The What and Why of Co-Teaching

Co-teaching is an expensive way to run an academic program. When you consider the most costly factors in operating a school, your “people” represent the greatest percentage of the expense. Most schools market themselves with slogans such as “small classes,” “dedicated teachers,” and “state-of-the-art facilities.” Of course, these are nice to have, and TASIS Portugal has them; however, in most cases, they do not directly contribute to the quality of learning.

Take small classes, for example. The conclusion reached from a multitude of studies on learning outcomes and class size does not suggest that students in smaller classes learn more. In fact, the sweet spot seems to be around 22 students. Only beyond this number does learning seem to decrease (J. Hattie, 2008). With this research in mind, TASIS Portugal decided to have classes of 22 students; however, in the elementary school, we added two teachers to each class. We doubled down on the research with a goal to squeeze even more learning out of the group. We believe this allows for the best learning environment possible.

Our co-teachers can elect to operate in several different modes*:

1. One Teach, One Observe: One of the advantages of co-teaching is that teachers can get more detailed observations of students engaged in the learning process. With this approach, for example, co-teachers can decide in advance what types of specific observational information to gather during instruction and agree on a system for gathering the data. Afterward, the teachers should analyze the information together.

2. One Teach, One Assist: In a second approach to co-teaching, one person retains primary responsibility for teaching while the other circulates through the room, providing unobtrusive assistance to students as needed.

3. Parallel Teaching: On occasion, student learning is greatly facilitated with more supervision by the teacher or with more opportunities to respond. In parallel teaching, the teachers both cover the same information, but they divide the class into two groups and teach simultaneously.

4. Station Teaching: In this co-teaching approach, teachers divide content and students. Each teacher teaches the content to one group and subsequently repeats the instruction for the other group. If appropriate, a third station could give students an opportunity to work independently.  

5. Alternative Teaching: In most class groups, occasions arise in which several students need specialized attention. In alternative teaching, one teacher takes responsibility for the large group while the other works with a smaller group.

6. Team Teaching: In team teaching, both teachers deliver the same instruction at the same time. Some teachers refer to this as having one brain in two bodies. Others call it tag-team teaching. Most co-teachers consider this approach the most complex but satisfying way to co-teach, but it is the approach that is most dependent on teachers' styles.

(*Adapted from the work of Marilyn Friend, Lynne Cooke, and St. Cloud State University).

In conclusion: Yes, TASIS Portugal has beautiful spaces and outstanding teachers, and we believe that putting two of these wonderful educators in the same space can advance learning to the highest levels.

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