Two heads are better than one.
That old proverb sums up the co-teaching movement utilized in some Sauk Prairie School District classrooms, and it’s become a philosophy for Tower Rock Elementary School reading interventionist Claire Fallon.
“Research has shown that even just a different person restating what the first person said can help increase learning in students,” she said.
Fallon said the method can benefit all students, not just those who would have been asked to leave the classroom for an academic intervention in the past.
Doug Yost, Sauk Prairie schools executive director of special education, defined co-teaching as “two or more professionals delivering instruction to a diversified student body in a single, physical space.”
There are six different models. “It depends on the group of students you are working with and what the situation is that you move between the models.”
One approach utilizes a lead teacher and a support teacher. In another, one teaches while another observes. There’s parallel teaching in which the student body is split in half, and station teaching where students move among the teachers. Alternative teaching divides the students into a large and small group. Team teaching, which is most recognized, has two teachers sharing leadership in one classroom.
This works well when a reading or math interventionist works alongside a classroom teacher. “Special education teachers are good at differentiation,” Yost said. “They can help a math or reading teacher find a different way to get a concept across.”
Successful co-teaching enables teachers to work together in the same space.
“It builds collaboration and trust between the teachers,” Yost said.
He said the practice requires additional planning and support from the district to be successful, especially with scheduling.
“That’s where I look to myself and my colleagues – we need to be there to provide training, coaching and whatever the teachers feel they are lacking,” Yost said.
For teachers, the benefits come from an extra set of eyes. “We have such a diversified student population that one way of trying to explain something or connect with a student doesn’t always work,” said Grand Avenue Elementary Principal Craig Trautsch. “Having that second teacher there can make a difference in whether a student understands something or not.”
Another benefit can be found when a teacher may be absent, requiring use of a substitute.
“You don’t have that transitional part for the students because the other teacher can step in and lead,” Trautsch said.
Fallon said getting introduced to other teaching models not only helps her grow as a teacher, it builds trust and communication with other teachers. Collaboration also is important. Trautsch said if one teacher is doing the lead teaching and another is there to support, the support teacher can work with students who may need more attention.
“Certain kids might have questions and the lead teacher might not be able to get to everybody,” he explained. “A support teacher can work with those students right in the classroom.”
Yost said co-teaching is not a new technique, but grew in Sauk Prairie after teachers at Grand Avenue Elementary and the middle school sought to utilize the method.
“It’s taken quite a bit of exposure and staff development,” Yost said. “Recently it’s become a real grass roots effort in south-central Wisconsin.”
He said higher education institutions like the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Edgewood, UW-Milwaukee and UW-Whitewater are utilizing the techniques with future teachers.
“This is part and parcel for the district’s push toward supporting and training staff and giving them the tools to work with all groups,” Yost said.
Fallon said it is a collaborative effort.
“Each teacher comes with their own set of tools in their toolbox,” she said. “With co-teaching we get to share our tools. And I have a very full toolbox.”