Strategies for Effective Co-Teaching

By Janel Granum

associates01On the first day of my second year of teaching I met dozens of new students and one very important and unexpected adult- my new 3rd period co-teacher. And so it went- we were thrown together and told to “make the most of it.” Luckily, we did just that and through careful co-planning and practice we worked together effectively. I quickly assumed this was the way co-facilitation often worked. I have since learned otherwise. Co-teaching is full of challenges, but it is a very powerful strategy for meeting the needs of diverse student groups, which makes it especially useful for career readiness and exploration courses. When your goal is to help students become future-ready, you must address not only the differences in standard classroom variables like reading level, processing and learning style but also the differences in personal awareness and exposure to the world of work.

Here are three important ways to make co-teaching work!

  1. Explore different models

Take the time to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so you can strategize about how to best use different models of co-teaching.

Marilynn Friend describes six effective models for co-teaching:

  • One teach, One observe- One teacher instructs while the other records useful student observations
  • Station Teaching- Dividing up the content and rotating students in small groups
  • Parallel Teaching- Splitting the class and covering the same content- perhaps in different ways
  • Alternative Teaching- Using one teacher to provided targeted intensive instruction
  • Teaming- Sharing the instruction of the whole group and building-off of each other
  • One Teach, One Assist- One instructor focuses on helping individual student

If you only use one method, sometimes this does not allow either teacher to grow beyond their comfort zone.

  1. Hone in on student needs

One of the hallmarks of effective co-teaching is figuring out how to identify and approach students who are having difficulty with the material. For example, last year when I was co-teaching the Signal Success curriculum, my co-facilitator and I used the one teach and one assist model for delivering presentations to the class. During direct instruction one of us focused on whole group engagement while the other provided targeted language and concept support. When we moved onto small group activities like developing effective communication skits, my co-facilitator and I were able to focus on groups that struggled with ideas or needed an extra push getting started.

  1. Find and use co-planning time

My first co-teacher and I didn’t just luck into a good fit. We made time to plan together- to decide what we would do during the lesson and how we would approach our students who had difficulty with the material. But that same year, second semester, I was given a different co-teacher. We had no common planning time and I quickly found my classroom struggling, where it had previously made significant gains. Without proper preparation, co-facilitators will always be faced with the questions about roles and strategy.

Ultimately, effective co-teaching doesn’t just support effective instruction of non-cognitive skills, it also requires direct application of these skills. Whether it’s a group of students tasked with working through a teambuilding activity or two teachers trying to work together effectively, skills like collaboration and communication are what allow us to successfully navigate the situation.

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