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Enhancing Co-teaching for Student Success

By Erica Herro
Enhancing Co-teaching for Student Success

The classroom is close to silent as twenty-four third-grade students work independently in their math books. Silent Solo is written on the board. The classroom is physically set up to easily allow two teachers to circulate amongst the students, each furiously taking observational notes on sticky notes. Whispered voices can be heard punctuating the silence providing immediate feedback to a student error or a student question. The teachers are in regular communication through eye contact, and at about the 10-minute mark, just before the first student has finished the text work, the co-teachers meet to exchange written notes.  

One of the teachers positions herself at the door and calls out six names to come with her. The other teacher directs the students in the room to join her at the carpet for instruction. Within one minute, the small group is comfortably working outside the classroom using manipulatives. It is confirmed later that this is a unique group for that day and that the practice is individualized for each of the students based on the observational notes from the observed independent practice. There is a calm quiet tone with one voice speaking at a time, and no sense of urgency, allowing students plenty of time to think and work out problems, and the ability to ask multiple clarifying questions.

While one teaches, one observes is a common co-teaching model, these co-teachers found that when both teachers observe during independent practice, it facilitates easy implementation of this adapted co-teaching strategy and results in complementary data to inform instruction. The collection of both teacher’s notes allows multiple perspectives on a child’s learning, encourages collegial discussion to benefit student learning, and allows the teachers to get to know their learners better. Combined with an alternative teaching strategy, the small group has focused practice work to improve their skills.

Inside the room, the students are practicing the same academic content, yet in a more abstract format using whole group discussion, pair share, mental math, and visualization. The sound and feel in the larger group are louder and more competitive as the students work through a series of problems together.

As she comes to the end of her group work, the teacher outside the room peeks her head in to see where the group is inside the room. A nod of the head and a hand holding up two fingers signal that it is time for transition. Inside the room, the teacher announces a two-minute warning for transition, as does the teacher to the group outside the room.

Inside the room, the two-minute warning is delivered as an attention-getting command, while outside the room, the two-minute warning is given in a reassuring, calm voice so as not to interrupt the students who are still finishing. It is as if there is a waltz being practiced in the small group and a tango being practiced in the larger group. The dance of transitions, differentiation, and shared space is flawless.

The students come back together with a natural three-minute movement break built in as the class is directed to find their math spots. Additional practice problems are placed on each desk while the students transition to their seats, and now the room is humming with the happy sound of successful students. At the same table, one student is working on a problem to practice what was retaught in the small group and another student is working on a problem that will stretch them to apply what they learned in the larger group. The problems themselves are printed on the same paper, looking the same to the untrained eye.

The co-teachers resume circulating and assess student work at the end of the lesson. They add new data to their understanding of the students in the room and build on successful routines for each child. For those students who require additional practice or who need additional challenges on a concept or a procedure, individualized homework is assigned.

In a coteaching environment, taking observational notes during independent work facilitates differentiation and higher student outcomes. Combining multiple models of co-teaching to match the needs of the co-teachers and the students creates a dynamic classroom that is engaging, encouraging, and effective.



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Erica is the Assistant Head of Lower School at TASIS, The American School in Portugal.

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