By: Emily Raasch and Sean Fleming, Colegio FDR, Lima
What is Co-Teaching?
Teaching can be a lonely profession. Not, though, when you are co-teaching. When two or more teachers work together the outcome can be outstanding! Co-teaching allows two teachers to work together in the same room at the same time for the benefits of all the students. Many authors have explored the various models (see Marilyn Friend) such as, One Teach/ One Watch and Team Teaching. During October and November of 2017 Ms. Emily Raasch, 8th grade ELA teacher and Mr. Sean Fleming, EAL teacher, co-taught an 8th grade Narrative writing unit at Colegio Roosevelt. The outcomes were outstanding.
To begin the unit on narrative writing we gave the students a pre-assessment. Without giving them too much information nor reminding them of what they might include, we asked them to write a narrative that had a problem and a solution. The goal was to see what they know on their own. After the assessment, we collected the writing and charted what they could do, again, on their own. To create the chart we asked, “Do they show evidence of the area: yes (√), no (-) or sort of (~)?”
With the results in hand, we created a series of lessons to address needed areas. Most areas needed instruction. Ms. Raasch and Mr. Fleming planned the lessons together and we joined our resources. For the mini-lessons we were both up front in a team teaching format. Mr. Fleming presented most of the writing lessons (Ms. Raasch had presented most of the reading lessons) with the support of Ms. Raasch. In this way, Ms. Raasch could add commentary and details as she noticed where students needed more support. When Ms. Raasch presented, Mr. Fleming added details to support Ms. Raasch and the students’ understanding. This is one of the benefits of co-teaching: more eyes in the classroom for more noticing and better teaching. This allowed us to adjust our instruction mid-stream.
While there is magic in sharing the stage with a colleague, the real magic comes in the personalized instruction that the students received as they worked. With two teachers in the room we were able to hold twice as many conferences with students. We frequently checked in with students to guide their thinking as they wrote. The goal, of course is to teach the writer and not the writing. We wanted our coaching to encourage thinking that students could use in all their writing. Instead of coaching about the mood of this story we coached for ways authors create mood, giving students a tool they could use. Instead of asking for more description about a specific scene or a character in this story, we used examples to show how authors describe scenes and character. While we want this piece of writing to improve, the larger goal is to give students more tools for all writing.
During the class period after the publishing party, students created a list of ideas that they had learned in the narrative writing unit. We then presented the students with a prompt and asked them to write a narrative.
Not only did the students produce some wonderful narratives that we coached them on, but the difference between the pre-test and the post-test were amazing. Most stunning was the use of paragraphs to divide ideas and the use of dialogue to forward the plot and provide characterization. They learned what we taught.
Yes, there are still challenges and no, the writing was not perfect. Many of the skills they learned and freely demonstrated without coaching, though, are skills that can be applied in other writing situations. Creating strong beginnings, thorough descriptions, and relevant evidence are skills that can be applied in new situations. We will see if that happens as we begin Opinion writing next week.
We also noticed that now, when given the choice between independent “free” reading and “free” writing, the majority choose writing. This was not the case before this writing unit; before this unit students would only read during choice time and only write if required to do so.
Another gain, though not quantifiable, is the relationships that we built with the students. Both of us noticed more communication with students inside and outside of class. As we conferenced with the students in class they became more comfortable asking questions about their writing; they began to see themselves as writers.
The Co-Teaching Relationship
We must also mention the relationship we developed with each other as co-teachers. We trust each other completely. As we work together we know that the floor is open for each of us to contribute to the lessons as-we-go, much as the commentator might add details, “color” to the sports announcer. The best planned lessons can be improved. Having two brains and four eyes makes that happen. Additionally, our ongoing work has become a continuous professional development session for both of us. Daily we learn from each other as we watch the teaching and the conferring. We bounce ideas and questions around and try new solutions. This type of PD is priceless!
As we move forward to the next unit we still have challenges. The biggest challenge is time for planning. In a busy school with a thousand moving parts and changing schedules, we work hard to find time to plan together; the less time we find, the less cohesive our teaching. We have found that using online documents helps a great deal. We are still getting better at conferencing/ and coaching (a forever process). It is tempting to coach the writing but that is a short-term solution. We work toward coaching the writer in ways that will transfer to other writing. We want to build capacity in our students much in the same way we are building capacity in each other.
We do this work because we know the benefit of co-teaching!