Friday, August 26, 2016

Co-Teaching: 6 Models and their Uses

Do you remember your student teaching experience?

It really makes me mentally cringe to go there.  It was a great, life-changing experience in many ways, but it was also SO. HARD.  Overwhelming.  Draining.  Terrifying.  The 16 week experience of slowly processing the harsh realization that all the book knowledge you have doesn't equate to being a great teacher.  There are intangibles to consider.  Even when I had a supervising teacher who became a friend, with the best of intentions and the sweetest personality didn't mean student teaching went smoothly.  I felt like a failure most days.  And looking back, I'm glad I don't have to do it again.

But, since taking a step back from the classroom, and looking for ways to still stay connected in the world of education, I have taken on a role of working with area student teachers.  And I am both comforted and challenged by the fact that these individuals will have a much different experience than I did (only 5 years ago, thank you very much).  I was asked to be the college supervisor for Grace College student teachers who are seeking a license in Spanish Education.  I did it last spring for this rising star, and now have the opportunity to do it again this fall for two young ladies.  And as we hit the ground running this school year, Grace provided an intentional time of training student teachers, classroom teachers and college supervisors on how exactly this experience will be different than what many the generation before them experienced.

Traditional Mindset on the left, Co-Teaching Mindset on the right. See the differences?!
You see, Grace is no longer doing the "traditional" method of student teaching.  You know, the one where the supervising teacher shows you what to do for about a week, then heads to the teacher's lounge as you "figure it out" and "sink or swim" on your own? Yeah.  That worked until we met the R.I.S.E. evaluation and the increased teacher accountability.  Then, classroom teachers weren't so fond of the idea of being absent all semester. So, Grace College adapted a new way of training student teachers involving the practice of co-teaching.  Since this topic is generally new, and altogether misunderstood often, I sat through a training on 6 different effective methods of co-teaching.  Welcome to the modern student teaching experience.  *does a happy dance*


Model 1: One Teach, One Observe
Sounds obvious, but there's something often overlooked:  The "Observer" is not passive.  They are not glancing around and then grading the occasional paper.  Before the lesson, the two teachers meet and discuss what needs to be observed and recorded.  Perhaps a student or group of students' behavior.  Maybe the amount of wait time given before calling an answer.  In my case, use of target language.  As one teacher instructs, the second teacher is actively gathering data on that topic and then both teachers meet later to discuss how that data will change their future teaching.

Model 2: One Teach, One Assist
This time, one is instructing and one is drifting about the room keeping students on task, answering questions as they arise, and doing whatever the first teacher needs them to do in the moment.  In my experience, this is the one most commonly used in our area schools.  Oftentimes, a para-professional or a special education teacher takes the "assist" role for classes with multiple students on their case load. 

Model 3: Alternative Teaching
After the initial lesson has been presented, many times certain students need the topic re-taught or paraphrased one more time.  This model of co-teaching is perfect for that.  First the lesson is taught by one teacher.  Then, the second teacher selects a small group of students and reinforces the lesson in a different way with discussion questions, review and formative assessments.  The first teacher remains with the larger portion of the class that might be able to do work more independently.  For example, this approach might work well if you have students that specifically struggle with reading comprehension.  After an introduction, one teacher takes those lower students out in the hallway and walks them through the questions step by step.  The rest of the class, however, is working in pairs at their own pace with the supervision of the first teacher.

Model 4: Station Teaching
In this model, you divide students into 3 similarly-sized groups.  Your classroom will have 2 stations led by teachers and 1 independently run station.  The best scenario here is that all stations involve different aspects of the same standard or topic.  That way, they are reinforcing each other without depending on the knowledge of the other stations (since each group will do them in different order).

Model 5: Parallel Teaching
If two teachers are teaching simultaneously, and covering the same material, they are essentially parallel teaching.  These teachers may be using slightly different lesson plans, but they are teaching the same lesson overall.  This is best used when interaction with students needs to be at a maximum and therefore the student to teacher ratio should be lowest.  I imagine this could be quite distracting depending on how the physical space in the classroom is divided, but I still think it has its place.  For example, there have been schools who have experienced a lot of success in dividing students into gender-separated classrooms.  With parallel teaching, one teacher could focus on instructing the boys in a way that is appropriate for them, and the other teacher could pull aside the girls.  Or, depending on the standard, the class could be divided into high/low groups and although the teachers go over the same content, they could tailor their questioning to the level of their group.

Model 6: Teaming
This is by far the most challenging way to co-teach.  It must involve two adults who know each other well and work very well together.  In this approach, the teachers essentially divide the instruction and add to, clarify and rephrase each other's thoughts.  So, one teacher may begin the lesson and then the next teacher might jump in with an example she thinks makes the point more comprehensible.  Obviously this approach would need careful planning and communication of expectations, but I could see this model being one of my favorites if I had the right teammate.


Not only are these six expectations that Grace has for its student teachers as they learn from their supervisors, but these methods would also be practical in any classrooms with teaching assistants, paraprofessionals, or two teachers of any kind.  I'm sad to say that I can't imagine many school corporations paying for two teachers to a classroom, and I haven't seen this in action in any foreign language classrooms to date.  However, in my former school there was a growing trend of getting the special needs teachers into the language arts and math classrooms to co-teach with the content area teachers.  Plus, our corporation also had math and language arts coaches at the district level and I could see them coming alongside some classroom teachers in these instances.  Even the history teachers down the hall from me were including some of these practices on their own by occasionally combining their classrooms and teaming up or dividing their joint students into levels and then each taking one half for a more focused lesson.  This could work for teachers who exchange their prep period to help their coworker and then switch the following day....the possibilities are endless if you are willing to get a little creative.

I am excited to see these models in practice as I observe my two student teachers this fall.  And I sincerely hope more veteran and experienced teachers start implementing more of these practices as well...they are ALL designed to benefit students more than one teacher alone.


  1. Looking toward my first experience with a student teacher next semester, this is extremely helpful! I plan on coming back and reviewing this post to familiarize myself with the stages of assisting my student teacher with the transition to being the Adult in the classroom. :) Great explanations, Alison!

  2. I'm so glad you read it and think it's helpful! I'm hoping to get more of the research behind why Grace adopted this was SO well done and explained.


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