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6 Models of Co-Teaching

By Amanda Morin

Understood's resources for educators are backed by research, vetted by experts, and reviewed by classroom teachers.

Understood's resources for educators are backed by research, vetted by experts, and reviewed by classroom teachers.

As more schools move toward inclusion, integrated co-teaching (also known as collaborative team teaching) is becoming more common. However, not all teachers are familiar with co-teaching models, the planning and collaboration it takes, or the different ways it can look in a classroom.

Co-teachers are often general education teachers and special education teachers working together in the general education classroom. You plan lessons together and teach together to support the diverse academic and social-emotional needs of all students—those who have been identified as having a disability and those who haven’t. 

Studies show that this co-teaching can successfully meet the needs of all learners when the co-teachers:

  • Have ample time to build a trusting relationship with one another

  • Have shared planning time

  • Each have the chance to use their expertise in the classroom

There are six basic models of co-teaching. Read on to learn how each model works, what it looks like in the classroom, and when to use it. You’ll also learn about the benefits and challenges of each co-teaching model. 

1. Team Teaching 

In team teaching, both teachers are in the room at the same time but take turns teaching the whole class. Team teaching is sometimes called “tag team teaching.” You and your co-teacher teacher are a bit like co-presenters at a conference or the Oscars. You don’t necessarily plan who takes which part of the lesson, and when one of you makes a point, the other can jump in and elaborate if needed.

Team teaching can make you feel vulnerable. It asks you to step outside of your comfort zone and allow another teacher to see how you approach a classroom full of students. However, it also gives you the opportunity to learn about and improve your teaching skills by having a partner who can provide feedback and—in some cases—mentorship. 

In team teaching, as well as the five other co-teaching models below, a teacher team may be made up of two general education teachers, two special education teachers, or one of each. Or, in some cases, it may be a teacher and a paraprofessional working together. Some IEPs specify that  a student’s teaching team needs to include a general education teacher and a special education teacher.

Here’s what you need to know about the team teaching method:

What it looks like in the classroom

Both teachers teach at the front of the room and move about to check in with students (as needed).   

Benefits
  • Provides both teachers with an active instructional role

  • Introduces students to complementary teaching styles and personalities

  • Allows for lessons to be presented by two different people with different teaching styles

  • Models multiple ways of presenting and engaging with information

  • Models for students what a successful collaborative working relationship can look like

  • Provides more opportunities to pursue teachable moments that may arise

Challenges
  • Takes time and trust for teachers to build a working relationship that values each teacher equally in the classroom

  • Necessitates a lot of planning time and coordination of schedules 

  • Requires teachers to have equal involvement not just in planning, but also in grading, which means assignments need to be evaluated using a rubric or other non-subjective methods

When to use itWhen students would benefit from learning content and skills using multiple strategies and having access to more than one teacher’s experience and perspective

2. Parallel Teaching

In parallel teaching, the team splits the class into two groups and each teacher teaches the same information at the same time. Parallel teaching works well to differentiate instruction when the content being taught is particularly challenging. Students can benefit from learning difficult material in a smaller group. 

Parallel teaching can be a comfortable way to start co-teaching. You and your co-teacher plan together to make sure you’re covering the same material. And since you’re teaching your half of the class, you’re less likely to feel closely observed by your colleague. Here’s a closer look at parallel teaching:

What it looks like in the classroom The class is divided into two groups, and both teachers teach the same information simultaneously in different sections of the room.
Benefits
  • Provides both teachers with an active instructional role

  • Lowers the student-teacher ratio and reduces the load of teaching a large class

  • Allows for small group instruction, which can be especially helpful for students who learn and think differently

  • Gives students the chance to ask more questions during lesson time 

  • Provides a chance for students to work in heterogeneous groups (made up of varying abilities instead of groups of students with similar strengths and challenges)

  • Keeps the academic rigor of a demanding lesson, but splits the responsibility between both teachers

Challenges
  • Requires both teachers have strong knowledge of the content so students will learn the same thing

  • Can be challenging to control for noise, distraction, and space when working in the same classroom

  • Requires careful timing to make sure both teachers end the lesson at the same time

When to use it

When teachers have equal content expertise and there’s a lot of information being covered in one lesson

3. Station Teaching 

In station teaching, the class is divided into three or more groups and the classroom has multiple learning centers. As the students rotate through the stations, the teachers teach the same material in different ways to each group. For example, fractions may be taught with a fraction line at one and with cubes at another. If there are more stations than teachers, some stations may be student-led and at least one will focus on independent work or practice opportunities. 

Both you and your co-teacher are responsible for planning and teaching an in-depth concept that helps meet the overall lesson goal. Learn more about station teaching: 

What it looks like in the classroom Different learning stations are set up in various areas of the classroom, one for each teacher and at least one for independent student work. 
Benefits
  • Provides both teachers with an active instructional role

  • Allows teachers to use flexible grouping to tailor teaching to each groups’ needs

  • Lowers the student-teacher ratio

  • Resets student focus with each station rotation, increasing engagement

  • Provides time for students to engage with the content on their own as well as with teachers

  • Supports a UDL approach to teaching

  • Allows for more material to be covered in a shorter time frame

  • Provides a clear teaching responsibility for each adult in the room

Challenges
  • Requires significant planning for teaching and material preparation

  • Students may not get to all of the stations if they’re not moving at the same pace

  • May be noisy and distracting for some students

  • Requires pre-teaching around expectations for independent work time

When to use it

When co-teachers have varying depths of knowledge on a topic and the students would benefit from differentiated instruction

4. Alternative Teaching 

In alternative teaching, one teacher instructs most of the class and the other teacher teaches an alternate or modified version of the lesson to a smaller group of students. Alternative teaching is also sometimes described as “big group/small group” teaching.

