Using the 6 Models of Co-Teaching to Maximize Student Learning
According to co-teaching experts and authors Marilyn Friend and Lynne Cook, “Co-teaching involves two or more certified professionals who contract to share instructional responsibility for a single group of students primarily in a single classroom or workspace for specific content or objectives with mutual ownership, pooled resources, and joint accountability.”
Co-teaching may be implemented for instructing students with special needs, English language learners, students who are gifted, or within the general education classroom. As classrooms become increasingly diverse, co-teaching allows teachers to effectively meet the needs of all students.
6 Models of Co-Teaching
Friend and Cook identified 6 models of co-teaching that can be used in the classroom. The co-teaching roles and responsibilities vary depending on which of the co-teaching models you use. Whether you’re co-teaching with paraprofessionals or other specialists, each of these methods offers unique benefits and challenges.
1. One Teach, One Observe
In the One Teach, One Observe co-teaching model, one teacher serves as the primary instructor while the other collects relevant observations to determine which students need extra support. This model is beneficial for tracking school support services, such as 504 plans or IEPs.
- Observations provide helpful data for determining subsequent instruction, interventions, and student grouping.
- Each teacher can devote their full attention to either teaching or observing.
- Only one teacher delivers the instruction.
- Without intentionality and purposeful planning, one teacher may be under-utilized in the classroom.
2. One Teach, One Assist
One Teach, One Assist is one of the 6 models of co-teaching in which one teacher primarily provides instruction. While one is teaching, the other is circulating through the classroom, assisting students as needed. This model is helpful when several students need individual support.
- It can offer increased classroom management.
- Students receive individual support.
- It provides an opportunity for new teachers to observe experienced teachers.
- Students may begin to feel that one teacher has more authority than the other.
- It requires intentional planning to make sure that the assisting teacher is being utilized effectively.
- One teacher may end up feeling more like an assistant.
3. Parallel Teaching
Parallel Teaching is a co-teaching method in which the teachers split the class into two groups and simultaneously provide instruction to each group. This method is helpful when content is especially challenging.
- Smaller learning groups mean more attention and support for students who are struggling.
- Classroom management may be easier.
- Both teachers have an active instructional role while splitting responsibilities.
- Teachers need to time lessons carefully so that they end at the same time.
- It can be noisy and difficult for students to focus, depending on the environment.
- Both teachers need to be confident in the content knowledge.
4. Station Teaching
In the Station Teaching model, groups of students rotate through learning centers or stations. Each co-teacher is responsible for instruction at a center, and there may be additional independent centers. This model is useful for teaching content through multiple modalities.
- It capitalizes on each teacher’s strengths.
- Both teachers take an active instructional role.
- Teachers can differentiate lessons for each group’s needs.
- Planning and material preparation can be time-consuming.
- Stations need to be built into classroom routines and expectations must be clearly communicated by teachers.
- Station teaching can be noisy, which may present challenges for students with learning needs.
5. Alternative Teaching
In the Alternative Teaching model, one teacher takes a small group of students for a specific instructional purpose while the other instructs the rest of the group. The small group instruction may be for intervention, assessment, enrichment, or providing a learning accommodation. This model is beneficial when a group of students needs a review of a skill or content.
- Students who are struggling are given additional support in a small group setting.
- Both teachers are actively involved in instruction.
- The student-teacher ratio is lowered.
- Dual planning of time and content is necessary for this model.
- Teachers must have a system for clear data collection to be able to maximize small group instruction.
- Some students may feel self-conscious if they are continually being pulled for small group instruction.
6. Team Teaching
Team Teaching is a method of partnering that allows both teachers to take turns teaching the entire class. In Team Teaching, the co-teachers serve as co-presenters of the material of the lesson, each bringing their own style and expertise. This co-teaching model is useful when students would benefit from having multiple perspectives and strategies for content.
- Students experience different teaching styles and perspectives.
- It provides multiple modalities for presenting content.
