Pam Wilson blogged/tweeted about co-teaching last week. I enjoyed reading Tina’s post and am looking forward to going through the rest of the responses Pam’s gotten to get some new ideas. I have some experience with this and thought I would join in on the conversation.
I have co-taught 2 of my first 3 years of teaching, and all of my co-teaching experience has been with the same person. We work really well together, and she’s been one of my go-to people for A LOT of things since I started teaching. I’ll be honest due to my type-A personality, I don’t know that I could co-teach with just anyone, but I also think co-teaching helps me be more flexible in my teaching and helps me go with the flow more in my classroom.
I should mention that I have not had any training on co-teaching. I’ve read a couple articles online, but that’s it. When the opportunity to co-teach came up, we jumped on it. As of right now we are the only people co-teaching in my 6-12 building, so we aren’t able to collaborate with others in our district -it’s been a lot of trial and error figuring out what works best for our students and for us as c0-teachers. So for what it’s worth, here’s been my experience with it.
- Partway through my first year teaching we started co-teaching one section of 6th grade. Going into it, we knew it would be difficult to find time to plan together and that because of that she might end up being more of a glorified para than a co-teacher. However, we saw it as an opportunity to learn from each other and hoped that it would open doors for more of this to happen in our school in the future.
- Last year, we had the opportunity to co-teach a high school algebra class made up of mostly 9th graders intended to give them a stronger foundation in algebra to prepare them for other high school classes. Many of the 30 students in the class had math anxiety/lacked confidence in math/were on IEPs or 504s, etc.
- This year, assuming everything worked out with the schedule, we will be co-teaching one section of 8th grade algebra.
During our co-teaching experience last year, we started to figure out how to better utilize having two teachers in the classroom. It was huge that we both had a small chunk of time immediately after class to debrief and talk about the next day. There’s still a lot of room for improvement. There were many days where she was still sort of a glorified para. Nothing we did was groundbreaking, but we made progress from when we first co-taught 6th grade.
As I’ve been reflecting on my experience while writing this post what has really stood out to me is how beneficial it was to have someone to reflect with after lessons that was in the classroom and knew our students. I was more willing to try things I otherwise might not have knowing I would have someone in the classroom with me, that I would be able to debrief with that same person afterward, and that together we would move forward regardless of how it went.
Ways we were intentional about creating an environment so students saw both teachers as equals in the class:
- We were both included in the start of the year stuff. Both of our contact information was on the syllabus. We did a “get to know your teachers” Kahoot. I know those are small things, but I think they helped set the stage so that students saw that we shared ownership of the class. I didn’t want students to think that because we were in a math classroom it was only my class, and I also wanted all students to see that she, as the special ed teacher, was in the room to help everyone, not just the students she typically works with. (Sidenote: We also had a conversation with students in the first week about why she was in the room as this was new for them. We talked about how we both brought different things to the class and how all students would benefit from having us both there.)
- We bounced back and forth frequently those first few weeks/months. As I mentioned earlier, we work well together and can tag team on the spot pretty well. From the get-go I wanted students to see that we were sharing the role of teaching the class. As the year progressed she didn’t lead the class as often because she was less familiar with the math; however, we knew that going into the year. Because of that, I tried to be intentional about making sure that she had opportunities to go over problems and teach up front, even if it was just a couple of minutes, right away at the start of the year.
- She participated in parent/teacher conferences with me. We do arena style conferences in the gym. She set up a table next to me so that when our students came, we were both there for the conference.
Ways I benefited from co-teaching with a special-ed teacher:
- I learned how to better work with students with learning disabilities and math/test anxiety. Being able to watch her in action with the same group of students who had such a diverse range of needs all year was huge for me. I was able to pick up on some of the things, big and small, she does as she works with students.
- It forced me to think about why I do things a certain way and verbalize these things to her as well as to students. There are times I do things a specific way because a) I see the big picture and know what students will need beyond what we were doing right then or b) I’ve done things a certain way for so long that I don’t think twice about it. Not having the math background that I do, she made me realize that I do this by asking questions either while we were going over stuff together outside of class or with students as questions came up in class. This really forced me to be aware of why I do what I do, and when appropriate, to share this with students.
- Having someone who knew our students and what we were doing in class to bounce ideas off of and collaborate with was awesome! I know I already mentioned that, but I can’t emphasize it enough. Although I did almost all of the planning for the class, we would frequently talk about things or email throughout the day. Often one of us would have the start of an idea and together we could come up with a plan that would work in our class. Sometimes I was hesitant about trying something we came up with, but knowing that I had another person to back me up and to reflect with after the fact made me more willing to try new stuff.
- It enabled me to make adjustments on the spot more frequently. There were numerous times in the middle of a lesson where we would notice things just weren’t working. When we could, we would quick talk about what we could do right then to adjust and then actually do it instead of waiting for the next day. There were absolutely times when we waited until the next day to adjust, but having another person in the room made it easier to adjust on the fly.
Here are some of the ways that we utilized two teachers in the classroom:
- We grouped students based on their responses to an exit/entrance ticket. We usually had 3 groups -those that got it right, those that understood the overall concept but made a minor error, and those that needed some additional support. We had something prepared for each group, usually nothing fancy. One of us would focus on the group that needed some additional support/instruction. The other would get the remaining two groups started, work with the group that made small errors, and then would bounce around wherever needed. On average, we maybe did this 2 times a month; however, it worked well for us and probably could have been used more frequently.
- We split students based on their preferences and each took a group. Some students preferred activities/games while others preferred whiteboards/worksheets. We had both prepared and let students pick how they wanted to practice a skill. We maybe did this 4 times throughout the course of the year.
- If a student had been absent, one of us pulled them aside to get them caught up. We would often do this at the beginning of the class, and sometimes by the time we started the new stuff for the day, the student was ready to participate. This happened at most once a week, so we didn’t do this every time a student was gone. It depended on the individual student and what was missed. We knew our students. We knew who would be able to pick up on what they missed from a friend or by participating in class and who needed to work with one of us before feeling that they could be successful moving forward.
- During work time if there was a group of students that felt they would benefit from going over stuff in a small group, one of us could work with them while the other was free to circulate the room. This happened quite a bit during work time, probably 2-3 times per week.
- We had an extra adult in the room to monitor behavior and hold students accountable for staying on task while the other took care of attendance, passing back papers, etc. I know this may be an obvious and minor thing, but in the overall scheme of the class this was HUGE. Many of our students still needed an extra little push of encouragement with some of the soft skills needed to be a student, and we had AT MOST 45 minutes a day with them. It was so great that one of us could take care of those necessary start-of-class things while the other actively monitored the class and got them started.
- We had another space where students could work. We were able to use her classroom as a space for students to go during tests and work time. If we split into groups and anticipated one activity would be noisier than the other, we would take one group to her room. We used her room as a way minimize distractions by having fewer students in each room and would intentionally separate some students who couldn’t handle being in the same room together.
None of that was anything earth shattering, but if you have questions on any of it, let me know. Also, if you have any ideas for us as we will hopefully be co-teaching again this year, please share!