Co-Teaching in a Kindergarten Classroom
By Stephanie Wozniak
Problem of Practice
I teach kindergarten and readiness kindergarten at a public elementary school in a rural area in southeast Michigan. My building has twenty-one teachers grades Readiness Kindergarten through six and we operate on a seven hour/day schedule. We have one technology coordinator, one social worker, two resource room teachers, one self contained classroom teacher, one speech pathologist and one school psychologist.
This year our principal has begun to stress the importance of early intervention programs. She is very passionate about classroom teachers doing everything they can to help students succeed in the general education classroom. Our school services many inclusion students who spend most of their day in the general classroom, leaving only for short periods of time for various “pull-out” programs. All of these issues lead me to believe that our school is in a prime spot to introduce co-teaching.
Our school has been a leader in our county in developing a quality kindergarten program. We have piloted several programs in conjunction with the Monroe County Intermediate School District including a phonemic awareness program that allows the two kindergarten teachers, speech pathologist and early elementary resource room teacher to work closely together. In some ways co-teaching has already been implemented somewhat through this program. However, I believe that my kindergarten classroom would be a great place to pilot a full time co-teaching program with a speech pathologist working in my classroom full time with my students and myself.
Implementing co-teaching is important to me for several reasons. As I stated, as a kindergarten teacher I have already had some experience with co-teaching to an extent. The phonemic awareness program that we have in place is extremely important to our grade level and already requires a large amount of collaboration. I feel that true, full time co-teaching would aid in the continued and prolonged success of this program.
The following are issues that need to be addressed when considering the implementation of co-teaching:
Subject Matter Aspects
In a co-teaching situation the way subject matter would be presented would change. There could be more small group instruction rather than whole group, which is good for students who need more individualized attention. There would also be more opportunities for working in both homogeneous and heterogeneous groups, which would be great for both general education and special education students. According to the text “Teaching Students Who Are Exceptional, Diverse and At Risk in the General Education Classroom “ ideally class grouping arrangements could flow from one configuration to the next and the teachers would be comfortable moving to small group instruction (Vaughn, et al., 2007, p. 37).
The instruction in my classroom would change, and this may be the biggest adjustment for me personally. Two professionals would be taking over the planning, instruction and assessment. It would be total partnership in every way possible.
Setting of Occurrence
I am envisioning this co-teaching situation between myself and the speech pathologist to occur in what is currently my kindergarten classroom. I teach kindergarten in the morning and readiness kindergarten in the afternoon, so the speech pathologist would be in my classroom Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM until 11:09 (the end of the morning session). I do not see a need for co-teaching in my readiness kindergarten class at this time.
The parties involved in the implementation of co-teaching would include me, the speech pathologist, Trish, my morning kindergarten class and the school administration. Trish, the students and I would be the most heavily involved obviously, but the school administration plays an important role as well. It would be the role of the administration to approve this project, find support for it from the school board and find funding for it.
Classroom supports and barriers
The classroom supports would include the title one aides that work in my classroom. They would be a tremendous help in making sure our collaborative classroom ran smoothly. Another support would be the other professionals that work with my students, including the resource room teacher and school psychologist. The biggest barrier would probably be space. My classroom is not big by any means and it may be a tight fit having two teachers with two desks trying to work in a relatively small space.
School level supports and barriers
As far as support from a school level is concerned I believe our administration would be excited about implementing co-teaching into our kindergarten program. The school is already very invested in the success of our kindergarten program and I believe this endeavor would be viewed as a wonderful intervention tool and a way to help more students in a hands-on way. There are, however, some pretty big barriers in this area. Funding for co-teaching would probably be the biggest, problem. If the speech pathologist is in my room for three hours a day/five days a week that means that her regular duties are going undone for that amount of time. A part-time speech pathologist may need to be hired in order to help share the workload.
How did the need for co-teaching arise?
I feel that the need for co-teaching in my classroom has arisen for several reasons. As I mentioned above, our school has adopted an intensive phonemic awareness program that is centered on early intervention. Our focus on phonemic awareness and early intervention strategies takes up a large portion of instructional time. There is extensive testing of all kindergarteners done three times a year, there is grouping (and regrouping as the student grow and their needs change) and finally there is the actual instructional time spent on teaching the basics of phonemic awareness to the students at their various skill levels.
One of the goals of this process is to pinpoint those students who are struggling with phonemic awareness skills and to try to intervene and help improve their skills. This is an early intervention tactic and has been moderately successful thus far.
While the speech pathologist and I already work extremely closely each day I feel that if we were to truly implement co-teaching we could service our students so much better. Currently we have what we refer to as phonemic awareness groups twice a week for thirty minutes. If Trish were in my classroom full-time working with “our kids” for three hours per day I truly believe our success rate for emerging readers would steadily improve. I also believe that it would help my inclusion students feel more comfortable, secure and confident because they would have twice the amount of help and support then they currently are receiving.
