Co-TeachingThe classroom door swings open…a group of seven students is huddled around a table off to the side of the classroom, quietly engaged in a conversation over the completion of a N.J. ASK Writing Task with the state’s holistic scoring rubric clearly posted nearby. The group is working independently, each student ready with a copy of the directions for the writing task. Students “share out” an attribute needed to achieve proficiency from the rubric.

Another group of eight students is seated in a ring of chairs on an opposite end of the classroom. A teacher is reviewing the features of expository writing.  Hands are flying into the air. Each is eager to contribute to the creation of a classroom anchor chart on the interactive white board as they list the features of expository text. As the teacher is providing immediate feedback to each learner in the group, she records observations in a notebook.

In the back of the classroom, a teacher is assembled with six students who are engaged in a vocabulary word activity on synonyms.  Using “inside voices,” students enthusiastically exchange verbal responses. As the teacher confers with one pair of learners at a time, she makes connections to the writing rubric and the use of newly learned words in expository writing.

What is observed?

Motivated learners. Hands-on activities. Best instructional practices in language arts. Student self-monitoring. Small-group differentiation. Use of manipulatives and other visual aids. Two highly effective adults in the room.  

What is unobservable?

 Six students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that cite a range of necessary modifications and accommodations for individual student achievement. Two highly trained professional educators, one with special education certification, and one a certified general education teacher.

The inclusive classroom

The inclusive classroom is a complex, multi-faceted learning environment with multiple factors leading to its success or failure. More and more, this setting is becoming the norm in K-12 schools across the state. One way districts are meeting the federal mandates of least restrictive environment is through the implementation of inclusive classrooms.  The placement of students with varying educational needs into the general education classroom can be challenging for all stakeholders. Still, educators must provide all of the modifications and accommodations included in the IEP. And when two teachers are in the room it can be unclear as to who is responsible for what. This assignment should not be viewed as an opportunity to divide the labor, but a chance to work together in an effort to meet the needs of every child in the classroom. Successful co-teaching, or collaborative teaching, occurs when two or more professionals jointly deliver substantive instruction to a diverse, or blended, group of students in a single physical space.

Over the last several years, our role as educational consultants has provided us with opportunities to support and train many co-teaching pairs. Through our experience and research we have concluded that the common thread running through successful co-taught classrooms has been the parity, the participation and the professional learning of the two educators involved.

How do districts foster this relationship? The answer is by providing ongoing, job-embedded professional development for both educators on the models of co-teaching. The training must be timely, supportive, reflective and collaborative.

In many instances, co-teaching fails because teachers are thrown into an inclusive classroom together, without training and awareness of these models. When provided with proper professional development, supported by professional learning communities, workshops, and/or demonstration lessons, the relationships can be sustainable, and inclusion will work.

The six models of co-teaching

The most widely accepted models of co-teaching are put forth by professors and authors Lynne Cook and Marilyn Friend. They are:

  • One Teach, One Observe--Co-teachers decide that there is a need for one teacher to observe and gather information while the other teacher is delivering instruction.
  • One Teach, One Drift--Co-teachers alternate primary teaching responsibility while the other is circulating the room providing assistance.
  • Parallel Teaching--Co-teachers divide the class group and simultaneously teach the same information to the divided group.
  • Station Teaching--Co-teachers divide the class group in half (or in thirds) the co-teachers teach different material, skills or content at their “station,” and repeat on a rotating basis. (The third station would be independently working.)
  • Alternative Teaching--One teacher takes responsibility for the large group while the other teacher works with a small group on a specialized need (enrich, reteach, reinforce, etc.).
  • Team Teaching--Co-teachers are delivering instruction at the same time; also referred to as “tag team teaching.”

How is co-teaching possible?

A successful collaboration can be achieved through mutual respect, parity, understanding, and communication--words that are often associated with a happy marriage. In the world of education, these terms are used to describe successful co-teaching relationships. The pairing of a special education teacher with a general education teacher is referred to as a “professional marriage” in every sense and needs to be nurtured as such.

Successful collaboration commands both the general educator and special educator:

  • Believe all students can learn.
  • Embrace a collaborative classroom approach.
  • Are trained in the effective models of co-teaching.
  • Implement the models with integrity and creativity.
  • Are supported by administration.
  • Collaborate during a common lesson-planning time.
  • Build rapport and communicate with parents.

The aforementioned goals are realistic and attainable with time and the right resources. The collaboration between the two teachers begins with a sharing of responsibility and an understanding that both teachers are equal in the classroom. The students in this classroom deserve the 200 percent effort of both teachers, as opposed to a 50/50 split.

Next, deep understanding needs to occur on how the use of co-teaching models in the classroom allow for flexible grouping, differentiation of instruction, and the maximization of both educators. The general education teacher is the content area expert while the special education teacher is the strategy expert.

Once initial relationships are established and training is underway, there is a need to maintain an ongoing commitment toward inclusion. Observations have shown that pairs that remain together for more than one year, and are given the opportunity to continue to build on learned practices and reflect on their successes and failures, grow in effectiveness. As they continue to evolve by learning from each others’ strengths, discussing new strategies, and problem solving through obstacles, the co-teaching pair has the capacity to provide sound quality educational instruction in the inclusive classroom.  

The advantages of co-teaching are not only evident among students with an IEP, but the benefits extend to the teaching pair as well as to the other students in the classroom. Just as we hope that students are helping and learning from one another, co-teachers should expect the same dynamic. A well-developed relationship, coupled with the knowledge-based training, will benefit students emotionally, socially and academically. Therefore, it has a direct impact on student achievement.

Intoccia-Pepe and Farrace-Prott own and operate NJ Teacher to Teacher, LLC (NJT2T). Created in 2005, NJT2T provides professional learning to teachers across New Jersey and parts of New York. NJT2T features a comprehensive approach to collaborative teacher training through a job-embedded T.E.A.M. model of professional development.

Contact Intoccia-Pepe and Farrace-Prott at info@njteacher2teacher.com or at their East Brunswick office at 732-354-0247. For more information on professional educational coaching and the T.E.A.M. model, visit www.njteacher2teacher.com