Virginia Commonwealth University
September 26, 2011
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Lanett Willis Brailey, M.A

Picture in your mind ABC Middle School. The faculty, staff and parents of ABC Middle School have been working to make ABC an inclusive learning environment, “a learning environment, in which everyone belongs, is accepted, supports and is supported by his or her peers and other members of the school community in the course of having his or her educational needs met” (Stainback & Stainback, 1990).

The process began at ABC Middle under the leadership of the building principal, Mr. Lowe, and the planning team. During the readiness and planning phases, the planning team provided professional development opportunities to faculty and staff which focused on inclusive practices, systems change, action planning, procedures, scheduling, team building, collaboration and instruction.

As a part of the planning phase, teachers participated in on-going professional learning communities where topics such as differentiation, assessment and grading, Universal Design for Learning, and co-teaching have been explored.

Two teachers interacting

Co-teachers spend quality time planning their instruction.

The PTA and planning team have scheduled a series of workshops for parents focused on inclusive practices and instruction. Mrs. Alvarez and Mrs. Watson, two eighth grade teachers, have been asked to share their experiences with one of the service delivery options, co-teaching, used within the instructional program at ABC Middle School.

Mrs. Alvarez and Mrs. Watson have been co-teaching for three years and have come to view their relationship as a “professional marriage” as they collaborate to distribute the planning, instruction and evaluation for their classes. They see the “power” that two teachers can bring to their 8th grade English classes (Indiana University, 2005).

Knowing that many parents may either be unfamiliar with or have misconceptions about co-teaching they developed a presentation to explain co-teaching. They described how co-teaching changed the way they provide instruction and shared a series of video clips to show parents what instruction looks like in a co-taught class. Parents were invited to ask questions and to schedule a visit to their classroom.

What is co-teaching?

According to Friend (2007), “Co-teaching is a service delivery option for providing special education or related services to students with disabilities or other special needs while they remain in their general education classes. Students with disabilities who participate in the co-taught classroom should be students whose unique educational needs can be met through the general education curriculum with appropriate modifications and supports. The driving force for creating co-teaching programs between general education and special education teachers is the needs of students with disabilities who have Individual Educational Plans (IEPs).”

What can we expect from co-teaching?

Teachers in a co-taught classroom do not be provide instruction in the same way.
Because there are two teachers, there is greater instructional intensity and more time for students to be engaged in the subject matter. Teachers are able to respond to the different needs of the students within their class, which allows them to bring the professional expertise directly to the students. It allows them to provide instruction to a diverse, or blended, group of students. There is greater direct instruction and social benefits from students as they work along with their peers to complete class assignments and activities (Villa, Thousand & Nevin, 2004).

How has co-teaching changed the way we deliver instruction?

With two teachers delivering instruction and increasing the instructional options for students, students have more opportunities to participate in their learning and instructional intensity is increased.

During their planning meeting, Mrs. Alvarez and Mrs. Watson review their teaching practices to make sure their instructional strategies lead to more engaged time and participation of all students, while meeting the needs of student with disabilities.

Both professionals have important contributions to make in coordinating and delivering instruction:

  • They share instructional decision making and both have active roles in teaching
  • They plan and use active student engagement strategies
  • They differentiate the general education curriculum to foster student success.

What does the instruction look like?

Co-teachers differentiate instruction. Differentiation can be defined as reflective and responsive teaching, based on the understanding that every classroom is composed of a variety of learning styles and abilities (Tomlinson, 2001). When teachers differentiate instruction, they move away from seeing themselves as keepers and dispensers of knowledge and move toward seeing themselves as organizers of learning opportunities (Fatting and Taylor, 2008).

Co-teachers spend quality time planning around the following practices: flexibility of teaching modes, learning styles, assessment and grouping. They provide appropriate challenge by using interesting and engaging learning tasks and take students where they are to where they need to be. Co-teachers encourage student-teacher collaboration by helping students provide information about his or her learning, making responsible choices.

Differentiation is not individualizing every assignment for every child every day. There will be days, based upon your reflective and responsive teaching, you determine whole-class instruction is what every child needs. When deciding how to structure and deliver instruction, co-teachers consider many factors such as student needs, demands of the curriculum, ecology of the classroom and the teacher’s comfort level and skills for teaching (Tomlinson, 2001).

There are many approaches used by teachers to work together to meet the student’s diverse needs in a single classroom (Indiana University, 2005; Walter-Thomas, Korinek, McLaughlin & Williams, 2000). Mrs. Watson and Mrs. Alvarez use various models depending on the focus of the lesson. “Sometimes interactive teaching is used when we want to share the teaching stage. We use station teaching as we present or review new content and use independent workstations for small groups. Parallel teaching is used to provide practice and review lessons since it allows for much higher levels of student responding than is possible during the whole class activities. We are able to monitor student performance much more closely. We use alternative teaching when we want to create small, strategic groups to work on specific skills, concepts, or projects” (Walter-Thomas et al., 2000).

Who benefits?

Mrs. Alvarez shared with the parents that within their co-teaching class they are able to provide greater instructional intensity to their students. Mrs. Watson added that it also provides greater student engagement. Co-teaching takes a lot of work! Mrs. Alvarez and Mrs. Watson spend a good deal of time in preparation and planning. They share the responsibility for teaching and learning for all of their students. They spend time going through their student data to make sure they are providing what each student needs. These co-teachers teach for success. Who benefits? We all do!


Fatting, M., & Taylor M. (2008) Co-teaching in the differentiated classroom. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.

Friend, M., & Cook, L. (2007). Interactions: collaboration skills for school professionals (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn &Bacon.

Stainback, S., & Stainback, W. (1990). Inclusive schooling. In W. Stainback & S. Stainback (Eds.), Support networks for inclusive schooling. Baltimore: Brookes Publishing.

Indiana University (Producer). (2005). The Power of 2 [DVD]. Available from

Tomlinson, C. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms (2nd Ed.). ASCD

Villa,R., Thousand,J., & Nevin, A. (2004). A guide to co-teaching practical tips for facilitating student learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Walter-Thomas, C., Korinek, L., McLaughlin, V., & Williams, B. (2001) Collaboration for inclusive education: Developing successful programs. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.



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