May 8, 2012
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Recent years have seen a growing emphasis on inclusive instructional models, in which all students receive instruction simultaneously. An inclusive model may be achieved through various strategies, one of which is co-teaching. Broadly, co-teaching may be defined as a mode of instruction in which two or more educators (or other certified staff members) share responsibility for a group of students in a single classroom or workspace. Co-teaching is not necessarily collaborative, nor is it synonymous with traditional team teaching, which generally does not alter the student-teacher ratio and does not blend multiple instructional approaches.
Unlike team teaching, “co-teaching draws on the strengths of both the general educator, who understands the structure, content, and pacing of the general education curriculum, and the special educator, who can identify unique learning needs of individual students and enhance curriculum and instruction to match those needs.” Researchers note that the basic requirements of co-teaching are:
- Parity between the co-educators;
- A heterogeneous group of students; and
- The use of a variety of instructional models.
Although it may be implemented at any grade level, co-teaching is most common in elementary and middle schools. However, many students with disabilities experience particular difficulty in middle and high school, often resulting from miscommunication between educators, an increase in the difficulty of assignments, or the challenges of an instructional environment focused on content mastery. Teachers may also struggle to meet the academic needs of special education students at the secondary level. The 1997 IDEA Amendments mandated that students with disabilities receive the same content knowledge as their peers, a challenging task at the secondary level, when content areas become increasingly specified and require greater depth of mastery. Since special educators cannot be masters of all content areas, researchers note, “collaboration with general education is essential.” Co-teaching thus functions as a means of facilitating such collaboration.
It is important to note, however, that co-teaching at the high school level poses several unique challenges, attributable to “the emphasis on content knowledge, the need for independent study skills, the faster pacing of instruction, high stakes testing, high school competency exams, less positive attitudes of teachers, and the inconsistent success of strategies that [are] effective at the elementary level.” Nonetheless, recent research suggests that co-teaching—while not the most prevalent form of support for disabled students—has become increasingly popular at various grade levels.
Due in part to its relatively recent emergence, empirical research on the effectiveness of co-teaching—in terms of quantitatively-measured student outcomes—is limited. Indeed, very few large-scale studies on co-teaching have been conducted to date, and smaller-scale studies have yielded mixed results. As a result, districts may face challenges in considering the implementation of a co-teaching model.
To learn more about the Co-Teaching Model, including an overview of the literature surrounding co-teaching as a mode of instruction for children with and without disabilities, best practices in the implementation of co-teaching, and research on effectiveness, download the full report.