### Addressing a Range of Learning Needs

Through Co-Teaching

By Charlene Marchese

Imagine two classrooms. In the first, a general education teacher and a special education teacher work separately. The general education teacher takes the lead on instruction and the special education teacher assists and provides additional support, focusing primarily on students with an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). Communication between the teachers revolves around logistics such as time management. There is little common planning time; each teacher plans independently for their specific students.

In the second scenario, a general education teacher and a special education teacher work together to plan, assess, and maintain a learning environment to educate all students in the class. Both have an equal voice during instruction and both assume responsibility for all students, making their roles seamless. While each has a specialty in content and/or learning strategies, the teachers continually discuss and learn about pedagogy and learning theory from each other.

The difference between the two scenarios would be evident to an observer and, as importantly, to the students.

It has been 25 years since the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments (Public Law 105-17) that emphasized inclusion of children with disabilities in the general education classroom. It is now commonplace to see two teachers, one general education and one special education, teaching a classroom of students together. However, even as we approach almost three decades of implementation, the question of how to *best* co-teach to meet the needs of all students remains. According to Murawski and Lochner (2011), there are three practices necessary for successful co-teaching partners: co-planning, co-instructing, and co-assessing. This blog examines models for co-instructing and the importance and purpose of co-planning and co-assessing.

**Models for Co-Teaching**

There are six models of co-teaching (Morin, n.d.; Treahy & Gurganus, 2010), each with unique advantages. Given the complexity of teaching and learning needs in a learning community, teaching partnerships should strive to implement multiple teaching structures throughout the year, determining which are best suited to meet the diverse learning needs of students at a given time.

**Looking for ways to model mathematical conversation and collaboration for your students? ***Model it by Team Teaching.*

In *Team Teaching*, two teachers share instruction, each taking a part in the delivery of the content as they interact with each other and the students. This model allows both teachers to bring their specialty to the forefront; an observer may not be able to tell which teacher is the general education teacher and which is the special education teacher. The partnership models collaboration and communication.

In a mathematical setting, this model can be employed by teachers role-playing a teacher and a student. Teachers can introduce a mathematical game or activity, one giving directions to the other, offering potential strategies to employ. As one teacher delivers content, the other asks specific, targeted questions along with “I wonder…” statements to promote think-alouds. Watch a Math for All case video of a first grade co-teaching pair introducing an activity using this strategy.

**Is there a small group of students who need something different than the majority of the class? ***Try Alternative Teaching, where one teacher works with a small group of students.*

The *Alternative Teaching* model suggests one teacher works directly with a small group of students for targeted instruction while the other instructs the rest of the class.

This model can be used to meet a variety of learner needs. Perhaps one teacher provides an end-of-unit extension for most students while the second teacher works with a small group to reinforce a concept. Alternatively, small-group instruction can focus on prerequisite skills for the next unit.

**Do you want to provide student choice and targeted instruction? ***Create learning stations with teacher groups.*

In *Station Teaching*, students circulate among various learning stations set up around the classroom. Students may be given a choice of which stations to visit, including a visit to a teacher station. Each of the two teachers leads a learning station with a specific focus, like skill reinforcement, hands-on concept exploration, or enrichment. This model allows for differentiation of content, process, or product to provide students learning opportunities that meet their instructional needs.

For example, 4th-grade classroom students who struggle with the concept of two-digit multiplication could work with a teacher in a small group and explore models that represent the multiplication process. Alternatively, students who have both the conceptual and procedural understanding of two-digit multiplication prior to the end of the unit could work with a teacher on an extension task or project to expand and deepen their content knowledge.

Both the *Alternative Teaching* and *Station Teaching *models expand teachers’ ability to target the specific needs of small groups of students. This is an especially timely pedagogical strategy as there are increased variations among students’ instructional needs due to unfinished learning during the pandemic.

**Are you curious about student engagement and understanding during whole-group instruction? ***Have one teacher positioned among the students to learn more about their needs.*

The *One Teach, One Assist *model suggests one teacher takes the lead on presenting a lesson while the other circulates around the class to observe and assist students. Both teachers are clear on the goals of the lesson, any lesson adaptations for students who need support, and any extension questions for students who need enrichment. In this model, the circulating teacher collects informal assessment data to be discussed in future co-planning meetings to drive upcoming instruction. For example, in a 2nd-[TB2] grade classroom a teacher in the assisting role could note the strategies students use to solve 439 + 59 (for example, a number line, base-ten blocks, or applying a partial sums method) as well as the accuracy of their solution. The information collected would allow the teachers to determine if a small teacher-led group focusing on either reteaching or extending the content is needed and, if so, which students would be included.

