Thursday, February 25, 2016

Co-teaching and the start of semester 2

Welp, it's been a month or so since we've been in the full swing of things, and "intense" would be the understatement of the year. As a department, we rolled out a co-teaching model for almost all of the core Math courses this semester, which has created many new opportunities and also, challenges. Here's a quick summary of how we're approaching co-teaching, pros, cons, and next steps/thoughts/questions.

Summary of approach:
The core Math courses we offer follow a Math 1 --> Math 2 --> Math 3 sequence, after which many students will take Calculus (as a new school, we have not yet firmed up all the elective options we would like to eventually offer students concurrently or after the core sequence, but that's a whole other blog post). The way that co-teaching is working this semester is that two classes of the same level are scheduled at the same time in two rooms that have a divider down the middle that can be lowered or raised. There are about 26 - 36 students in each co-taught class with two Math teachers. Each of the rooms has a projector and an Apple TV so that a single computer can project to both classrooms, if desired.

The two or three teachers who teach the same prep meet during a joint planning period for two long blocks and one short block each week. Most of us have two preps, so are attending multiple co-teaching meetings. We also try to carve out a few hours once a month or so for all of the co-teaching teachers to meet and discuss how co-teaching is going overall.

Many more grouping options are now possible than were available in a traditional classroom setting. We have had some success with differentiated groupings based on support level needed (either student-selected or teacher-assigned) and would like to explore other groupings (theoretical vs. applied, review vs. extension, project topic selected, or just interest in a topic... for example, we recently had a class where students could either be audience members for fellow students presenting on their projects or help generate a proof for an earlier topic we hadn't had time to delve into in depth). We like the idea that students can potentially learn in different ways from different teachers and have more options for who to see outside of class for help as well as choice in their groupings. Peer-peer interactions can also be more rich when there are more options of students with whom to interact and there can be a cohort rather than one or two students with a particular need. Curricula are also much more aligned than they were when classes were taught individually since we're planning so much together.

Mainly, the cons are in figuring out how to make the best use of all of the new choices available to us and time to do all of this well. All of the pros above in terms of coordinated planning and differentiated groupings can only be realized with very thoughtful and intentional implementation, which translates into lots of time together... time discussing content/process goals, creating lesson plans, reflecting on those plans, thinking about what work various students did that day and how they received feedback on that work, and how all of these things will inform the next day/week/month.

Next steps/thoughts/questions:

There are so many things left to work out. A big one are the different responsibilities that co-teachers now have and that need to be partitioned: Who will do what during class? Who will take the lead on a particular lesson or do all lessons need to be jointly planned? Who will be responsible for giving feedback to which students and then communicating to the other teacher those student needs and what has been done so far? Who will help to make sure that the administrative stuff necessary for running a class is being done? How will we reflect on co-teaching as a practice systematically in order to learn from this semester and make it better for next year? How will co-teachers interact with each other during class, communicate about changes to the lesson plan, or give each other feedback about the lesson/teaching? And where is all of this time going to magically come from?

One area of huge support has been the hiring of an assistant teacher into our program a few weeks ago. She has already made a huge difference in the level of overwhelmingness we were feeling initially and has been instrumental in being an extra pair of eyes in the classroom, both for student learning and feedback on the lesson, as well as in helping with some of the grading and administrative work. I now understand why co-teaching often involves removing a prep or class from each teacher involved - there is so much more to do now. Trying to do it in addition to full loads for both co-teachers was perhaps a bit rash, and we're so glad to have the extra help now.

Next steps are to make progress in answering some of the questions above, as well as in continuing to play with the various possible groupings to try to harness more of co-teaching's power. It will also be important to get more student input into the process - how do they see this improving their learning and what ideas do they have for creative/new ways of organizing a classroom?

I would love any feedback, suggestions of literature that might be helpful for us, or questions!


  1. Hello Anna Blinstein,

    Great blog, Thanks for sharing with us Pros and Cons, I am math professor, love to help kids in math assignment...!!!

  2. Hi Anna, as a student of educational studies I'm very familiar with the theory of co-teaching. At the moment we are working on a project with alternative teaching methods and I have chosen to focus on co-teaching. Therefore, it is great to read about your practical experience with the topic. The organizational effort is obviously huge and I really appreciate how you are realizing the concept.
    Minimizing the organizational effort seems to be one of the core aims. That's why I'm asking if you have established an optimized system for the diverse interaction of the co-teachers? And how is the feedback of the students?
    Really looking forward to your answer and surely, I can use your experience for my project!

  3. Hi Anna, unfortunately, it seems like you haven't gotten around to read my first comment yet. I will be very happy to hear your suggestions, because I am sure your experience would be very helpful with my work here. I hope to hear from you soon. Thanks in advance!

    1. Sorry for the delayed response in the craziness of the end of the year! Would be happy to chat more off-line, but here are some ways that we systemized interactions between co-teachers and between co-teachers and students:
      1) a spreadsheet where we track students' participation and any other observations a teacher is making on a student
      2) a Google form co-teachers fill out together when we meet to plan twice per week, in which we reflect on students' engagement and learning needs, what has gone well and what needs attention, a reflection on how effectively co-teaching has been used that day/week, and follow-up needs
      3) students were asked to give feedback on their experience with co-teaching in their biweekly reflections several times throughout the semester has the exact wording used in the various Google forms and reflections.

      Students' feedback has been somewhat mixed. I'm going to blog on my reflections from this year, including what students have communicated regarding their experience - will update this comment with the link once that post is up. Thanks for checking back in and reminding me!

  4. Thanks for your answer and suggestions! Sounds like it can really make things easier. Looking forward to your reflections.