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Co-Teaching

Successful co-teaching or team teaching is dynamic, interactive, and engaging for students and instructors.  It provides instructors with a useful way of modeling teamwork and learning across disciplines, and it allows instructors to build and strengthen their "solo" material and style.  To experience the full benefits of team teaching, however, instructors must adjust their course planning, teaching style and classroom management strategies to accommodate a collaborative approach. Flexibility, respect and communication are of paramount importance to successful team teaching. 

1. Plan everything, before, during and after, with your co-teachers (also see Collaboration and Course Planning site)

The key to an effective, team-taught classroom, is to have a successful plan in place regarding every aspect of the class.  Assignments?  Will there be joint assignments or separate assignments or both?  Grading? Will you grade together, or separately.  Alternatively, a little of both?   How and when will that take place?  Classroom management?  What will be your standards with regard to how questions are asked?  Raising hands?  Free for all discussion?  What if one instructor disagrees with something the other instructor says or does?  How, where and when will that be addressed?    

Everything that you do to prepare for your solo classes, you now do with your co-instructors.  All of your solo issues with respect to class management and style now become issues that you discuss and plan together.   The planning is ongoing.  You cannot anticipate everything, and what you think might happen, may not, or may happen differently.  It is crucial to have planning sessions not only before the quarter starts, but also at least weekly throughout the quarter.  Another useful planning session is after the quarter is over while the class is still fresh in your minds - what worked, what did not work, how you would do things differently next time you team-teach. 

2. Be an active participant during all classes, or as many as possible, even when you are not the primary instructor.

It is the best practice for all instructors to be present for all of the classroom instruction.  This provides the most opportunity for the integration of the Content and the Language and Basic Skills instruction.   If this is not possible, other options can enhance the teaming of the experience for instructors and students. Because an I-BEST class necessarily meets several times a day and throughout the week, there needs to be at lest one class period a day, and ideally multiple periods, where all instructors are present.  This provides opportunities for integration and interaction and enhances the presentation of both the content and skills learning.  Even when only one instructor is in the classroom, reference to instruction from the other instructor, and sharing of information or instructions from the missing instructor should be deliberate.   

Incorporating each other's assignments into the classroom is also an effective way to maximize the integration and presence of both instructors in the course, even though only one is present on a particular day.  For example, "Laura" might design a reflection assignment that requires the student to communicate his or her understanding of key concepts after "Joy's" class. "Joy" discusses the reflection assignment prior to the lecture, hands it out after her lecture and the students are to report to "Laura" the next class day.

3. Refer to and incorporate your co-teacher's ideas, modeling the integration of skills and content.

One  purpose of a team-taught course, and the I-Best model, is to push students to achieve higher levels of synthesis and integration as they study the content material and learn the language and basic skills.  One way to teach this synthesis and integration is to model the process by interweaving teaching partners' perspectives into each presentation.  A good example of this is for each instructor to acknowledge and reference the other instructor's knowledge and teaching. This might include referring to something they heard or saw while the other was "on stage" as they present their own instruction.  It also is reflected when the content instructor, for example, uses language and presentation ideas that come about during the Basic Skills instruction. 

This practice shows respect for each other's ideas and keeps students interested and engaged in all aspects of the course material.   Giving students the opportunity to observe integration in action helps, them better understand instructors' expectations, as well as improve their own learning outcomes.

4. All instructors need to participate in the classroom, even when they are not in charge.

When both instructors are in class, the ideal co-teaching model, there will be times that require just one teacher to be speaking or otherwise engaging the class.  The instructor who is not presenting still has an opportunity to help students better understand the material.  One method is to sit in class and offer clarification or request clarification during the other's presentation or lecture, taking the part of a teaching assistant or lead student.  Particularly with the Basic skills instructor, it is important to identify comprehension areas that are confusing or need further clarification. 

Other suggestions for different roles the non-presenting teacher can play include  "modeling learning" where the instructor asks questions and otherwise contributes to discussion; "observer," in which the instructor takes notes and gauges student response to the presentation; "discussion leader," in which the instructor facilitates or leads break-out groups.

Of course, all of these participation methods should be discussed ahead of time as part of planning.  This maximizes the effectiveness of the participation.  The instruction is both the presentation by one teacher and the participation by the other, a model of the integration of the skills and content. 

For a demonstration of an integrated lecture, click here.

5. Apply common grading standards.

To the extent possible, it is important for instructors to have mutually agreed-upon standards with respect to grading.  A shared assignment with grading contributed by all instructors is ideal.   It is best to be as explicit as you can about how you want to grade. To ensure fairness in grading, some instructors design a specific grading rubric, tailored to the needs of a team-taught course.

6. Have weekly staff meetings with all instructors.

This is discussed under Collaboration and Course Planning, but it deserves mentioning again.  In addition to increased preparation time, successful team teaching also requires ongoing meetings among instructors to review and reassess the goals for the course. For many team teachers, meetings become the testing ground for the instruction they present in class. Meetings allow instructors time to plan upcoming courses, but also to reflect upon their progress thus far, and to compare their impressions regarding student response and engagement.  It is important to have regular class meetings and review what has worked and not worked, and then to plan ahead based on these past observations.

7. Encourage student participation and speaking.

Team teaching can have a highly positive impact on student learning outcomes in an I-BEST class.  This is achieved with increased opportunity for student participation, the depth of classroom time with teachers and students providing a cohort group of support, and the successful integration of language and education skills with content.

Collaborative teaching necessarily invites students to take a more active role in the learning process.  To the extent teachers can model interaction among themselves this will encourage students to do so and to feel they can make valuable contributions to class discussions.  Teachers need to make a conscious effort from the beginning of the quarter to create a learning environment where students are encouraged to speak.   This is so important in a class where speaking and understanding language and basic skills are an inherent part of the instruction. 

8. Be prepared to be surprised; flexibility is key.

Part of the challenge of team teaching is putting yourself in a position where your own authority and expertise on a certain topic may have to take a backseat. Faculty must make the shift from being "experts" to being "expert learners," for in the collaborative classroom, teachers and students join in a shared process of intellectual discovery.

Think of this not as giving up control, but rather re-focusing on student needs and setting your teacher's ego aside.

9. Respect your team, and the subjects each of you are teaching.

In an I-BEST class, students are learning about language, basic skills, communication and a particular content area.  Each of these subjects and each of these instructors share equal importance.  Show respect to the subjects as well as the teachers.  You are a team. 

 

Many of these ideas and concepts are taken from an article on Team Teaching  by Melissa C. Leavitt, Ph.D., academic staff - Teaching Fellow in the Stanford Program in Writing and Rhetoric. It first appeared in the newsletter: Speaking  of Teaching, Center for Teaching and Learning, Stanford University - Fall, 2006, Vol. 16, No.1, produced by the Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning.
The use of these materials for this site on team teaching are done so with permission.