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Co-Teaching: Best Practices for Education

Jane M. Sileo
Clark County School District
9623 Gunsmith Drive
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89123


Background Information

Educating students in the least restrictive environment is important.

For students with disabilities, placement in the least restrictive environment
enhances the achievement of individualized educational plan (IEP) objectives,
interactive social and communication skills development, and skills generalization
(Fisher, Sax & Pumpian, (1996). In order to promote success for students with
disabilities in general education settings, general and special educators need to
work together. One such method is co-teaching.

Definition. Co-teaching has been defined as an instructional delivery approach in

which general and special educators share responsibility for planning, delivery
and evaluation of instructional techniques for a group of students; general and
special educators work in a coactive and coordinated fashion, which involves the
joint teaching of academically and behaviorally heterogeneous groups of
students in integrated settings. (Bauwens & Hourcade, 1991; Bauwens,
Hourcade, & Friend, 1989; Friend & Cook, 1992; Scheffel, Kallam, Smith, &
Hoernicke, 1996; Walther-Thomas, Bryant, & Land, 1996). Although co-
teaching integrates components of collaboration and team teaching, it is not
solely collaboration or team-teaching. In co-teaching, the teacher to student
ratio is decreased (Friend, 2001). Typically, co-teaching is used to provide
services for students with mild to moderate disabilities in the general education
setting (Sileo, 2003). General and special educators are present while co-
teaching in the general classroom, thus maintaining joint responsibility for
specified classroom instruction (Bauwens, Hourcade, & Friend, 1989). Research
shows that general educators have expertise in knowledge of the curriculum
while special educators have expertise in instructional processes used to teach
individual students who may learn atypically (Adams & Cessna, 1991; Reeve &
Hallahan, 1994; Ripley, 1997). There are a variety of co-teaching approaches.
Each approach is designed to enhance different types of activities or for learning

Co-teaching Structures

There are myriad co-teaching structures. Co-teaching structures depend

on the needs of the students, therefore teachers either co-teach for the entire
day or for just one academic period (Sileo, 2003). Often, the general educator
utilizes whole group instruction while the special educator teaches small group or
individualized activities (Vaughn, Elbaum, Schumm, & Hughes, 1998).
There are several variations of the co-teaching structures. The five basic
co-teaching structures include (a) one teacher who is teaching, while the other
teacher is assisting; (b) station teaching; (c) parallel teaching; (d) alternative
teaching; and (e) team teaching. (Bauwens & Hourcade, 1991; Bauwens &
Hourcade, 1997; Bauwens, Hourcade, & Friend, 1989; Cook & Friend, 1995;
Friend, 2001; Friend, Reising, & Cook, 1993; Gable, Hendrickson, Evans, Frye, &
Bryant, 1993; Reeve & Hallahan, 1994).

In the one teach, one assist model, both teachers are present, however one
teacher leads the teaching while the other assists the students. This structure
can also be used for data collection within the classroom. It also allows for
individualized reteaching within a whole group format. In station teaching, the
class is divided into two to three equal groups of students. The teachers divide
the instructional content, teach one group and then rotate through the additional
groups. This structure works well when utilizing computer instruction in the
classroom. In parallel teaching, the teachers jointly plan and deliver two
separate lessons. This structure is used most often for small group activities.
Parallel teaching has also been used for science experiments or other hands-on
activities. In alternative teaching, one teacher works with a small group while the
other teaches the whole class. Alternative teaching allows teachers the
opportunity to deliver instruction on the same content, while having the
opportunity to modify the instruction for student needs. Finally, in team teaching,
both teachers share the instruction of the students equally and are responsible
for all components of academic instruction. (Bauwens & Hourcade; Bauwens &
Hourcade; Bauwens, Hourcade, & Friend; Cook & Friend; Friend; Friend, Reising,
& Cook; Gable, Hendrickson, Evans, Frye, & Bryant; Reeve & Hallahan).

When utilizing co-teaching, it is imperative to plan for the social as well

as the academic needs of the students (Sileo, 2003). Both teachers are
responsible for the academic and social growth of the students in co-taught
settings. Many social themes are imbedded in the curriculum and therefore the
above structures allow both teachers to be actively involved in monitoring
behavior and academic instruction (Warger & Rutherford, 1993). Student
groupings for co-taught settings should always be based on the needs of the
students. One of the biggest benefits of co-taught classrooms is the opportunity
to change the student groupings, therefore allowing the students with disabilities
the opportunity to work with different students within a classroom environment.

Planning for Co-taught Instruction

Co-teachers have a professional relationship that is unique to their situation in

that it involves two educators working together in a single environment for a
common purpose (Sileo, 2003). Therefore, planning for co-taught instruction is
imperative to a successful relationship.

When placed in co-taught situations, special educators often take on several

different roles. Weiss and Lloyd (2003) found that special educators often (a)
provided support to students, (b) taught the same content in a separate
classroom, (c) taught a component of the curriculum in the same classroom, and
(d) team taught. Furthermore, they found that when the special educator was
confident with the material being taught, s/he often took on a more participatory
role. Conversely, when the special educator was unfamiliar with the material
being presented, s/he took on the role of supportive personnel. Therefore, it can
be assumed that when two teachers plan together utilizing their specific
knowledge bases there should be a clear definition of the teacher’s roles. In
addition, when teachers plan together there are clear expectations of the
accommodations and modifications to be made.

Research shows that collaborative planning time is an integral component of the

co-teaching relationship. It is imperative that when planning for a co-taught
classroom, both teachers consider the accommodations and modifications for all
students enrolled in the class. For example, effective accommodations in the
area of reading might include reading grade level text to a group of students
rather than having them read the text to themselves, student presentation of a
verbal rather than written book report, or utilization of a group book report
rather than individual reports. In 2004, Dieker created the co-teaching lesson
plan book. This book is a great tool to use while planning for co-teaching
classrooms. The gist of the plan book includes responsibilities for the general
educator as well as the special educator. Dieker (2004) suggests the general
educator be responsible for completing the big ideas/goals of the lesson, lesson
activities, and assessment procedures. In turn, the special educator is
responsible for determining the appropriate co-teaching structure, behavioral
and academic adaptations, and additional materials/support needed.

Furthermore, Taylor and Harrington (1998) found that teachers must be

innovative and employ creative strategies when co-teaching. They must be able
to define goals and objectives for each class and these must be in sequential and
ascending order of difficulty so that all children can achieve success over time
(Taylor & Harrington). All students must be provided with appropriate homework
and class work so that each has the opportunity to learn and participate in the
classroom process (Ripley, 1997).


Co-teaching is comprised of many components and structures. A large

majority of the core components must be available in order for co-teaching to be
successful. Co-teaching is an effective practice for working with students with
mild to moderate disabilities (Sileo, 2003). The nature of co-teaching allows for
smaller teacher ratios and more individualized instruction. The most promising
component of co-teaching is that both teachers plan and deliver lessons together
based on student needs. In doing this, the special educator does not always have
to teach the small remedial group, in fact, the special educator may well teach
the whole class.


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