Small groups are often put together based on students’ learning needs. You and your co-teacher will need to find time to look over student data. This will help you figure out which students need support filling in gaps in background knowledge, which students need remediation, or which students could benefit from accelerated learning because they already know the content or have mastered the skills of the large group lesson. Here’s more of what you need to know about alternative teaching:     

What it looks like in the classroom

One teacher is at the front of the room or roaming providing large group instruction, while the other teacher works with a small group of students in a different space.

Benefits
  • Provides both teachers with an active instructional role

  • Allows for a lower student-teacher ratio 

  • Provides additional support to struggling students without specifically singling them out 

  • Gives a chance to re-teach, review, and pre-teach 

  • Allows for intervention as well as enrichment opportunities

  • Lets teachers use flexible groups

Challenges
  • Requires strong data collection in order to group students appropriately

  • May make students feel self-conscious, especially if they’re often in the small group

  • Can be challenging to control for noise, distraction, and enough space when working in the same classroom

  • Needs careful planning to make sure students don’t miss material being taught to the large group

When to use it

When there is a small group of students who need pre- or re-teaching of skills or content or who would benefit from enrichment on the topic.

5. One Teach, One Assist

In the “one teach, one assist” model of co-teaching, one teacher teaches a full group lesson, while the other teacher roams and helps individual students. This is sometimes called “one teach, one support,” because the second teacher often provides additional support for learning or behavior management.  

This model of co-teaching can be difficult to negotiate because it may leave one teacher feeling more like an assistant. Building a strong relationship with your co-teacher and talking through when it makes sense to swap roles can make it easier. That’s key to making sure that both of you have a chance to teach content and to provide support to students one-on-one. 

Debriefing after a lesson is also key. Both of you need to know which students needed extra support during the lesson, what that support looked like, and what each student was struggling with. Here’s what you need to know about this co-teaching method: 

What it looks like in the classroom

The lead teacher is at the front of the room, where all students can see, while the other teacher roams among students and assists as needed.  

Benefits
  • Allows one teacher to teach a lesson without interruption from students who need assistance 

  • Gives real-time help for students who need it

  • Allows teachers to use proximity to keep students on task   

  • Provides for increased classroom management, which can be helpful if the class makeup is particularly challenging

  • Can provide newer teachers with the opportunity to observe more experienced teachers

Challenges
  • Can create a dynamic in which students see one teacher as the one who manages behavior 

  • Can appear as though one teacher is more “in charge” than the other 

  • Sets up a possible expectation that one-to-one support can always be immediate

  • Requires solid planning to make sure the supporting teacher is used efficiently 

When to use it

When one teacher is more familiar and comfortable with teaching a strategy, and you know many students will need individual support

6. One Teach, One Observe

In a “one teach, one observe” setting, one teacher serves as the primary instructor, while the other is simply observing students’ learning and collecting data, which can be useful in:

  • Determining what instruction takes place next

  • Seeing which students need additional help

  • Deciding what co-teaching model may be used next to address any identified needs

  • Identifying and tracking helpful school services, such as , , (FBA), (BIP), or (RTI)

What it looks like in the classroom

The instructing teacher is at the front of the room teaching all the students, while the other teacher is stationed somewhere inconspicuous to make observations.

Benefits
  • Allows for uninterrupted observation and data collection

  • Provides data that can inform future instruction, interventions, and student grouping

Challenges
  • Can create a dynamic in which students see one teacher as the “real” teacher

  • Can make it difficult for co-teachers to build a strong partnership 

  • Loses instructional opportunities in a true co-taught classroom

When to use itWhen something specific needs to be observed, whether it’s information for an IEP meeting, FBA, or RTI, or simply about how students respond to the way material is being taught

Making Co-Teaching Work

Co-teaching definitely has benefits, but it can also be challenging to implement. It can be especially hard for new teachers who are paired up with teachers who have more experience, or for co-teachers whose teaching philosophies differ from each other. But there are several steps you can take to help make co-teaching work:

1. Plan who’s doing what. No matter which co-teaching model you use, you and your co-teacher need to thoughtfully plan out which responsibilities each of you will have. Planning is vital to your success as a co-teaching team.

2. Agree on expectations. Having a conversation before the year begins about your expectations for students, behavior, homework, bathroom use, etc., can help you work out any differences you may have and come to a consensus for how your shared class will run. It’s also essential that both teachers share behavior management equally. Avoiding a “good cop/bad cop” situation can make it easier to maintain a positive classroom culture.

3. Understand the needs of all of your students. It’s critical that both you and your co-teacher understand the needs of all of your students, including those who learn and think differently. Knowing how to read an IEP or 504 plan, implement accommodations, and participate in IEP meetings is a shared responsibility. 

4. Use signposting. Making sure both of your names appear on the door, on assignments, and in the classroom can also help your students see you as the team you are.

5. Keep setting aside time to collaborate. Planning and reflecting on the lessons you teach together is especially important. Keeping lines of communication open, raising concerns respectfully, and having a supportive and involved administrator can help bridge any gaps. 

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