Employing Co-teaching Models to Support Large Classes
Dear Susan: I’m a special education teacher in Illinois, and I’m reaching out to you to ask a few questions. I have been co-teaching kindergarten for four years. Our co-teaching model has been to blend the special education students with a developmental kindergarten—a smaller class of regular education students that were just “slow learners.” We always had no more than 20 students in our room.
Now, the school is restructuring our setup. The classroom will still be blended, but now my co-teacher is not going to teach the “developmental” students anymore; instead, it will be a general education classroom. The other teachers were excited to hear this because it means lower student numbers for them. But I am panicking at the thought of having a class of 30 kindergarteners—10 of them with cognitive impairments or behavioral issues.
Is this a ratio that is “best practice” in a co-taught kindergarten classroom?—Carrie White
Dear Carrie: A ratio of 30 to 1 is definitely not the best practice. However, through reading several articles, I can tell you that it happens a lot (depending on a school’s budget and teacher availability).
Some states, such as Florida, have passed “small class” laws where a class size of no more than 18 students is allowed, but many states still struggle with large class sizes.
A 2007 study titled “The Wisdom of Class Size Reduction” by Elizabeth Graue, Kelly Hatch, Kalpana Rao and Denise Oen looked at different implementations of class sizes at several high schools. “Requiring changes in space allocation, class-size reduction was accomplished through attention to pupil:teacher ratio, with classes ranging from 15:1 to 30:2 team taught.”
A ratio of 30:2 is a better scenario than a ratio of 30:1, with co-teachers working together. Indeed, the study noted that “Most partner classes used tag-team teaching, with one teacher leading and the other doing clerical work.”
That type of co-teaching, of course, falls under the “One teach, one observe” co-teaching model that co-teachers often rely upon.
For the immediate future, talk with your co-teacher about how best to work together so that all the students get the support they need. “One teach, one support,” where one co-teacher—often the special education teacher—takes a more proactive role than observing, such as taking notes, can work. “Teach half, then switch” is also a way to effectively teach the kindergarten class, and it can be a great way to make sure all of the students participate regardless of their ability.
Longer term, the large class size for kindergarten may still need to be addressed at a higher level. “Class-size reduction is both a programmatic and instructional reform,” according to the study, “and as such, it requires specific professional development to promote change.”
For more information on co-teaching and co-teaching models, see Susan Fitzell’s book, Co-teaching and Collaboration in the Classroom.
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