Benefits of Co-teaching: Success of ALL Students

Co-teaching is not a new buzzword or concept.  It is a strategy that some teachers have used for quite sometime now.  The only difference is that co-teaching is again coming to the forefront of education.  There are many different ideas on what co-teaching means. At our school site, co-teaching is made up of two teachers with specific specialities.  One teacher is the content area expert and the other teacher is either an English language development (ELD) specialist or a Special education (SpED) specialist–especially trained in differentiation.


We’ve created such a program to help our content area teachers better differentiate and modify lessons to allow access for all students.  Majority of our Long Term English Learners (LTELS) are mainstreamed in the content area classes. Teaching LTELs is crucial because they are right on the cusp of reclassification (When an EL student is reclassified as  Fluent English Proficient (FEP).


Our school site has over 250 ELLs.  Not all of them can be in a language support class but require services according to California Department of Education; so, we decided that the best way to get the most bang for our buck is to create co-teaching classes that have ELD support.  This way we are able to reach more students and model differentiated instructional strategies ot the content area teacher. The hope is that, after a year of co-teaching, the content area teacher will have a myriad of differentiation strategies that s/he can apply in the years to come.


A few years ago, I was paired with a brand new 7th grade History teacher.  We were concerned that placing him in a co-teaching class might be too overwhelming for a year one teacher.  After a few weeks of adjustment (and some struggles), we found our groove and had the best school year. We witnessed our students, including all the ELs, engaged in every lesson.  The History teacher was so thankful for the experience because even though we only co-taught one class a day, he learned teaching strategies that he was able to incorporate in his lessons for the other class periods.  He was able to replicate the methods we worked on for each lesson. If the co-teaching strategy is done well, it can benefit so many students because the content area teacher gains a portfolio of differentiation strategies he or she can apply in the school years to come.


Another co-teaching partnership I’ve seen is  when two teachers from different content areas teach side by side.  One example is a Science teacher and a Physical Education teacher. This is a great way to do cross-curricular activities such as Project Based Learning (PBL) activities.  Buck Institute of Learning defines PBL as a teaching strategy wherein:


Students work on a project over an extended period of time – from a week up to a semester – that engages them in solving a real-world problem or answering a complex question. They demonstrate their knowledge and skills by developing a public product or presentation for a real audience.  As a result, students develop deep content knowledge as well as critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills in the context of doing an authentic, meaningful project. Project Based Learning unleashes a contagious, creative energy among students and teachers.


With co-teaching in mind, here are a few tips on how to have an effective and successful experience:

  • Meet with your partner teacher before the start of the school year to discuss discipline expectations and teaching styles.  You want to make sure that you are both on the same page to prevent a good cop/bad cop scenarios.


  • During the first few days of school, make sure to explain to the students what and why co-teaching.  This sets the tone for the class. If the students understand what co-teaching is about, they will be more receptive to the idea.  Make sure to share with them how this format is going to benefit them.


  • It is also important to explain to the students what role each teacher plays in the class.  Make sure to send the message that both teachers are equal partners. This prevents students from forming an idea that they only have to listen to one teacher.  


  • As the school year progresses, make sure that you have a standing meeting time for planning.  It is a “sacred” time where both teachers drop everything else they are doing and focus solely on planning for the class.  It is also a great time to reflect on how the class is going, and whether changes need to be made. Common prep periods really help with planning.


  • Try to plan ahead.  Plan at least one week ahead to make sure that you both know the flow of the lessons.  It will also give you an opportunity to discuss who is teaching what part of the lesson.  From my experience, it was really hard to teach the class “on the fly.” I found that the lessons tend to be unsuccessful and chaotic.  Another reason for planning ahead is that it gives the “specialist” an opportunity to create modifications or come up with differentiated strategies for the lessons.


  • Make sure that both teachers have a role in the instruction every day.  You want to avoid students believing that the other teacher is a “helper.”  Again, you are showing your students you are equal partners. It is also great modeling for collaboration.


  • Most importantly, be open and get to know each other.  Knowing your teaching partner can make for a pleasant school year.  You might even gain a new friend.


In the end, there are different models of co-teaching available today, but only you as partners can decide what is best for your class.  Your cooperation and collaboration can make or break a co-teaching team.


Co-teaching Models


  • One Teach, One Support: In this model, one teacher is “leading” the lesson, while the other is monitoring student behavior, setting up the classroom for later activities, or generally supporting the primary teacher. It is important to remember that both teachers are playing an active role in the lesson at any given time, despite one teacher being at the front of the group while the other teacher circulates. (Murawski and Spencer, 2011).


  • Team Teaching: In this model, the two teachers work as a team. Instead of one teacher circulating, both educators are at the front of the class leading the class and complementing one another throughout the lesson time (Murawski and Spencer, 2011)


  • Parallel Teaching: This model involves two lessons occurring simultaneously with smaller teacher to student ratios. The students are grouped into two sections. There is no particular way in which students must be grouped; however, it should be in a way that best meets the goals and objectives of the lesson. (Murawski and Spencer, 2011).


  • Station Teaching: In this model, learners are grouped into three or more groups to progress through specific workstations. Teachers may choose to each lead a station, one may lead a station while the other circulates, or both may circulate as students move throughout the classroom. Groupings here are not necessarily determined by grade level (Murawski and Spencer, 2011).


  • Alternative teaching: One teacher works with a larger group of students, while the second teacher works with a smaller group of students who might need more attention, whether they have disabilities or are gifted students. It is important that no new information is given to either group at this time so that students are not falling behind their peers based on their need for additional support or practice. (Murawski and Spencer, 2011).


These five models constitute some of the most common forms of co-teaching in the classroom today. Each can be used individually, or a team can alternate between forms. It is important that whichever model is used, it is used so that students are receiving the maximum benefit of having multiple educators present.