Modifying Lessons for Co-Taught Classrooms

A significant part of my current graduate class on instructional coaching included working with on a multi-week coaching project, one aspect of which was working with another educator to improve the effectiveness of an existing lesson. This was an opportunity to practice coaching skills and to personalize and adapt instruction for the needs of the educator and their students. When asked to reflect on this project for this blog post, I was drawn to the work we did adapting the lesson, and the ways in which that adaption was undertaken with careful intentionality to meet the needs of the unique populations in a co-taught classroom. The result is this post examining fragments of a lesson, and the ways in which two educators with different expertise and experience adapted it to meet our students’ needs.

Why Adapt for Co-Taught Classes?

Even the best thought out curriculum sometimes requires adaptation for the co-taught teaching environment. This is due to a combination of factors that make co-taught classrooms unique: the focus of the class, the staffing, and the student population.

Co-taught classes focus on ensuring students access learning and meet learning standards, but often include an overt secondary focus of supporting students in reaching individual goals. Having two teachers necessarily alters the structure of lessons because it increases options for additional small group work, and reteaching and pre-teaching material in the classroom (rather than as a pull-out). In theory, co-taught classes should be similar demographically to a general education classes, with no more than 1/4 of the class in special education programs. However, often my experience co-taught classes informally can have three subtle differences:

  • They have more students with 504 plans that require additional teacher supports in them because there are two teachers.
  • Students with IEPs placed in co-taught classrooms include students who need teacher supports rather than para-educator supports.
  • Students without formal diagnoses but who struggle with issues such as motivation or attention seem to be disproportionately placed in co-taught classrooms because the additional staff and the different teaching methods benefit these students

This slight demographic change alters the ways in which co-taught program educators approach instruction and classroom management, and requires adaptations to structured curriculums.

For the post, I’m going to show how we adapted a middle school lesson from the 8th grade Wit and Wisdom Language Arts curriculum to better fit a co-taught environment. Please note that this curriculum does not require adaptation to be effective in a co-taught environment. The level of detail and consideration put into it is high enough that it is possible to effectively teach it without adaptation. However, the structural classroom management differences between a single teacher and co-taught classroom may mean that adaptation will make it a better fit.

This lesson is near the end of a unit (Wit and Wisdom calls these units “modules”) in which students read the novel in verse The Crossover by Kwame Alexander and write their own poem then perform a poetry reading for their class to better understand how poetry creates narrative structure.

Adapting the Standards:

The Original Potential Modifications
This lesson focus on narrative writing standards We modified the focus to include figurative language standards as well.

The Rationale: This allows students to meet multiple standards with one product, and reduces the workload and makes it easier build in time for students who have shortened assignments in their IEP or 504 plan to meet those standards.

Adapting the Product:

The Original Potential Modifications
TLW modify a non-definition poem from The Crossover into a definition poem that includes narrative structure using a poem from the book that is another format. Students include their poem in the 3 poem set for the end of module project, and perform the poem for the class. We made the poem from the book a practice poem, and gave students the choice of completing a second poem using poetry from The Crossover or writing a poem from their own life experience. Additionally, instead of a live performance, we had students record themselves reading their poem using Vocaroo to share their second poem.

The Rationale: By building a practice poem into the assignment, we gave students who need to experience material multiple times an opportunity to do so without falling behind. Providing them with the option of using their own experiences or a poem from The Crossover adds student choice to the project, and increases motivation for completion.

Additionally, because students will only share their second poem with the class, and students may choose to do their second poem using the same source material (any poem from the book) as the first, several students will choose to do adapted poems from The Crossover. This means that students with shortened assignment accommodations can participate fully without any of their peers knowing that they have this accommodation by simply sharing their first poem. If a student wishes their peers to know, they may share, but if they also have the option of allowing their peers to think they wrote two poems and chose this one. Therefore, we can make an accommodation that shortens the assignment by 40% while respecting the dignity of the child.

