Where can the co-teaching model “teach half then switch” really help co-teachers shine? In helping teachers with additional skills and knowledge use those skills to enhance the lesson and reach students who may be struggling with the material.
Jerry, a special education teacher newly assigned to a co-taught classroom at a middle school, approached me because he felt he was doing a disservice to his co-teacher and his students.
He had been an award-winning literacy specialist at the elementary level. His passion was teaching literature through literacy circles. Because he continually wanted to better himself, he went back to school to get a second master’s degree focusing on special education. After he turned in his credentials to say that he was licensed in special education, the district moved him from the elementary school that he loved into this middle school math classroom.
“I’m a literacy specialist! I don’t know math! And they put me in this math class. I feel like I’m doing a disservice to my co-teacher,” Jerry told me. “This just isn’t right and I’m so upset.”
Adam, the math teacher that Jerry was co-teaching with, overheard the conversation and was astounded that Jerry did not realize the positive impact he had on the success of their students with the math curriculum.
“In all my years of teaching, I never could teach students how to get through word problems like you have—and by the way, their math vocabulary is amazing!” Adam explained. “They are doing so much better in word problems than I ever imagined possible!”
Adam realized that he had not communicated to Jerry how much the students were benefiting from the co-teaching arrangement. When he split the class in half and had Jerry go over the word problems with the students, it wasn’t just busywork, but rather an intentional effort to support the students in their ability to read the math.
Now that Jerry understood the benefit he brought to this middle school math classroom, he was reenergized. Both he and Adam realized they can usually use “teach half, then switch” to support students’ ability to read in the math content area as well as teach them math calculation and problem-solving.
To increase students’ focus during the “teach half, then switch” component of the class, Jerry and Adam occasionally implemented the method I discussed in last week’s post: arranging desks into two separate sections. For 10 minutes, Adam would work with half of the students on math calculation and problem-solving, while Jerry would work with half of the students on reading in the math content area. Then, they would switch, so that each of them could focus on a smaller group of students during that 20-minute period of time.
Try “teach half, then switch” with your co-teacher. It will take a little bit of advance planning to make sure that you are both working toward the same objective when the class is split in half. But not only is it effective in helping students comprehend the material, it can reveal or enhance the teaching strengths and skills of both co-teachers.