What Are Co-Teaching Best Practices?
Co-teaching is the strategy of having two instructors in the same class to provide extra content, student assistance, and support.
As a result, co-teaching is becoming one of the most popular teaching strategies across the United States, especially as IEPs become more common.
Co-teaching has been proven to help students in at least three big areas:
- Improved teacher-student attention
- Shared instructor expertise and responsibility
- Improved student achievement, in general
So how can you use co-teaching to bring those benefits into your classroom?
You just have to know co-teaching best practices!
6 Co-Teaching Best Practices
Co-teaching best practices are organized into six main strategies.
All of these strategies are based on one simple idea: Two teachers help students learn more effectively than one.
With that in mind, you can approach co-teaching in one (or several) of the following ways:
- Team teaching
- Parallel teaching
- One teaching, one assisting
- One teaching, one observing
- Station teaching
- Alternative teaching
We’ll start with the easiest strategies to understand and implement. Then, we’ll wrap up with the most complex ideas about co-teaching.
To kick it off, we’ll take a look at team teaching!
1. Team Teaching
Team teaching is a highly-organized approach to education in which two teachers talk about a subject at the same time or “tag team” with each other.
This requires teachers who work phenomenally well together. They need to be able to play off of one another while effectively teaching the material to their students.
Generally, team teaching is split into two sub-strategies:
- Simultaneous teaching
- Tag team teaching
Simultaneous teaching means two teachers at the front of the class guiding students through the materials.
This is a fairly common method of team teaching that you may have already experienced. Basically, teachers jump in and out of a presentation or lecture to complement the other teachers’ statements.
“Tag team” teaching means one instructor explains an entire concept before trading off with another teacher.
This second method is very similar to presentations you may have seen that include multiple presenters.
One teacher has a specific role or area of expertise, and another teacher has a complementary skillset or knowledge base that lets them give students the full vision of a certain subject.
You could also try team teaching with more than two teachers, but that can become much more complicated.
We recommend at least starting with two teachers before expanding, if that’s on your radar.
That way, you’ll be able to establish a process with two teachers before adding a new layer of complexity.
2. Parallel Teaching
Parallel teaching requires two teachers to break the class into separate, planned groups.
These groups typically include students who learn at faster paces and others who learn at slower paces.
The teachers present the same materials, but they may take more time to take questions from one group than the other.
You may also choose to vary the teaching strategies for each group, like using lecture for one and hands-on activities for the other.
Either way, both teachers are teaching the same material — they’re just focused on smaller groups of students!
3. One Teaching, One Assisting
One teaching, one assisting is a co-teaching plan in which one teacher takes the lead to cover a lesson while the second teacher moves around the classroom to help students who are running into trouble.
You may have used this co-teaching strategy already. It’s exceptionally common in elementary and middle schools, but it’s becoming more common in high schools as well.
The point is to give the “teaching” teacher the best opportunity to keep the class on track.
Then, the “assisting” teacher gives individual attention to students who need it.
Sometimes, the “assisting” teacher may be a teacher’s aide. But the principle of this co-teaching strategy remains the same.
By doing this, you keep your curriculum on track for completion by the end of your marking period, and you also help the students who need special attention.
It may feel a little strange at times to have one teacher patrolling for questions while the other instructs, but it’s a system that works well for an enormous variety of classrooms.
4. One Teaching, One Observing
One teaching, one observing is a co-teaching strategy in which one teacher instructs the class while the other takes notes on how the students respond to the instruction.
This is key to teachers who want to improve their curriculum or prepare for professional observation in the future.
It also gives the students an opportunity to have a third-party “voice” in the classroom.
For example, the instructing teacher may be used to getting lots of questions during his or her lecture.
But they may not always realize how similar or connected those questions are.
The observing teacher, on the other hand, is entirely dedicated to noticing details like that.
They can record how many students asked questions, which questions were related, and even their interpretation on student engagement levels.
With that information, the instructing teacher can get concrete ideas on what they can do to improve for the next session or marking period.
5. Station Teaching
Station teaching is the strategy of having multiple teachers in a classroom with specialized areas that are dedicated to teaching one concept. Then, students rotate to these different stations to build their knowledge.
This co-teaching strategy works exceptionally well for hands-on activities, especially those that you may find in health science classes.
Want to demonstrate how to perform CPR? Set up a station with a certified instructor and a dummy.
Is it time to show students how to prep for a stick during your phlebotomy class? Set up a station!
You can apply this to business education, career readiness, and other classes as well.
You can use mock interview stations in a career readiness course.
You can have an accounting or payroll station in your business education class.
At the end of the day, most classes, subjects, and CTE pathways all come down to performing a task or using that task to learn more.
When you do that, it’s just a matter of time, setup, and participation before you can use station teaching in your classroom!
6. Alternative Teaching
Alternative teaching is a hybrid co-teaching concept that requires one teacher to instruct most of the class while the second teacher instructs a more specialized group of students.
That group may be determined by engagement, learning levels, or even best learning abilities (like hands-on, reading, listening, etc.).
Regardless of the grouping criteria, the smaller group gets more specialized instruction that’s slightly different from what the larger group gets.
The goal of this co-teaching strategy is to accommodate groups of students who have the same learning abilities.
That means your class won’t always be split right down the middle with alternative teaching.
Instead, it’ll give you the opportunity to present more focused and specific information in a certain way that’ll resonate with your students best.
However, it’s important to note that alternative teaching runs the risk of creating a stigma in your classroom.
It’s all too easy for students — especially younger students — to perceive smaller groups as “dumb” or “slow.”
In fact, this is a stigma that career and technical education (CTE) is still fighting against to this day.
It takes a moment for the stigma to be created, and it can take years to make it go away.
With that in mind, we don’t recommend using alternative teaching as your first co-teaching strategy.
Instead, use it in conjunction with other strategies or only when it’s absolutely appropriate.
Otherwise, the social stigma you create can easily distract from the education you’re giving your students!
The Simplest Way to Co-Teach: Digital Curriculum
Wouldn’t co-teaching be easier if you could click a few buttons and share everything you need with the other instructors?
Finally, that’s an option!
With AES’s digital curriculum systems, you can collaborate with other teachers to figure out the best way to teach your students.
Don’t want to use a computer? No problem!
Our digital curriculum comes with plenty of printable sheets, lessons, and presentations — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
Learn more about digital curriculum today!