Co-Teaching Models

The main models of co-teaching that we will discuss in detail are station teaching, interactive teaching, alternative teaching, and parallel teaching (Cook and Friend 2000; Friend and Bursuck 2006; Walther-Thomas et al. 2000). Each model can be used with different content (see Figure 2.4). Depending upon the purpose of a lesson, one model might work better than others. For example, parallel teaching might be used when teachers want to review content before a test. On the other hand, alternative teaching might be used if a portion of the class has missed content and the purpose is to catch those students up with the rest of the class.

Figure 2.4Co-Teaching ModelsFour illustrations show four types of co-teaching models: station teaching, interactive teaching, alternative teaching, and parallel teaching. The models are illustrated as follows: Station teaching: a group of students at a table monitored by a teacher and four groups of students at four tables with two teachers monitoring two groups each; Interactive teaching: a class of students at their individual desks monitored by two teachers; Alternative teaching: a class of students at their individual desks monitored by a teacher and a small group of students at a table monitored by another teacher; Parallel teaching: two groups of students at their individual desks monitored by a teacher each.

Station Teaching

Using station teaching, depending upon the size of the class, teachers set up three to five stations around the room and students move in groups from one station to another after a designated period of time (10 to 15 minutes). As you could guess, station teaching requires quite a bit of preparation on the part of the teachers. Prior to the lesson, teachers have to prepare each station with the appropriate materials and make sure that the directions are clear. If directions are not clear or if expectations for student behavior are not explicit, students may become sidetracked trying to figure out what to do or may end up using materials in an inappropriate manner. In station teaching, teachers also have to monitor the noise level and behaviors in the room.

When used in collaborative classrooms, each teacher will work at a station where teaching or direct supervision is required; at the remaining stations, students are expected to work independently. For example, if students were studying the parts of a plant, you could set up five stations:

  • (1)a short video that shows how plants grow from a seed into a mature plant;
  • (2)a puzzle or activity that students have to complete to demonstrate the life cycle of a plant over the four seasons;
  • (3)a virtual reality game in which students add the proper amounts of sunlight, water, and fertilizer to make the plant grow;
  • (4)one teacher would explain and discuss the process of photosynthesis; and
  • (5)the other teacher would teach students about components of a plant cell (for example, cell wall, nucleus, vacuoles, and chloroplasts).

Interactive Teaching

With interactive teaching, one teacher assumes the lead, teaching in front of the class while the other teacher supports by monitoring student learning. After a short period of time, the teachers switch roles. In effective co-taught classes, teachers work efficiently so that it becomes a symbiotic relationship. Each teacher has multiple opportunities to serve in both the teaching and supportive modes. In the support role, teachers are engaged in the lesson and ask questions or rephrase when they see students having difficulty understanding a concept. The support teachers also supervise practice and monitor behaviors.

For example, while one teacher is discussing how light refracts through a convex lens, the other teacher is monitoring students’ notes and checking for understanding. Occasionally, when the support teachers see a student having difficulty, they would stop and ask questions to the lead teacher such as, “Did you say the light refracts as it passes through the lens? You also mentioned that refracts means to bend; is that correct?” The support teacher uses questions in this fashion rather than drawing attention to a student who is having difficulty understanding the concept. Shortly after convex and concave lenses are explained, the support teacher becomes the lead teacher and walks the class through a lab in which students project images into different types of lenses to see the effects of each. The same teacher then continues to explain how light changes when it comes from air and enters water. This teacher explains how light refracts in water at a different angle than when it is in the air. The support teacher now monitors students’ notes to ensure their accuracy.

Although interactive teaching can be an enjoyable way to teach, both teachers have to know the content well and have to plan ahead of time to ensure smooth transitions between their teaching. They should be careful not to get stuck performing the same limited tasks because they might be viewed as less than equals in students’ eyes. For example, if one teacher is the one who handles disruptive behavior, students may be more likely to behave inappropriately on a day when that teacher is absent. If one teacher is the one who teaches the content, then students are more likely to turn to that one for their questions. Both teachers should share the different roles, both roles that are burdensome and rewarding.

Alternative Teaching

Alternative teaching involves forming a small group of students and then teaching them in one section of the room, usually a corner or table in the back of the class. While one teacher works with the small group, the other teacher instructs the rest of the class. The purpose of the grouping is to re-teach concepts, providing enrichment activities, helping students who were absent to catch up, or addressing special problems that students may be having (for example, students who are talkative or disruptive, who need prerequisite content, or who need extra assistance taking notes). Using this model, teachers will alternate roles on a regular basis so that they do not become cast as the person who always works with small groups (one implication being that the particular teacher cannot handle large groups or only works with a certain type of student).

Likewise, the group should be heterogeneous and should not include the same students every time, lest the small group take on the appearance of students who have behavior and academic problems. All students should be given opportunities to participate in both large and small groups. For example, if a student with a mild disability is having difficulty understanding the concept of a recessive gene, that student might be paired up with a high achiever who understands the concept well, and then both could be given practice activities in a small group. In this way, both the teacher and high achiever could explain the concept to help the student with mild disabilities understand it. The purpose of the alternative teaching configuration is still met; because the students with the highest needs have been distributed between the two teachers they will be able to receive the levels of attention they need.

Parallel Teaching

Parallel teaching involves dividing the class in half and having each instructor teach students the same content. Each group of students is heterogeneous (that is, consisting of high, average, and low achievers). This configuration provides a good format for students who are reluctant to respond in larger groups or for those times when teachers want more interaction with students. As such, it would be an appropriate format to use when teaching difficult concepts, when students need a lot of practice with skills, or when teachers want to make sure that all students have mastered a set of content or skills. Parallel teaching requires careful planning so that both teachers cover the same content, and both teachers must maintain an adequate pace to ensure that all of the designated content is covered by the end of class. Of course, having two instructors teaching in the same classroom may be more distracting and may create more noise. Some teachers may need some time to acclimate to this format, particularly teachers who are unsure of their teaching and classroom management skills.

Which co-teaching model do you find most useful and why? Which model would you most likely use in your classroom and why would you choose that model? 

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