Co-Teaching. . .5 Years Later

In 2016, our school district began the year-long process of converting its junior high schools to middle schools. As part of this process, the district began steps to implement a co-teaching model for providing instructional services to a portion of our secondary special education population. The co-teach model pairs a general education teacher with a special education teacher or para professional to provide services within a general education classroom. In 2017, the district sent several pairs of teachers to co-teacher training and scheduled these teachers to teach co-teach classes. Although veterans in this district report that co-teaching had existed previously, this model differed in two key ways:

  1. Individuals were volunteers as much as possible, whereas before they were often assigned to the positions.
  2. Individuals were offered the opportunity to attend a training to learn co-teaching techniques.

Each middle school in the district adopted the program at each grade level. Between then and now, our schools went through 5 years of changes that included staff changes, schedule changes, and even a pandemic that resulted in everything changing. To help understand how the co-teach program had weathered these changes, I conducted a study of the teachers in our building who had participated in the program.

The survey was sent to 9 educators at one of the district’s middle schools who attended the co-teaching training in 2017 or who had taught in a co-teaching environment since 2017. This resulted in 8 recipients total. The response rate was 88.8%. The breakdown of educators was 75% educators who not in the classroom, and 75% educators in the classroom. Participants were provided a small chocolate bar and sincere thank you when they reported that they had completed the survey.

Co-teaching training highlighted specific classroom differentiation practices including instruction driven by formative assessment, small group instruction, and collaboration between general education and special education teachers. This research indicated that these practices appear to be decreasing in the school, but that the co-teach training corresponds with greater adherence to these practices. Further, there is a strong indication that individuals who attended the 2017 co-teach training valued their experience and use it in their current work.

Other elements assessed by this research did not provide clear connections. For example, there was no clear conclusion to be drawn between the expectations of individuals who attended training and their perceptions of the training’s effects on students.

Trained Teachers Reflect

This survey included a sub group of 6 teachers who attended the co-teach training who shared their perceptions of the student impact of co-teach training as well as their perceptions of the potential impacts at the time of the training. Approximately 88% of these teachers indicated that they entered the training expecting that it would have a positive impact on special education students, students with disabilities (504 plans) and students with behavior challenges. The remaining student demographics were expected to be impacted to lesser degrees: general education students with no services (62.5%), English Language Learners (50%), general education students with adverse childhood experiences (37.5%), and all students (25%).

These training attendees were also asked if they felt the program as implemented in their school impacted the same groups. The responses indicating positive impacts were somewhat lower than their expectations. Approximately 75% indicated that students with behavior challenges and students with 504 plans were positively impacted while only 50% indicated uniformly positive impacts for special education students. Responses were also lower for general education students with no services (37.5%).

A comparison of the expected (blue) and actual (orange) impact of co-teach methods

It is significant that two demographics increased in their perceived impact: English Language Learners increased to 62.5%, and general education students with adverse childhood experiences (ACES) nearly doubled to 62.5%.

When asked about impacts of the co-teaching training on teacher practices, teachers who had attended the training indicated that it had changed their practices. All of the teachers in this subgroup indicated that the training was useful to their current work: 87.5% indicated that they found the training “extremely useful,” and 12.5% indicated that they found the training ”moderately useful.” The specific teaching practices influenced by co-teach training that his study assessed were the use of formative assessment to differentiate instruction, collaboration between special education and general education teachers, and small group instruction. Multiple elements of the study indicated that co-teaching had an impact on teachers’ use of these practices.

Formative Assessment to Drive Instruction

Most teachers who attended the co-teach training indicated an increased use of formative instruction to inform differentiation in the five years after the training, while teachers who did not attend the co-teach training reported no change in their practices while the practice decreased school-wide. Respondents were not asked to consider the reason for their practices.

Inferences can be made regarding the co-teaching training impact by surveying teachers who had co-taught in the years since the training but did not attend the training and comparing their responses to co-teachers who attended the training. For example, 100% of teachers who did not attend co-teaching training reported that their instances of collaboration with special education or general education teachers has decreased moderately or greatly since co-teach training. Additionally, observers reported that school-wide practices of collaboration between special education and general education teachers decreased. For teachers who attended co-teaching training, 50% found their collaboration decreased, 25% found that collaboration rates stayed the same, and 25% found their collaboration decreased (fig 3). These responses seem to indicate that, although collaboration among declined among all educators, the impact of co-teach training may be to minimize movement away from this practice.

Collaboration between Special and General Ed

Perceived differences in teacher practices extend to small group instruction as well. The teachers who did not attend co-teach training reported that their use of small group instruction had either stayed the same (50%), or decreased moderately (50%), while only 25% of teachers who attended the training reported a decrease and 75% reported an increase.

While teaching decreased drastically, only co-teach trained teachers reported using it the same or more.

To put these changes in perspective, individuals who attended co-teaching training but were no longer in the classroom and had instructional coach roles within the building reported that the use of these practices building wide had decreased substantially:

  • 50% of respondents who were not in the classroom reported that collaboration, and the use of formative instruction decreased greatly within the building
  • 50% of respondents who were not in the classroom reported that small group instruction decreased moderately, and 50% reported that it had decreased greatly

Small Group Instruction

The rates of small group instruction follow a similar trend: a decrease overall, but increase among the co-teach trained teachers. As with the practice of formative assessment, these responses indicate that teachers who attended co-teach training increased their use of a classroom practice while the schoolwide trend was to decrease that practice. Nearly all of the co-teach trained teachers continue to use small group instruction, while the 100% of the observers of school-wide practice indicate that this teaching practice has decreased moderately or greatly throughout the school.

What’s Next?

All of this indicates a need for further exploration of the topic. Expansion of the survey to educators at the school district’s other secondary schools would provide a more comprehensive view of the adoption of co-teach principles at this level. Additionally, follow up interviews would provide clarity regarding responses that were unclear on the survey. For example, it would be useful to know the reason for a decrease in specific co-teach skills: is it due to how the program was or was not implemented, a decrease in program implementation, the teacher determining that the skills was not useful, or another reason that was not an option in the survey. A limiting factor that would result from including all the middle schools would be that each middle school has its own culture and practices. Expanding this would also start to address the problem of the tiny sample size.

Further, The results of this survey indicate positive teacher perceptions of the co-taught training, and concerns regarding the time allowed for collaboration between co-teachers and quantity of training. This suggests that consideration be given to identifying ways to allow teachers more time for these activities. Additionally, indications that co-teaching trained educators pedagogy has changed following the training irrespective of their current position or trends in the school culture suggest that it would be beneficial to examine the reason for changes in school culture away from differentiation practices.

If differentiation practices are valued within the district but co-teaching is prohibitively difficult (as evidenced by the program shrinking) but teachers continue to utilize the strategies they learned during their training, it consideration should be given to utilizing co-teach training methods to teach differentiation strategies to non-coteaching educators.

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