As classrooms gain more and more diverse students, teachers need assistance in meeting these students' needs. Using co-teaching models is a common instructional approach employed by many schools to provide that assistance.
Furthermore, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that students with disabilities have a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) on a continuum of placement options in the least restrictive environment (LRE) with the general education classroom as the first setting considered. Co-teaching models are a solution that can help schools meet the IDEA requirement, and studies show that all students benefit from having more than one teacher in the classroom, both of whom fully share the leadership responsibilities of being a teacher (King-Sears & Strogilos, 2020).
What is co-teaching?
According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, “Co-teaching is generally defined as two licensed educators, often a special education teacher and a general education teacher, sharing equal responsibility for planning, delivering, evaluating instruction, and learning to meet the diverse needs of students in a shared space. The overarching goal of co-teaching is to combine and expand upon the expertise of both professionals for the benefit of all students assigned to them.”
Because each school, student, and educator is different, co-teaching models are also varied. Below are a few of the models along with definitions of what makes them unique.
- Parallel Teaching: The class is divided into groups with each teacher teaching the same material separately to their group.
- Station Teaching: Three stations (or however many you need)—one with a general ed. teacher who teaches one aspect of the material, one with a special ed. teacher who teaches a different aspect of the material, and one independent station to give students a chance to work on their own. Students rotate from station to station.
- Team Teaching: Both teachers contribute to the lesson while teaching the same material to the whole class. Also called “teaming” or “tag-team teaching.”
- Alternative Teaching: One teacher teaches a large group while the other teaches a smaller group of students.
- One Teach, One Observe: One teacher teaches up front while the other teacher is in the back observing and often collecting data.
- One Teach, One Assist: One teacher teaches up front while the other teacher moves around the classroom to help students as needed.
Planning for co-teaching
As you consider the possibility of using a co-teaching model in your classroom, keep the following planning steps and tips in mind. Remember, if one co-teaching model doesn’t work, try another.
Steps to get started
- Explore co-teaching models together.
- Select two to explore further.
- Identify one model to implement based on course content, number of students with disabilities and their needs, number of general education students, and the interest of both teachers in trying the model.
- Recognize that there are often “turf” issues to discuss and work out before beginning co-teaching.
- Co-teaching is teaching together. It is not one teacher plus another as an expensive paraprofessional.
- Plan and implement the model.
- Acknowledge that you will learn more as you gain experience and it will take time to figure it out.
- If the model doesn’t work, try another model.
Tips for general educators
- Get to know the special education teacher with whom you will collaborate.
- Read the IEPs of your students and learn about their strengths, weaknesses, and needs
- Recognize that you are responsible for implementing the goals, accommodations, and other appropriate sections of the IEP that pertain to your class.
- You are the content area expert. Share your knowledge with the special educator.
Tips for special educators
- Get to know the general education teacher with whom you will collaborate.
- Be familiar with the IEP requirements of the students in the class and help inform your co-teacher about student needs including goals and accommodations.
- Learn about the content area and the general education classroom.
- You are the expert on disabilities and special education. Share your knowledge with the general educator.
Tips for both educators
- Ask questions.
- Be open to sharing teaching responsibilities-a good co-teaching partnership helps ease the load on both teachers.
- Remember, it takes time to build trust between both teachers.
- Adopt the mindset that they are “our students” not “your students” or “my students.”
- Search online or other resources to learn more about co-teaching.
- Seek professional development opportunities to learn more about co-teaching and meeting the needs of all of your students.
As you continue to plan and begin implementing a co-teaching model, you may need to access additional resources. Here are a few that you might find helpful.
- WI DPI Co-Teaching in Wisconsin Website
- Co-Teaching at Its Best, video by WI DPI
- Co-Teaching Handbook, Utah State Office of Education
- E. King-Sears & V. Strogilos (2020). An exploratory study of self-efficacy, school belongingness, and co-teaching perspectives from middle school students and teachers in a mathematics co-taught classroom, International Journal of Inclusive Education, 24(2), 162-180, https://doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2018.1453553.
This post was written by Dr. Wanda Routier, the director of graduate special education programs and associate professor of education at Concordia University-Wisconsin.
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