Co-teaching: When, why, and how should coaches use it?
Are your teachers challenging themselves on their remote coaching videos? Although you won’t be in the room to conduct traditional co-teaching sessions, the principles of co-teaching can still be helpful when accomplished through Skype or phone calls. Have an instructional planning session with a teacher for an activity that is new or challenging. Give examples of how you would activate prior knowledge and capture the interest of students, and model how you would communicate the objective and step-by-step breakdown of the activity. Follow up with the virtual “side-by-side” coaching you’ve mastered with video editing.
A reality of early childhood education is that teachers come to TSR with remarkably varying skill levels, and each educator may have a wide range in his or her own quality of practice, depending on the subject area. As coaches, it’s important to adjust coaching strategies to account for these variations, especially when you’d like to see greater improvement in your teachers.
This is where co-teachn. Co-teaching is best used when faced with a steep learning curve—when the teacher is at a lower skill level and is engaging in an instructional strategy or activity with a higher difficulty level (e.g., shared writing exercises). Remember, it is not uncommon that lessons with the most powerful contributions to school readiness may be the most difficult lessons for a teacher to instruct. Co-teaching is an excellent way to bridge large gaps between skill level and quality of practice.
Co-teaching is a process that combines other mentoring strategies such as instructional planning, modeling, side-by-side coaching, and reflective questioning to provide teachers with a rich learning opportunity and high levels of support. The benefits of co-teaching cannot be over-emphasized. When specific instructional practices are modeled by coaches in an authentic classroom context, the teacher has a clearer understanding of her behavioral expectations and is given a standard to emulate. This in turn raises the comfort level of the teacher for practicing and utilizing those instruction techniques without support.
What does co-teaching look like?
Arguably the most important stage of co-teaching, during instructional planning the coach and the teacher sit down for an intentional strategizing session, mapping out the goals, objectives, and steps of an activity. This is an opportunity for the coach to explain the rationale and structure of the co-teaching model, and certain details can be agreed upon. For example:
What instructional behaviors and skills can the teacher try independently before the co-teaching session?
What specific skills should the children practice with this activity (letter knowledge, print concepts, e.g.), and what will be the assessment goals related to those skills?
How many lesson cycles will the coach perform before the teacher steps in?
What should the teacher be doing at each stage of the coach’s modeling (watching, helping, e.g.)?
What will be the coach’s cue for the teacher to continue the lesson on his or her own?
With the children gathered, the coach should begin the activity as if it were his or her own classroom. Activating prior knowledge, explaining the activity’s objective, and sparking children’s interest will set the stage for the lesson while the teacher observes.
The coach will introduce the material and the specific expectations for the children to complete the activity, and then move into presenting the activity in a step-by-step process that he or she verbalizes as each step is performed. The coach continues to break down the lesson into smaller pieces with heavy verbalization. For example, “I will put the uppercase ‘D’ in this box, and then I will put the number ‘3’ in this box. . . .” During this time the teacher is still observing the coach.
The coach encourages students to gradually begin to participate in the activity. The coach should scaffold the children as needed, and clear up any mistakes or confusion the children may be signaling about the activity and its objectives. As agreed upon in the initial instructional planning, the teacher should start helping the coach after one or two cycles of the activity—for example, by choosing a child to participate, writing on the board, or speaking aloud key words or phrases as directed by the activity.
After the agreed upon number of lesson cycles, instruction should be transitioned over to the teacher, and the coach continues by giving the teacher cues, hints, and visual or verbal prompts (side-by-side coaching), as needed. The coach should also encourage and scaffold the teacher during this time to build confidence. At this point, the teacher should be fairly comfortable with the activity and instructional techniques the coach has modeled. The rest is practice!
A summary of the activity’s objectives should always be included in the instructional plan to help children recognize and solidify the skills they practiced. The teacher should be prepared to bring the lesson to a close, but the coach will continue to provide side-by-side assistance to ensure a quality wrap-up session. The teacher should also provide materials in the center for independent practice.
Think about where your teachers struggle, and, if you haven’t already done so, begin using co-teaching. Vary your co-teaching support to include different instructional contexts such as whole group, small group, and center time. The goal of the co-teaching model is for teachers to become independent of their coaches—to implement instructional practices at a high-quality level and to continually improve their practices with confidence.
- Reminder: Complete the MOY COT by Monday, March 17
- Join us for the next Lunch and Learn Call on Friday, March 21 from 12:30-2:00 PM
- The Incentive Pay Progress Reports completion date is Friday, March 28
- The deadline for Co-Teaching Collaborative Calls #2 is Monday, March 31
- Listen to TSR Director April Crawford discussing pre-k on the radio!
- From all the TSR staff, we hope you have a wonderful Spring Break!