Co-teaching has gotten a lot of attention as the practices of inclusion and collaboration have gained traction in schools. With these kinds of changes, I have been wondering about how co-teaching is evolving. What’s new in co-teaching? What are the trends? To find out more, I spoke with co-teaching expert Lisa Dieker. Lisa has been co-teaching and studying co-teaching for … well, about as long as I’ve been an editor! She also wrote The Co-Planner: Two Professional + One Plan for Co-Teaching, which is a tool to help co-teachers plan and communicate effectively.
LS: I get the sense that co-teaching is something that sounds simple on the surface but is actually quite complex. Is that true?
LD: Absolutely. Co-teaching is both a science and an art. In my research, I’ve been working hard to nail down the science part so teachers have the information and skills in place that will let them focus on the creative aspects of working so closely with a colleague.
LS: Can you tell me more about that distinction? What do you mean by co-teaching being a science and an art?
LD: Well, the science would be about understanding what practices undergird effective co-teaching. I’m not talking about whether two co-teachers love or dislike each other. Rather, what collaborative practices can we identify that produce positive outcomes for students? The art would be the process of blending two individuals and their discrete personalities and areas of expertise together. That’s something that’s really hard to study because every pair is unique.
LS: That’s a good point. And identifying specific practices is so important. Sometimes I feel like we have all of these big ideas, but we lack the details on how to turn those ideas into practice. When you add the complication of making generalizations about how two different people should cooperate, I see how it can get tricky.
LD: Yes, that was one of the objectives I had in writing “The Co-Planner“—to put a structure in place that would help co-teachers make the big idea of co-planning a reality. We also added a check box to the planner to remind teachers to consider whether each lesson had met the criteria for universal design for learning. This framework is another important big idea that we need to make real in co-teaching.
LS: What other big ideas or changes do you see in co-teaching today?
LD: One interesting thing I’m noticing is that general education teachers are becoming more content specific—and special educators are aligning themselves accordingly. We’re seeing bigger wins because teachers are becoming more specialized. I’m also seeing situations where two general education teachers or two math teachers are paired to co-teach. Then the special educator adds in his or her expertise to the cotent for learning differences.
LS: So all three teachers work together?
LD: They do! In these tri-teach models, I often see the use of station teaching where the kids swirl amongst the three teachers. When it’s done right, the special educator has a clear role, with everyone working on delivering targeted material. That’s another change I’m seeing: the focus not just on content, but on output. Teachers are wicked focused on what the kids will produce or be able to do. These teachers want to produce outcomes rather than just talk about them. And that’s good news for everyone!
Editor and Manager, CEC Professional Publications
About the author:
Lisa Dieker is the Pegasus Professor and Lockheed Martin Eminent Scholar Chair at the University of Central Florida. Her primary area of research focuses on collaboration between general and special education, and she has a passion for how technology can affect teacher preparation and student learning. She coordinates several research and field-based grants and has had the opportunity to observe schools and classrooms throughout the United States and internationally.