**Do you have a large class and find that a lesson would be more effective if the class were half the size? ***Teach in parallel.*

With *Parallel Teaching,* the lesson is planned collaboratively but the class is divided into two sections, each with one teacher leading. Subtle differences between the presentations, such a slightly different pacing or using different examples to meet the needs of the specific group of students, can be developed during co-planning time. Although sufficient space is needed for this model, it decreases the student group size while increasing the opportunity for student engagement and questioning.

**Do you have a student or a group of students whose learning needs perplex you? ***Have one teacher observe the student(s) and see what information can be learned.*

In* One Teach, One Observe,* one teacher leads the lesson and the other teacher observes a specific student or group of students.

Math for All pays special attention to helping teachers develop low-inference observation skills, using objective (as opposed to interpretive) language to note what they see as students work. This low-inference observation chart presents typical observation notes along with low-inference alternatives, and the Math for All Observation Recording Tool can help promote low-inference observation practices.

The *One Teach, One Observe* model is used when very specific data about a student or small group of students is needed. When using this model over time, it is important for teachers to switch roles in order to learn from both perspectives.

Which co-teaching model works best? During collaborative planning time, teachers must determine which is best suited for the content and structure of the lesson and the specific learning needs of their students. Regardless of the model used on a specific day, the most important instructional decisions, such as student groupings, instructional tasks, and the scaffolding materials, should be decided upon before the students enter the classroom. You can find a summary of the models presented at the end of this blog.

**Co-Planning: The Key to Success**

How does a co-teaching pair become a successful team that creates a learning environment to support diverse learning needs? One of the tenets of co-teaching is that the teachers are equal partners in planning for, teaching, and assessing all students in the classroom, as each brings a particular set of skills to the co-planning process. Collaborative planning time is critical for establishing a robust co-teaching experience for students. Math for All presents a coherent model for collaborative mathematics instructional planning, including (a) identifying the learning goals of the unit; (b) completing the mathematics of the lesson to confirm the learning goals of the lesson and identify specific demands of the lesson tasks; and (c) focusing on the strengths and challenges of the students to craft lessons that provide specific, targeted support to students on each end of the learning spectrum. It is important to emphasize here the call on school leaders to prioritize this common planning time, as it is critical for co-teachers to be provided specific time in their schedules to plan together.

In co-planning, the general education teacher typically brings content knowledge and classroom management and instructional strategies, while the special education teacher typically brings knowledge of how a range of students learn and the adaptive strategies to support those learning needs. As teachers share their respective knowledge, the conversation broadens, enriching teachers’ vocabulary and helping each to get better at articulating specific cognitive areas that need support. For example, planning discussions might include developing strategies to support students with memory challenges, to develop spatial relational thinking, or to strengthen higher order thinking skills.

A natural outgrowth of co-planning is co-assessing. When two teachers discuss instructional decisions, these decisions are based on what students know and what students can do. This lends itself to collaboratively designing and analyzing ongoing formative assessments. Co-assessing conversations might include looking at student work to decide on co-teaching structures for the next day’s lesson or analyzing students’ responses to an exit ticket to determine student groupings.

In a co-teaching setting, everyone learns. Children are supported in ways that ultimately give them better access to mathematical content, and teachers learn more about the children they teach and how best to support them. Whether you are new to co-teaching or have years of co-teaching experience, the most important aspect of a successful co-teaching pair is the willingness to work collaboratively to create a classroom in which they strive to meet the needs of all learners.

##### References

Morin, A. (n.d.) *6 Models of Co-Teaching*. https://www.understood.org/articles/en/6-models-of-co-teaching

Murawski, W. W., & Lochner, W. W. (2011) Observing co-teaching: What to ask for, look for, and listen for. *Intervention in School and Clinic*, *46*(3), 174–183.

Treahy, D., & Gurganus, S. (2010). Models for special needs students*. Teaching Children Mathematics, 16*(8), 484–490.

##### Summary of Co-Teaching Models

Model |
Description |
Classroom Configuration |
---|---|---|

Alternative Teaching |
One teacher works directly with a small group of students for targeted instruction while the other instructs the rest of the class. | |

Team Teaching |
Two teachers share instruction, each taking a part in the delivery of the content as they interact with each other and the students. | |

Station Teaching |
Students circulate among various learning stations set up around the classroom. | |

One Teach, One Assist |
One teacher takes the lead on presenting a lesson while the other circulates around the class to observe and assist students. | |

Parallel Teaching |
The class is divided into two sections, each with one teacher leading. | |

One Teach, One Observe |
One teacher leads the lesson and the other teacher observes a specific student or group of students. |

Math for All is a professional development program that brings general and special education teachers together to enhance their skills in

planning and adapting mathematics lessons to ensure that all students achieve high-quality learning outcomes in mathematics.