George Lucas Educational Foundation
Teacher Collaboration

How to Choose a Co-Teaching Model

Knowing the pros and cons of the six models of co-teaching can help teachers determine which one is best for a given lesson.

October 8, 2019
Two teachers instructing a high school class
Bob Daemmrich / Alamy Stock Photo

Teachers who are assigned co-teaching roles often have little experience or training in co-teaching. Learning what works and what doesn’t often must come with experience. And teachers don’t always get to choose who they teach with, which adds an extra layer of challenge because it can leave the individuals’ roles in the lesson planning phase and during instruction blurry.

Fortunately, a lot of available research categorizes different models of co-teaching. There are basically six models:

  • One Teaching, One Observing: One teacher is directly instructing students while the other observes students for evidence of learning.
  • One Teaching, One Assisting: One teacher is directly instructing students while the other assists individual students as needed.
  • Parallel Teaching: The class is divided into two groups and each teacher teaches the same information at the same time.
  • Station Teaching: Each teacher teaches a specific part of the content to different groups as they rotate between teachers.
  • Alternative Teaching: One teacher teaches the bulk of the students, and the other teaches a small group based on need.
  • Team Teaching: Both teachers are directly instructing students at the same time—sometimes called “tag team teaching.” 

Teaching partners should consider each model’s purpose and merit before deciding which to use for a particular lesson or part of a lesson. Considering the benefits of each model should help teachers determine which to use for a given lesson.

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6 Models of Co-Teaching: Pros and Cons

One Teaching, One Observing: As a supervisor, I’ve seen this model implemented both with purpose and without. It takes time to develop a working relationship with another teacher. When the relationship isn’t working, this model appears more often, and often without purpose.

When one teacher is directly instructing the students, the other should be observing. The observing teacher is collecting data, which can be useful in determining what instruction takes place next, which students need additional help, and what co-teaching model may be used next to address any identified needs.

Pros: less time collaborating, less interruption, more focused and purposeful data collection.

Cons: loss of one instructor, can be used too often due to a lack of planning or a lack of content knowledge or self-efficacy, can be underutilized for its intended purpose without focused data collection.

One Teaching, One Assisting: This model is often implemented in a one-sided fashion, with one teacher left in the role of assistant. This model can be extremely useful if the teachers swap roles so that both gain comfort in teaching the content and in assisting students one-on-one. Being professional and looking for signs that students are either not on task or are struggling with the content and sharing those signs with the other teacher can mean the difference between a student’s success or failure in a lesson.

Pros: less interruption between teachers, more eyes on students to identify those in need.

Cons: loss of one instructor, can be used too often due to a lack of planning or a lack of content knowledge or self-efficacy, can be underutilized for its intended purpose without a focused group of students to assist based on the lesson design.

Parallel Teaching: I’ve seen parallel teaching work extremely well—it can be a great way to reduce the feel of a larger class. By breaking the students into two groups and teaching the lesson simultaneously, more students can get the close, small-group instruction that research indicates helps struggling learners. More students have the opportunity to ask questions throughout the process than they would in a larger group.

This is also a great model when the content is extremely challenging because it allows each teacher to really differentiate instruction for each student in the smaller group.

Pros: smaller instructional groups, more time for students to fill in instructional gaps, classroom management is easier.

Cons: difficult logistics, takes more time to collaboratively plan, requires that both teachers have content expertise.

Station Teaching: Station teaching is a way for each teacher to own a piece of the content and replicate that piece of the lesson multiple times within the same period with different groups of students. Unlike parallel teaching, teachers using this model can each focus more on a specific part of the lesson as groups rotate through each teacher’s station. Additional stations that aren’t led by one of the two teachers can foster students’ independence and give them time to practice the material.

Pros: capitalizes on each teacher’s strengths, smaller instructional groups, refined lesson planning.

Cons: takes more time to plan, requires good timing on the part of both teachers.

Alternative Teaching: I’ve seen teachers use this model to help a small group of students accelerate their learning, catch up on missed content, or fill in their gaps in understanding. The keys are finding space so that the other students are not disrupted while this small-group instruction is taking place, and ensuring that students in the small group don’t miss new information.

Pros: gives students opportunities to close instructional gaps, can help students with chronic absenteeism, focuses resources on a target student population.

Cons: requires dual planning of time and content so that there’s no missed instruction.

Team Teaching: A true team-teaching lesson is a thing of beauty. Two teachers whose personalities complement each other offer benefits for all students in the classroom. Getting to this point requires years of experience, collaborative planning, and a positive, professional relationship that is always being refined and improved. Supervisors and principals need to know that this model can be achieved by making the teaching pairs a priority when scheduling the building. 

Pros: capitalizes on two teachers’ expertise and instructional strategies, gives both teachers the spotlight in front of the entire class.

Cons: often requires experience in working together (although it can be done with a new pair of team-teachers), immense planning, and a healthy relationship in order to work.

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