Using vocaroo to record voices removes the physical requirements of reading the poem in front of the class. Additionally, it allows students to complete the reading using as many attempts as they would like. Because it is a voice recording that can be completed at home, students may use whatever tools they need to self-soothe while recording. Ultimately, the recording removes significant barriers to access for students with anxiety and other challenges.

Adapting the Lesson Presentation Tools:

The Original Potential Modifications The Rationale
Teacher posts instructions on the board.

Teacher writes student responses to discussion questions on the board

Teacher posts questions on a Jamboard.

Student note-takers add responses to the Jamboard as the discussion progresses.

Digital assignments allow absent students to participate and help parents keep up with student work.

Using student note-takers meets a common accommodation.

Digital brainstorming tools such as Jamboard can be accessed and added too with accessible devices seamlessly.

Teacher displays or provides students with a paper instructions handout and a checklist for a definition poem. Teacher leads the class in completing a class model in google docs and posted on Google Classroom.

Teacher provides the handout digitally as well as on paper.

A digital class model allows students to access a sample that meets the standard whenever they need it.

Providing handouts digitally lowers barriers for families.

Teacher presents video of a poetry reading.

Students annotate their poems on paper with strategies for oral expression.

Students search Youtube videos of poetry performances with a partner.

The class creates a Jamboard poster of the common traits of effective expression.

This increases students active engagement with technology, allows them to see multiple versions of the same skills, and provides them with a digital anchor chart they can access from home.
Students perform their poetry in front of the class and turn in 3 poems on paper to the teacher as an End of Module Task Students record poems on Vocaroo, and submit 3 poems digitally.

Student submit 1 poem to be published on the class website with an option to listen to the student read their poem aloud.

Using Vocaroo instead of a live performance removes barriers for students who cannot do live performances.

Publishing online allows families to access student work and share the work with extended family.

Adapting the Lesson Structure:

The Original Potential Modifications The Rationale
Teacher instructs students to discuss the following questions in pairs then leads a whole group discussion: What kind of characteristics do the definition poems in The Crossover share?

How do these characteristics relate to the content of the poem?

Students complete an online poll asking their favorite definition poem in The Crossover.

Students explain why they chose the poll poem on a Jamboard. Early finishers organize it.

Teacher leads a class discussion; a note taker adds the Jamboard and to the electronic class notes.

Breaking the discussion question into two parts, and making the first part low risk helps struggling students participate.

The Jamboard creates a digital discussion record.

Electronic class notes meet the needs of students whose plans include having someone take notes.

Students use completed copies of a previous assessment to draft a definition poem Modify to 2 assignments with single step directions.

Class creates a whole-class model poem (posted in Google Classroom as a reference).

Single step directions is a common accommodation.

Using a model poem as a guide instead of the previous assessment allows students who did not complete the assessment to participate.

Display and distribute Handout 21A: Poetry Performance Checklist.

Groups discuss the following questions: “How do you make decisions about oral expression? What kinds of words, structural elements, or punctuation help signal decisions about expression?”

Post the Notice-and-Note template google doc in google classroom.

Students work in pairs to search poetic performances on you tube. Each pair uses the template to create their own notes.

Classes create anchor charts listing the elements of a good poetry performance.

The Notice and note template gives students a structure for their note taking. Placing the template in google classroom allows the teacher to make discrete individual modifications.

Having a product each class creates gives the discussion additional purpose.

Students complete an exit ticket answering: How does your revision of a poem from The Crossover into a new poetic type change your understanding of the poem? Students choose one of 3 reflection paragraph prompts to complete on a google doc and submit digitally. Exit tickets completed digitally allow students to use their adapted devices.
For homework, students practice performing their poem for a friend or family member. They will perform their poem for the class in the following lesson. For homework, students record themselves reading their poem using vocaroo. Students who do not have the ability to do this as homework will complete the assignment in school the next day. Removing the live performance meets the needs of several groups of students.

Providing an option to do homework at school helps students who do cannot do homework.

Adapting lessons for co-teaching benefits from the varied experiences of the teachers involved. This task is well-suited to a coaching model because of the amount of communication skills and reflection required to complete it.

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