Monday, October 1, 2012

One hour, three people, four groups: Making co-teaching work

Right now, we've come up with a very workable arrangement for our co-teaching class. It's a model that works well and limits the number of transitions. This arrangement needs one hour in which 3 people are available to share a class. Right now, it works wonderfully because I have a student teacher. Later in the school year...well, I won't worry about that for now.

One of my problems with the standard model of guided reading is the amount of time that students spend left to their own devices. There are many students who can manage this, and succeed very well. However, for struggling readers, forty-five minutes of independent work can leave them spinning their wheels instead of moving forward.

Last year, when there were three of us working with one class, we tried using three sessions. But this led to too many transitions. Parallel teaching, in which the same lessons are delivered in different groups, left us feeling even more fragmented. We wanted some feeling of together-ness, that feeling of "our class" and not "my group, your group."

So we came up with this arrangement. It works well and targets support at the kids who really need it.

Divide the class into four groups. 
We used a combination of assessment tools to do this. We've come up with two groups that are intensive and two groups that are strategic. For the sake of discussion, let's call the groups North, South, East, and West.

Begin the class with independent reading.
With kids arriving from different classes, it's important to have a calm, quiet routine for the start of class. We use the 10 minutes at the start to share information and (when all is well) listen in on readers and maintain a robust independent reading program.

The hour block is broken into 2 sessions. 
Teacher A: One teacher devotes planning and instruction to core instruction. This teacher creates a half-hour lesson to present two times during the hour long block--once to groups North and East, and once to groups South and West. This lesson is focused on using grade level text and grade level curriculum. With only 12-15 kids in the session, Teacher A can focus on really working deeply with the core text and grade level activities. When I teach the core, I have kids sitting on the carpet with clipboards, pencils, and partners.
Teacher B: This teacher alternates between seeing North and South on one day, and East and West on the other. This teacher focuses on guided reading with leveled text at the groups' instructional levels.
Teacher C: This third teacher could follow two pathways. In one scenario, Teachers B and C would both run guided reading groups, enabling all readers to have guided reading every day. In the other scenario (which we are using right now), Teacher C does word work related to the core reading selection. I'll be Teacher C in the next few weeks. Our phonics and fluency screenings show that our kids need intensive work on word recognition and multisyllabic words. I'm going to work on these topics using words and sentences that I am pulling from our grade level core texts. I'll work a few days ahead, giving kids the word background they need to be more successful with the grade level text.

Meet up again for the last 5 minutes
After the 60-minute block, kids return to my classroom. This regrouping time really is just our chance to make sure that folders are returned, books are put away, and so forth. I like to put up something fun on the Promethean board during this time--lately the kids have been loving the Scholastic book trailers available here. Sometimes I show YouTube videos related to our core reading selection. I keep this time relaxed and light-hearted to end on a high note every day.

Don't do this every day
I hate teaching plans that require superhuman concentration and stamina. When I get that breathless, overwhelmed feeling, I know that I'm not being as effective as I can be. On one day out of the cycle, we go to the computer lab for Study Island games and other computer-based practice. This gives us a chance to do progress monitoring and assessments without sacrificing instruction. We can also sit together for a few minutes in the lab to share student work and make plans for the next cycle.

Other notes
-Writing and spelling are taught outside of these sessions.
-All of us teaching the class eat lunch together every day and work really closely together. I think that this is important, but not essential. What is essential is that we all share a feeling of joint responsibility for the class (and for talking each other off the ledge!)

How do you make co-teaching work at your schools?

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