November 17, 2017

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A Prime Co-Teaching Opportunity

 

Jones coteaching

The author, left, co-teaching a class.

Collaboration.

It’s a word that’s always thrown around in professional development discussions. The concept sounds simple enough, and I thought I had a handle on it. Turns out,  I never really understood how to best collaborate.

When I was an elementary school librarian, I asked teachers to meet with me. We discussed what they were teaching. Then I would go back into the library and plan future lessons for the students. Later, I would present these lessons in the library, without the presence of the classroom teacher.

I considered this effective collaboration at the time.

A new opportunity

I learned that my district, which did not have secondary teacher librarians, was redefining that role, renamed research technology specialist—and I was one of the first teachers hired. Currently, an additional such position is posted for the 2016–17 school year.

A research technology specialist is only required to have teaching certification and experience with research and technology. A MLS, though recommended, is not mandatory.

With that new position, I moved from a fixed-schedule library, where I had classes come to me on set days and times, in an elementary school, to an office beside the library at a combined middle and high school. Most of the time, though, I’m co-teaching lessons in classrooms. The library itself is on a flexible schedule, with teachers scheduling sessions at their discretion, and is staffed by a classified professional.

This new staffing structure required that I integrate the research and technology skills into the curriculum and work closely with staff during this process. This new position expanded my views of teaching, thinking, planning. I began to rethink how a 21st century librarian should collaborate.

Collaboration feels very different without predictable library classes containing the same students. My challenges soon became clear.

Identifying likely partners

Gary Hartzell’s Building Influence for the School Librarian: Tenets, Targets, & Tactics Lists (Linworth, 2003) recommends building good working relationships with the following: new teachers, veteran teachers new to your school, teachers whose assignment has been radically changed, and teachers taking part in school-wide change.

In order to establish relationships, I ate lunch with the staff and was sure to be present in the hallway. I asked teachers in person if I could observe them and their classes in action. (Emails did not get much response, probably because of the number of emails teachers receive.)

Finding out what research projects were planned

To find out more, I accessed curricula online. Being able to review the curriculum for all subjects helped me narrow down what research projects were being conducted in my school. The curriculum’s scope and sequence gave me the short version of topics. Also, I asked students what research projects they remembered from previous years, to help narrow down specific teachers to speak to in person.

What then?

I had a list of possible staff members to collaborate with, and a good idea of the research projects in the pipeline. But I wasn’t sure what to do next.

I decided to begin by introducing the resources available to students in our district. I asked the teachers on my list for one period of class time to teach a lesson.

I wound up hammering out a co-teaching arrangement with both the humanities teacher and the world history teacher. I would rotate, spending half the class period in humanities and the second half in world history.  While the classroom teachers were the authorities in their respective subject areas, I could bring my expertise in best practices for researching and creating the projects. As Stacy Cameron, coordinator of library and media services at Frisco Independent School District in Frisco, TX, said in a webinar, “Co-teaching is a deeper level of collaboration. Each member of the co-teaching team brings her own level of expertise.”

A tech tool smooths the way

The teachers and I began analyzing technology tools available to our district in order to be able to communicate outside our face-to-face meetings. At first, we shared a resource where we kept important documents (meeting minutes, emails, calendars, directions, PowerPoints). But we wanted to be able to edit each other’s documents and leave comments on each other’s lessons whenever it was convenient for each of us individually. Our planning needed to be able to continue even when we couldn’t all meet up.

Microsoft OneNote‘s ability to have multiple people working on different aspects of each lesson in the research process solved that problem of continuity. The lessons’ transitions flowed from one skill to another, making the lesson easier for the students to understand. OneNote also allowed teachers to differentiate the lessons for each class and student based on individual needs.

Co-teaching models

Every teacher, research project, and lesson is going to lead to a different form of co-teaching. If you and the classroom teacher discuss a co-teaching model and classroom management expectations before you start teaching, the lesson will run smoother. Here are the seven models of co-teaching from the Teacher Quality Enhancement Center at St. Cloud (MN) State University:

  1. One Teach, One Observe: One teacher has primary responsibility while the other gathers specific observational information on students or the (instructing) teacher.
  2. One Teach, One Assist: One teacher has primary instructional responsibility while the other assists students with their work, monitors behaviors, or corrects assignments.
  3. Parallel Teaching: Each teacher instructs half the students. The two teachers are addressing the same instructional material and presenting the material using the same teaching strategy.
  4. Supplemental Teaching: This strategy allows one teacher to work with students at their expected grade level, while the other teacher works with those students who need the information and/or materials retaught, extended, or remediated.
  5. Station Teaching: The co-teaching pair divides the instructional content into parts. Each teacher instructs one of the groups; groups then rotate or spend a designated amount of time at each station. Often an independent station will be used along with the teacher-led stations.
  6. Alternative Teaching: This strategy provides two different approaches to teaching the same information. The learning outcome is the same for all students. However, the avenue for getting there is different.
  7. Team Teaching: The lesson exhibits an invisible flow of instruction with no prescribed division of authority. From a student’s perspective, there is no clearly defined leader. Both teachers share the instruction, are free to interject information, and available to assist students and answer questions.

After trying most of these models, I found that “Team Teaching” was the most effective. It created a respectful classroom community. Studies have shown that students learn and “imitate cooperative and collaborative skills” from observing how “teachers share ideas, work cooperatively, and contribute to one another’s learning,” says Richard Villa, Jacqueline Thousand, and Ann Nevin in A Guide to Co-Teaching (Corwin, 2004). Co-teaching also allows students more time to work because they spend less time waiting for teacher attention.

Round two!

During our second year collaborating, we structured projects to be student led and utilizing OneNote. Students were given four sections: information, workspace, research help, and research steps. Students could work at their own pace, allowing for differentiated one-on-one support.Jones w student

I quickly realized that in order to make sure students were comprehending research and technology skills, I needed to be part of conferencing, review student’s work throughout the process, and read their essays. By dividing the class in half (half assigned to me and half assigned to the classroom teacher), we were able to provide more immediate feedback and focus on students who were struggling. Students not meeting deadlines conferenced more frequently than those who were showing they were successful in researching. After school, students were more easily able to receive extra help because there were two teachers available.

Providing timely feedback for every step of the process for all students, though, proved near impossible. Each student received a partner (a “critical friend”) for the entire project. Every research day, the students met with their critical friends, who reviewed their work, for the last 10 minutes of class.

Reflection

Not only is it essential to reflect on student work, but also on the co-teaching process. Schedule time to think about the first co-teaching lesson: What went well and what might change for the next project? Student feedback will also help guide your steps in future projects. Although co-teaching and collaboration takes considerable effort, the classroom teacher, students, and you will benefit and grow from the experience.


Tara N. Jones entered the education field as an English teacher before getting her Masters of Library Science Degree. She is now research technology specialist in a 6th–12th grade school in Bellevue, WA.

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Comments

  1. Belinda says:

    I would like to correspond with the author, Tara Jones.
    Thank you!