Saturday, May 17, 2014

Co-Teaching in Secondary Schools

Teachers co-planning, co-teaching in a grade 7 UGDSB classroom

Imagine a classroom, full of students with a variety of academic, social-emotional, and psychological needs. For many Applied level secondary classrooms in Ontario, this is the reality. Some have formal identifications, some do not.  Students are rarely removed from the classroom for extra support (in many cases, there simply isn't support available). Not only is inclusion of students with identifications the law in Ontario, it is also the morally right thing to do. Segregation of populations is rarely beneficial to anyone.  To encourage student success for all, co-teaching is an effective practice that not only creates a positive environment for student learning, but also promotes highly reflective educators who are engaged in improving their own practice.

Although focused on Minnesota schools, the ideas espoused in “Supporting co-teaching teams in high schools: Twenty research-based practices” (Nierengarten, 2013) apply in Ontario given the focus on integration of students into “regular” classrooms rather than in specialized, withdrawal settings. As an example of the similarities, both jurisdictions have passed legislation for inclusion, both require Individualized Educational Plans for identified students, and both focus on a collaborative approach to providing support for student success. Co-teaching as a strategy would focus on all students in the classroom, not just students who are formally identified, which is fully supported by the Ontario Ministry of Education’s idea of “good for some, great for all”. Co-teaching is defined as “two or more professionals delivering  substantive instruction to a diverse, or blended,    group of students in a single physical space” (Cook & Friend, as cited in Nierengarten, 2013).

At a recent conference, I was able to hear of a successful co-teaching project in Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board, which focused on Applied classes. They were able to create a sustained, supported program which embedded a co-teacher into classes to support the learners and the teacher with literacy. Many of the students were those with IEPs and this enabled the teachers to provide support in a timely and reasonable manner as opposed to having the students withdraw and access help via a resource room teacher. Much of the success of the KPRDSB program (and it wasn’t always successful) was due to careful planning, timetabling (to ensure common planning time), and the support of the administration (at the school and board level), all of which was supported in Neirengarten’s summary of the strategy. Another key part of the strategy is the use of peer coaching and observation between the co-teachers; since the teachers are focused on improving student success for students, they are working to constantly improve their practice through collaborative inquiry. Fundamental to improving outcomes for students with IEPs is ongoing support and professional learning. New technologies, new pedagogies and new understanding of adolescents (brain research continues to evolve our thinking about learning) is leading to exciting changes in secondary schools such as co-teaching.

Nierengarten, G., E.D.D. (2013). Supporting co-teaching teams in high schools: Twenty research-based practices. American Secondary Education, 42(1), 73-83. Retrieved from