Co-Teaching Defined
Two teachers working together with groups of students; sharing the planning, organization, delivery and assessment of instruction, as well as the physical space (Bacharach, Heck and Dank, 2005)

Co-Teaching is not a new phenomenon. Co-Teaching between two licensed teachers began in the early 70’s with the advent of Public Law 94-142 (now IDEA). Co-teaching provided a structure by which a general and special educator could work together (co-teach) to deliver instruction (Cook & Friend, 1995). Co-Teaching between two licensed teachers expanded to include content teachers, various intervention specialists, and multilingual teachers (EL).

This early model of co-teaching has also been applied to the student teaching experience where a cooperating teacher and teacher candidate co-teach in a classroom setting. Early research done at St. Cloud State University, found that K-6 students co-taught in math and reading, by a cooperating teacher and teacher candidate, statistically outperformed students in a classroom with a teacher candidate utilizing a more traditional approach, and outperformed students in classrooms where there was no student teacher (Bacharach, Heck & Dahlberg, 2010).

Click here to download a PDF with more information on the data from this study.

The outcome allowed St. Cloud State University to reexamine their traditional model and provided an innovative and effective model of student teaching. Through co-planning and co-teaching, cooperating teachers allow teacher candidates time to develop and practice all aspects of teaching with help and support. As the experience progresses, pairs seamlessly alternate between leading and assisting with planning, instructing, and assessing. Classroom teachers partner with teacher candidates rather than “giving away” responsibility. Co-teaching pairs are not expected to use co-teaching for every lesson but rather to determine when specific co-teaching strategies would be most useful in assisting student learning.

Qualitative data was collected from cooperating teachers, teacher candidates, and P12 learners involved in the project. Overwhelmingly, all three groups of stakeholders identified positive benefits of a co-teaching model of student teaching (Bacharach, Heck, and Dahlberg; 2010, Heck & Bacharach, 2010).

Co-Teaching Strategies
Adopted and modified from the seven co-teaching strategies put forth by Cook and Friend (1995).

  1. One Teach, One Observe
    One teacher has primary responsibility while the other gathers specific observational information on students or the (instructing) teacher. The key to this strategy is to focus the observation – where the teacher doing the observation is observing specific behaviors.
    Tip: When observing, collect data and/or evidence. Observation is not intended to make judgments, but to provide data on what is happening in the classroom and allow that information to impact future lessons.
  2. One Teach, One Assist
    One teacher has primary instructional responsibility while the other assists students with their work, monitors behaviors, or corrects assignments, often lending a voice to students or groups who would hesitate to participate or add comments.
    Tip: This strategy supports classroom management as students get their questions answered faster and behavior problems are addressed without stopping instruction.
  3. Station Teaching
    Station teaching occurs when the co-teaching pair divides the instructional content into parts. Each teacher instructs one of the groups. The groups then rotate or spend a designated amount of time at each station. Often independent stations are used along with the teacher led stations.
    Tips: Stations cannot be hierarchical students must be able to start at any station. This is an excellent way to utilize smaller groups; it allows the teacher candidate teaching a mini-lesson multiple times, increasing their confidence; and keeps the cooperating teacher actively engaged with students. Other adults (Paraprofessionals, Special Educators, Title I teachers) can also lead stations. Pacing, voice and noise levels must all be discussed prior to the lesson.
  4. Parallel Teaching
    Parallel teaching occurs when the class is divided with each teacher instructing half of the students. However, both teachers are addressing the same instructional material. Both teachers are using the same instructional strategies and materials. The greatest benefit to this method is the reduction of the student to teacher ratio.
    Tips: Place students facing their teacher with backs to the other teacher to reduce distractions. Pacing, voice and noise levels must all be discussed prior to the lesson.
  5. Supplemental Teaching
    This strategy allows one teacher to work with students at their expected grade level, while the other teacher works with those students who need the information and/or materials extended or remediated. Example: Using the results from a math exam, students are divided into two groups. One group that didn’t meet the expected score will work with one teacher who will reteach the concept(s) and provide support materials to help students understand and successfully complete the math problems. The other teacher will work with those students who successfully completed the exam and will build on the same concepts and complete additional math problems.
    Tips: Groupings are based on need identified from a specific exam or assessment. Both teachers should work with all students throughout the experience, making sure that one teacher doesn’t always work with the students who are struggling and/or need extensions. Group make-up should be flexible.
  6. Alternative
    This teaching strategy provides two different approaches to teaching the same information. The learning outcome is the same for all students however the avenue for getting there is different. Example: When doing a lesson on predicting, students will take clues from what they have read so far in a story to predict what will happen next. One teacher may lead a group of students through a brainstorming activity where they identify the significant events that have occurred so far in the story – putting each event on a white board. Based on those significant events the group together brainstorms what will happen next in the story. The other teacher accomplishes the same outcome but with his/her group, the students predict by connecting story events with items pulled out of the bag that relate to the story to help them remember.
    Tips: A great way to incorporate learning styles into lessons. Both instructors need to be clear on the outcome(s) of the lesson, as student should achieve the same objective but arrive there using different methods.
  7. Team Teaching
    Team teaching incorporates an invisible flow of instruction with no prescribed division of authority. Using a team teaching strategy, both teachers are actively involved in the lesson. From the students’ perspective, there is no clearly defined leader – as both teachers share the instruction, are free to interject information, and available to assist students and answer questions. Example: Both instructors share the reading of a story or text so that the students are hearing two voices. The cooperating teacher may begin a lesson discussing specific events and the TC may then share a map or picture showing specifics of the event.
    Tips: Often pairs will begin the experience by team teaching a lesson, providing “face time” in front of the classroom for the teacher candidate. This is much more scripted and staged, but does provide an opportunity for the student to view the teacher candidate as a “real” teacher. Team teaching takes intense planning, but the longer pairs work together the less time it takes as they know what each other is going to contribute.
  8. Combinations and variations
    Merging or combining two or more strategies to better meet the needs of the students in the classroom.
    Tips: used often to differentiate instruction while using one of the strategies; stations that are differentiated by learning goal or need, or parallel where groups are differentiated by learning goal or need.

Keys Elements of Successful Co-Teaching Implementation

  • Partnerships between the university and the school district along with partnerships between those co-teaching are critically important. Partnerships must be collaborative and based on strong communication.
  • Critical to the success of the co-teaching is the preparation of all members of the partnership. First and foremost is the preparation of the members of the team (cooperating teachers/content or grade level teachers, teacher candidates/interventionist, and university supervisors/coaches). Triad members must be provided with foundational information including why they will be co-teaching and the strategies to use.
  • Co-Teaching is not a one shot professional development experience. You cannot simply train your participants and be done – it is an ongoing initiative. Simply stated, if you don’t co-plan, you won’t co-teach. Co-planning must be valued by all participants. Administrators must assist co-teachers in finding a time to co-plan to co-teach.
  • Simply stated, if you don’t co-plan, you won’t co-teach. Co-planning must be valued by all participants. Administrators must assist co-teachers in finding a time to co-plan to co-teach.