Editor's Note:This blog post was co-written with Dr. Nancy Bacharach, the Principal Investigator and Project Director of the Teacher Quality Enhancement Grant. She is a professor in the Department of Teacher Development at St. Cloud State.
Most of us have vivid memories of our student teaching experience. Whether these images are positive or negative, they played a significant role in preparing us to become teachers. The old model of student teaching often had the teacher candidates spending their initial weeks as silent observers, gradually assuming the role of teacher, leading up to "full responsibility" in the classroom. Clinical teachers rarely assisted or vacated the room, letting the candidate learn his or her craft alone.
Student Teachers are Isolated and "Inadequately Supported"
Since the 1920s, this model of student teaching has remained relatively unchanged (Guyton & McIntyre, 1990). Today, abundant evidence suggests that learning to teach in isolation does not effectively prepare teacher candidates, nor does it benefit P-12 students. A key report by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (2010) found clinical preparation to be "poorly defined and inadequately supported" (p.4). Although clinical experiences are the most highly valued part of teacher preparation, NCATE showed that clinical experiences are often the most ad hoc element of many teacher preparation programs.
Other practical reasons for revising the old model exist. Securing high-quality student teaching placements is difficult, in part because clinical teachers resist the traditional expectation that they exit the classroom, especially during the term when state-mandated NCLB tests are given (Ellis & Bogle, 2008).
Co-Teaching Offers More Support and Flexibility
Co-teaching in student teaching is defined as: "Two teachers (a clinical teacher and a teacher candidate) working together with groups of students; sharing the planning, organization, delivery and assessment of instruction, as well as the physical space" (Bacharach, Heck & Dank, 2004). This co-teaching model of student teaching allows P-12 students increased opportunities to get help when and how they need it. It affords teachers an opportunity to incorporate co-teaching pedagogy, grouping students in ways that are not possible with just one teacher.
Strategies of Co-Teaching in Student Teaching
- One teach, one observe: One teacher has primary instructional responsibility while the other gathers specific observational information on students or the (instructing) teacher. The key to this strategy is to focus the observation on specific behaviors. Both the teacher candidate and the cooperating teacher are able to take on either role.
- One teach, one assist: One teacher has primary instructional responsibility while the other assists students with their work, monitors behaviors or corrects assignments, often lending a voice to students or groups who hesitate to participate.
- Station teaching: Station teaching occurs when the co-teaching pairs divide the instructional content into parts. Each teacher instructs one of the groups. The groups then rotate or spend a designated amount of time at each station. Independent stations are often used along with the teacher-led stations.
- Parallel teaching: Parallel teaching occurs when the class is divided, with each teacher instructing half the students. However, both teachers are addressing the same instructional material, using the same instructional strategies and materials. The greatest benefit to this method is the reduction of the student-to-teacher ratio.
- Supplemental teaching: Supplemental teaching allows one teacher to work with students at their expected grade level while the other teacher works with those students who need the information or materials extended or remediated.
- Alternative (differentiated) teaching: This teaching strategy provides two approaches to teaching the same information. The learning outcome is the same for all students; however, the avenue for getting there is different.
- Team teaching: Team teaching incorporates an invisible flow of instruction with no prescribed division of authority. Using a team-teaching strategy, both teachers are actively involved in the lesson. From the students' perspective, there is no clearly defined leader -- both teachers share the instruction, are free to interject information, and are available to assist students and answer questions.
(From Changing the Face of Student Teaching Through Co-Teaching. Bacharach, N., Heck, T.W. & Dahlberg, K., 2010.)
Benefits for Interns and Their Students
Through co-teaching, candidates are provided with modeling, coaching and feedback as they develop their teaching skills. Co-teaching allows clinical teachers to model good teaching and work collaboratively with candidates, helping them understand the complexities of the teaching profession. When co-teaching, clinical teachers remain in the classroom. This sustained contact with candidates allows for immediate feedback and continuous mentoring. The co-teaching model has been used at all grade and content levels, and works with any curriculum adopted by a school district.
The research we conducted at St. Cloud State University compared co-teaching and traditional student teaching models using the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) and the Woodcock Johnson III-Research Edition (WJIII-RE). These resources helped us determine academic achievement of K-6 students in reading and math. In each of the four years, there were statistically significant improvements in reading and math scores for students in a co-taught classroom as compared to classrooms using the traditional model of student teaching. Co-teaching dramatically enhanced SCSU ability to place teacher candidates, increased the number and quality of cooperating teachers interested in hosting a teacher candidate, and demonstrated enhanced learner outcomes (Heck & Bacharach, 2010).
How to Implement Co-Teaching
In order to implement a co-teaching model of student teaching, universities and their school partners must establish a common language and plan for implementation. Buy-in from university administrators and faculty, as well as partner school district administrators and faculty, must be obtained. Participants should receive training and support throughout the process.
Changing the pedagogical structure of student teaching is a proven innovation that enhances the practice of today's educators and the preparation of tomorrow's teachers while improving student learning.
Bacharach, N., Heck, T. & Dank, M. (February, 2004). Co-Teaching in Student Teaching: A case study. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association of Teacher Educators, Dallas, Texas.
Ellis, J. & Bogle, D. (2008, November). Placement: An unforeseen casualty of No Child Left Behind. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Southeastern Regional Association of Teacher Educators, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Guyton, E. & McIntyre, D. (1990). Student teaching and school experiences. In W. Houston (Ed.), Handbook of research on teacher education (pp.514-534). New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing.
Heck, T. & Bacharach, N. (2010). Mentoring Teacher Candidates Through Co-Teaching: Collaboration that makes a difference. St. Cloud, Minnesota: St. Cloud State University.
National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (2010). Transforming teacher education through clinical practice: A national strategy to prepare effective teachers. Report of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation and Partnerships for Improved Student Learning. Washington, D.C., NCATE.