"Accomplished teachers of students with exceptional needs work independently and collaboratively with colleagues and others to advance knowledge, policy, and practice in their field." (NBPTS)
This year our school began the full-inclusion model for special education services. For the first time in my career, I have the opportunity to teach as a team with a colleague. The following journal entry is a reflection of the beginning of my study of co-teaching models as well as the beginning of my own experience with co-teaching. My co-teacher and I also took this opportunity to create a staff development workshop. Reflections on Team Teaching My co-teacher and I discovered that we would be working together on the first day of school. Since then, we have been alternating between lead and support teaching and team teaching, to the extent that we can call it that while planning on the fly. For five years we have worked together to support students who have IEP’s and received services in her regular education English class and in my tutoring group. We have similar backgrounds with undergraduate degrees in English, and are both working on advanced degrees in education. We share a similar philosophy of education and a commitment to all students.
We decided to use team teaching to approach this lesson in reading comprehension and applications. Though the 9th graders have a strong background in literature due to outstanding district reading teachers, we expected that there would be a great deal of difficulty with this lesson given the higher level vocabulary, the taxonomy level of the questions, and the novel itself. In team teaching we had an ulterior motive as well; we wanted to be sure that students viewed us as a united front from the beginning.
The students joined enthusiastically in the opening discussion of freedom and independence. Most of them reported how many days until they have a driver’s license. When Ms. Wolfe guided the conversation to make a connection between our lives and the main character of Anthem, the students offered examples from the text of the characters’ freedom-seeking behavior. The teacher encouraged students to extend the text by asking what they would do in Equality 72521’s place. Some student responses indicated a better understanding of the text than do others.
The next step of this lesson sets up the arrangement for group work. I gave instructions for the roles and for the expectations of the assignment. The assignment consists of three parts—content and application questions from the novel, a thematic search requiring supportive quotes from the text, and a question about the title of the novel. Ms. Wolfe reviewed the group-work grade rubric. At this point 20 minutes remained in the lesson time. The students took up their roles in the group with ease; they are familiar with the set-up. However, the content gave them problems as expected.
Ms. Wolfe and I walked from group to group responding to questions. We found ourselves re-teaching more than we had anticipated, but the opportunity lent itself well to the team teaching structure. Group members could ask the same question of both of us and get a broader explanation. They had one teacher’s undivided attention for as long as necessary to move forward in the assignment.
The greatest difficulty that the students presented was not as much in answering the questions as in the second step—documenting specific quotes from the text. For example, I found students flipping backward and forward through the entire novel to locate a specific incident. Fortunately, I was carrying my copy of the novel with me. In this “teachable moment”, I showed them that I had marked in the margins of my book. I modeled aloud how I would read a passage and then think, still aloud, about its themes or connections. Then I jot a note to myself. I showed them markings such as “freedom,” and “sin.” In addition, for struggling learners I asked them to retell the story aloud, looking for the part that they recalled, but could not find in the text. When they came to the desired passage, I asked them to think about where they were in the timeline, at the beginning, middle, or end of the novel. This helped the search to be more manageable for some students.
The students were not able to complete this work in one class period, so it continued into the next, and again to the next day. We were interrupted many times for pictures for various sports teams, but it is clear the additional time spent on this skill of accessing the text had enormous value. The students’ responses were mostly exemplary in that they represented a higher level of understanding of the text than had been evident on the first day. Now that we know how much time students need to develop and practice the skill of searching the text and documenting it as a source, we will plan differently in the future. This same lesson will be divided into two lessons, but they will be taught consecutively. We do not want to loose the congruity of documenting the text to the writing process. Overall, this lesson was successful as an exercise in team teaching and in meeting the goal of student understanding of text as a resource.
Ms. Wolfe and I have worked together on a department-level collaboration group this year. We invited teachers in our group, language arts and social sciences, to observe in our classroom several times. We are currently the only teachers in our high school using a co-teaching model, and our purpose is to demonstrate the practices and to encourage others to plan lessons and work together. In addition to our classroom demonstrations, we lead question and answer sessions on the topic for our team members, share articles and other resources, and facilitate team planning. Some teachers are earning continuing education credits based on this experience.