles to Incorporate New SEL Research
(1) Wilson, G. L., & Blednick, J. (2011). Teaching in tandem : Effective co-teaching in the inclusive classroom. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
(2) Friend, M. (1993). Co-teaching: An overview of the past, a glimpse at the present, and considerations for the future. Preventing School Failure, 37(4), 6–10.
(3) School of Education — CSU, Chico. “One Teach, One Assist.” YouTube, YouTube, 22 July 2015,www.youtube.com/watch?v=AeUa_cdaC6w&list=PLCDsTyftAA2D_buI_Rti5phLZ1DdFsAMc&index=2.
(4) University, L. (2010). Some Approaches to Co-Teaching (pp. 1–3, Publication). Liberty University. Retrieved from Liberty University Student Teaching Handbook 2010–2011, https://www.anderson5.net/cms/lib/SC01001931/Centricity/Domain/3345/Co-Teaching%20Models.pdf
(5) School of Education — CSU, C. (2015, July 22). Parallel Teaching. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLi4LiUopwY
(6) School of Education — CSU, C. (2015, July 22). Alternative (Differentiated) Teaching. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fr-S5CGDXBQ
(7) Co-Teaching: How to Make it Work. (2019, May 20). Retrieved from https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/co-teaching-push-in/
(8) Van Garderen, D., Stormont, M., & Goel, N. (2012). Collaboration between general and special educators and student outcomes: A need for more research. Psychology in the Schools, 49(5), 483–497. doi:10.1002/pits.21610
(9) Publishing, B. (2016, July 26). Co-Teaching: 10 Practical Tips to Strengthen Your Partnership. Retrieved from https://blog.brookespublishing.com/co-teaching-10-practical-tips-to-strengthen-your-partnership/