What is Co-Teaching and How Can it Benefit My Special Education Class?

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Co-Teaching in the Classroom

Co-teaching, or having two teachers in the classroom has become a popular teaching structure to provide an inclusive setting for special education students while insuring that they are in the least restrictive environment as recommended by their IEP team. In the co-teaching classroom you typically have a general education teacher and a special education teacher in the classroom. Paraprofessionals may also work in this setting to provide additional support.

While co-teaching, both teachers are intended to share the teaching responsibility in a co-teaching classroom, with the special education teacher, providing specialized differentiated lessons for students with special needs. In other words, the special education teacher may be described as a strategist, taking the standard lesson and teaching it in a different way so that the student with special needs can access the learning requirements, along with other students in the classroom.

Planning is essential in the co-teaching classroom. In the middle and high school setting, it’s best that the special education teacher and the general education teacher have the same planning times or can make arrangements to meet before or after school. During planning days prior to the opening of school, the teachers should meet, discuss and agree on classroom rules, consequences for breaking rules, the classroom format and the class structure. Teachers need to not only discuss the upcoming lessons and the curriculum, but they need to agree on who will teach what and which co-teaching style will be used. Here are a few co-teaching styles. The following co-teaching models were developed by Marilyn Friend. They were presented to teachers in my system during a pre-planning conference.

Co-Teaching Styles

Parallel teaching is a style in which both teachers are teaching at the same time. The classroom may be divided in half and one teacher teaches one half of the room, while the other teaches the second half. So, they are teaching the same lesson at the same time. This style is great for large classes because the students benefit from being in a smaller group.

Team teaching is one of the best teaching styles in the co-taught classroom. When team teaching, the teachers share the teaching responsibility and may act as a tag team. For example, both teachers deliver the lesson together. Either teacher can raise points or “jump-in” at any time. The teachers should bounce ideas off of each other and raise questions together in this style.

The one teach one drift model should be used occasionally but should not be used exclusively because students begin to view the teachers as being unequal in the classroom. In this model, one teacher teaches the lesson, while the second teacher drifts around the classroom and helps students who need extra attention. This model is similar to one teach, one observe in which the second teacher may observe students during the lesson and while they are working and document those observations to better learn how to teach the students.

Station or center teaching is often used in elementary schools but may certainly be used in the middle and high school settings. Students work in stations or centers and the co-teachers may take responsibility for teaching and explaining directions for their assigned stations. Students benefit by working in groups.

Alternative teaching is when one teacher teaches pulls out a smaller group of students who need extra help, or students who are advanced and need more of a challenge can be pulled out. The students in the pull-out group can get extra help or can work on advanced lessons. This strategy is especially helpful for catching up students who have been absent. When pulling out special education students, it best to include some non-special education students so that the special education students won’t feel singled out.

Co-teaching works because all teachers have strengths and weaknesses. In the co-teaching environment, the students are fortunate because they have the expertise of two teachers.