Researchers provide framework for evaluating co-teaching

teachersTeacher evaluations of individual teachers pose many well-known challenges to administrators.  Less familiar are the challenges of evaluating co-teaching, the working partnership of a general education teacher and special education teacher in an inclusive classroom.

A recent study in Intervention in School and Clinic provides administrators with a much-needed framework for evaluating co-teaching.  The article includes a co-teaching checklist and recommendations for “what to ask for, look for, and listen for.”

“When co-teaching is not done effectively, special educators complain that they are treated as ‘glorified assistants’ who are unable to make any true impact on the general education curriculum or pedagogy,” the authors write.

“Many believe that if educators with varying areas of expertise and frames of reference are able to come together and collaborate on a daily basis in the same classroom, all students will benefit more: socially, behaviorally, and perhaps most important, academically.”

By definition, co-teaching involves having 2 credentialed teachers in the same classroom rather than a teacher and a paraprofessional, the more typical arrangement. Administrators have the right to ensure that teachers are engaged in practices that are significantly different from traditional approaches so that students in inclusive classrooms will benefit the most from co-teaching and students with disabilities will be able to master grade-level content, the authors write.

Authentic co-teaching has 3 components:

  • co-planning
  • co-instructing
  • co-assessing

Evaluation framework

The following features and elements need to be in place for genuine co-planning, co- instructing and co-assessing to occur, the researchers write:

Co-planning

Special educators are not expected to be content experts, which means they may be at a disadvantage in the classroom. They may find themselves in the position of playing catch-up, figuring out the instruction and later remediating when students can’t access the instruction.  The purpose of co-planning is for the special educator to have a more proactive role and to provide input into instruction. By bringing his or her expertise in differentiation, accommodation, positive behavior support and pedagogy on the front end,  a lesson can be developed that will help more students learn the material the first time it is presented.

Co-instructing

In many classrooms, teachers may be unclear on how to share the classroom stage, or, worse, may lack respect and regard for each other as professionals.  Ideally, teachers who co-teach take advantage of having 2 adults in the room by engaging in a variety of teaching approaches including regrouping students, with each providing substantive instruction in their areas of expertise.  The input of the special educator is clear, resulting in strategies, mnemonics and differentiated instruction. In the perfectly co-taught classroom, two teachers would enjoy each other and create a positive environment.

Co-assessing

General educators and special service providers have different frames of reference that affect the way they view assessments. General educators are typically more focused on standards and whole-class assessments while special educators are more familiar with individualized and/or alternative assessments.

With the emphasis on standards in No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the emphasis on individualization for IDEIA (2004), effective co-teaching can make a real difference for students with special needs, according to the authors.  Co-teachers should be able to describe or demonstrate how they accommodate students as individuals when determining their mastery of content and curriculum.

Class observation of co-teaching

To evaluate the quality of co-teaching, administrators need to know “what to ask for, look for, and listen for.”  Here are specific suggestions that can help administrators do a fair evaluation of the level of co-teaching in a classroom.

What do I ask for?

Prior to observing co-teachers in the classroom, ask for working documents from the classroom.  This documentation should demonstrate that the teachers are truly engaged in co-planning.
Examples of documentation to ask for include:

  • lesson plans  (e.g. Is lesson plan tiered, scaffolded or differentiated)
  • modified materials/syllabi (e.g. Have assignments been modified to support individualized learning?)
  • letters that were/are to be sent home/syllabi  (e.g. Are both teachers’ names on letters?)
  • SHARE worksheets (Completion of SHARE worksheet–Sharing hopes, attitudes, responsibilities and expectations–indicates co-teachers have worked together on discipline, grading, homework and class work policies. Worksheets are a tool that allows teachers to share their expectations, pet peeves and preferences with one another prior to working together.).)
  • problem-solving worksheets (e.g. Are both teachers actively engaged in problem solving?)
  • behavior documentation (Is each teacher collecting data while teaching?  Documentation should include behaviors, homework, tardiness, social skills classwork.)
  • student notes (e.g. Are student notes in a variety of formats? Are teachers viewed as equals by students?)
  • tiered lessons (Do lessons demonstrate how instruction is being differentiated?)
  • grade book  (According to notes or assignments, have both teachers had a hand in grading?)
  • accommodated assignments (Can teachers provide examples of modified tests or accommodations?)
  • description of how students are individually graded (Have teachers called or written to parents to inform them of how students with special needs will be graded?)

What do I look for?

Below are some of the things administrators should look for while they are observing a class. The essential question for all observers, the authors write, is:

  • Does what I’m seeing demonstrate to me that there is something substantively different because there are 2 teachers in this class as opposed to a solo-taught class or one with a teacher and a paraprofessional?
  • Other questions include:
  • How do both teachers circulate through the classroom?
  • Do they help all students or does the special education teacher help special education students while the general education teacher help general education students?
  • To what degree are both teachers aware of the content, the process of instruction and the overall goals?
  • Is technology a regular facet of instruction?
  • Are teachers aware of students’ different readiness levels by the way they regularly differentiate instruction?
  • Do the teachers work together to provide the various tiers of support under response to intervention?

What do I listen for?

Through careful listening, administrators should try to identify the extent to which teachers are including all students in their instruction, are scaffolding their instruction and providing tiered questions to challenge all learners appropriately. Those questions include:

  • If the class instruction were taped and compared to the taped instruction of a typical classroom would it be possible to distinguish it as the product of co-teaching?
  • What is the tone of conversation between the teachers?  Is it one of parity and collaboration?
  • Do students address both teachers by name rather than “Mrs. Smith and her helper?”
  • Are students with and without disabilities clearly comfortable asking questions of either teacher rather than waiting for a specific teacher to be available?
  • Do students show acceptance of differences in the classroom?  Do students with disabilities speak in a way that expresses a sense of belonging in the class?

As with any observations, the authors recommend that supervisors visit a classroom multiple times before making any final judgment.

“Observing Co-Teaching: What to Ask For, Look For, and Listen For,” by Wendy Murawski and Wendy Lochner, Intervention in School and Clinic,  Volume 46, Number 3, pps. 174-183. 

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