- Students can see a successful collaborative relationship.
- There are more opportunities to pursue teachable moments.
- It works best with teachers whose teaching styles and personalities are complementary.
- It requires extensive planning and coordination for both teachers to be able to effectively implement Team Teaching.
- It takes time and trust to be able to create a co-teaching relationship in which both teachers feel valued.
Benefits of Co-Teaching
When implemented effectively, co-teaching strategies offer numerous benefits for both teachers and students alike.
Although some types of co-teaching models may require additional work, one of the benefits of co-teaching is that the workload is shared. Co-teachers can problem-solve and find solutions together. A positive collaborative atmosphere—an inherent element of co-teaching—can reduce stress and improve job satisfaction.
Co-teaching can also make it easier to implement hands-on activities in the classroom. Teachers have more opportunities to explore their creativity with another educator present to offer instruction and support for students.
One of the most important benefits of co-teaching is that all co-teaching models increase differentiation. Students can benefit from the multiple teaching styles and strategies of their co-teachers.
Co-teaching also provides more continuity of instruction for students. If there is an issue that arises during a lesson, a co-teacher is able to step in and continue instruction or deal with the issue while the other teaches.
Students also benefit from the small, flexible learning groups that many co-teaching models utilize. They receive more individualized attention and support from their teachers when the student-to-teacher ratio is lowered. Class size can have a direct impact on student achievement.
Building an Effective Partnership
Co-teaching relationships require intentionality and effort to be effective. Below are some tips on how to create a positive relationship.
Take time to foster your co-teaching relationship.
It is important for co-teachers to spend time getting to know their co-teaching partner. “Having a ‘social working relationship’ is completely different than working closely in a classroom. Building that relationship takes time and patience. We are all learning at the same time. Questions need to be asked and it’s ok to make mistakes. The key is time—with time we get to know our partners,” says Benita Afonso, an ENL teacher from Sleepy Hollow, New York.
Respect each other, even when you disagree.
When co-teaching with paraprofessionals or other specialists, each teacher brings a unique set of skills and expertise to the co-teaching relationship. You’re bound to disagree with each other, but try to keep the disagreement to the person’s ideas rather than the person.
Clearly define co-teaching roles and responsibilities.
Each of the six models of co-teaching has a defined set of roles and responsibilities for co-teachers. You may switch roles with your co-teacher throughout a lesson, or your role may stay the same. It is important to communicate with each other what your expectations are about your co-teaching roles and responsibilities ahead of instruction to eliminate any confusion.
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Plan lessons with your co-teacher, not for your co-teacher.
It is important to take the time to plan with your co-teacher, as both of you have valuable insight to share. For example, your ELL co-teacher may have helpful resources to support you in bridging content and developing academic language for your English language learners. Maximize learning potential by utilizing your co-teacher’s expertise.
Communicate regularly with your co-teacher.
Outside of lesson planning, co-teachers will need to frequently communicate with each other regarding student progress, assessment, and other instructional needs. Afonso shares, “Get to know their learning style, dedicate time for planning, and always check-in with the classroom teacher. Always ask questions—it shows you are vested in your students as well as growing as an educator.”
There are many different ways to communicate with your co-teacher—you and your co-teacher can decide what works best for you.
- If you and your co-teacher need to communicate in real time from two different locations, you may find the Voxer app useful. It functions as a walkie-talkie, allowing teachers to instantly communicate no matter where they may be.
- Teachers.io is a helpful planning resource for co-teachers. Teachers can share information, class assignments, and assessments all on one platform. This can then be shared with students, to essentially serve as a teacher-managed planner.
- Slack is designed to help teams communicate more effectively. Team members can chat, share files, and work on projects together through the app.
- Teachers may find Google Docs helpful for keeping track of lesson planning. Its collaborative format makes it ideal for co-teaching teams.
Implementing the co-teaching models will allow you to engage students collectively as a class while also supporting their individual needs as a learner.