What impact will co-teaching have on teaching and learning?
I foresee co-teaching have a rather large impact on everything regarding my current teaching practice. Right now I am the sole teacher in my classroom. I make all of the decisions, I do all of my own planning and I am solely responsible for all of my students. If I were to implement co-teaching into my classroom all of that would change. I would be entering into a partnership with another teacher and all of my solo activities would become a partnership.
According to the article “Co-Teaching: An Effective Approach for Inclusive Education” by Donni Stickney there are several defining characteristics that make a good co-teacher. Some of those are, “professional competence, good communication and problem solving skills, flexibility, and ability to invest extra time as needed” (2003). I feel that I possess these characteristics to an extent but if I can work on them even further my teaching and the learning will be greatly improved.
By implementing co-teaching in my classroom I hope to accomplish many goals. However there are three specific goals that I plan to focus on:
· Create an instructional environment that promotes the educational success and a sense of belonging for all students. This is a major goal for me because I feel very strongly about all of my students feeling as though they belong. In the article “What Matters Most in Inclusive Education: A Practical Guide for Moving Forward” the drawbacks of focusing only on physical placement of inclusion students and not emotional wellbeing is discussed. The following is a statement taken from that article: “Despite progress in terms of integrating of learners with disabilities in general education classes, it is important to note that the physical placement of students in general education classes is not an end in and of itself but rather a means to an end. Inclusion does not refer to a physical space; it refers to a condition or state of being. The concept of inclusion implies a sense of belonging and acceptance. Hence, inclusion has more to do with how educators respond to individual differences than it has to do with specific instructional configurations.” (Voltz, et al. 2001). I sincerely want to create a sense of belonging for my students and co-teaching with a special education teacher seems to be an excellent way to do just that.
· Dedicate more time to giving all students more personalized attention and help. This is a major goal that I am hoping to achieve as the result of co-teaching. It stands to reason that with two educators in charge of one classroom there would be more opportunities for students to receive personalized help. Whether it is one-on-one or small group, students would be able to get the specific instruction they require to fit their learning style.
· Work closely with co-teacher to identify students who may qualify for early interventions. As a kindergarten teacher I am often the first educator who sees the potential for some students to qualify as being at-risk. Once I am confident that the referral process needs to be started it can often take months before any action is taken by the school diagnostic team, and even then it is always very difficult due to the young age of the student. I feel that co-teaching with a special education professional, such as the speech pathologist, will improve our abilities to identify and help at-risk students.
Plan of Action
The goals that I have laid out above are vitally important to the success of my plans for co-teaching in my classroom. The first goal has to do with using co-teaching to create a positive learning environment where all students feel included and as though they belong. According to the article “Six Steps to Successful Co-Teaching” there are steps that, if followed, will have a positive impact on the co-teaching experience. They are:
1. Establish a rapport
2. Identify your teaching styles and then use them to create a cohesive classroom
3. Discuss strengths and weaknesses
4. Discuss Individualized Education Plans and regular education goals
5. Formulate a plan of action and act as a unified team
6. Take risks and grow (Marston, 2007)
These steps not only ensure a successful working relationship between me and my partner they also ensure a successful learning environment for our students. If we act as a unified team, discuss everything, strive to make a cohesive classroom, and take risks our instruction will surely be strengthened as will our ability to successfully reach all students, general and special education.
The second goal has to do with using co-teaching as a means to dedicate more time to servicing students’ individual needs. Co-teaching is an excellent way to reach a variety of students who have a variety of different needs and learning styles. According to and article by Sue Land entitled “Effective Teaching Practices for Student in an Inclusive Classroom” there are a variety of teaching methods that can be employed when using co-teaching. These methods include:
1. Interactive Teaching - Teachers alternate roles of presenting, reviewing, and monitoring instruction.
I feel that the goal of giving students more personalized attention and help is well within reach if these various teaching methods are employed at key times for key lessons. Students who do well in small groups will thrive with station teaching, alternative teaching and parallel teaching while interactive teaching is ideal for students who learn better in whole group settings. The different teaching style of each educator is also a plus, as one style over the other may work better for some kids.
The third goal is geared specifically toward the use of co-teaching to better identify students who may be at-risk. This goal can be reached through co-teaching by allowing both the general education teacher and the special education teacher ample time to get to know and work with every student. The text “Teaching Students Who Are Exceptional, Diverse and At Risk In the General Education Classroom” states that, “the benefits of cooperative teaching are that the teachers have the opportunity to co-plan, co-teach and thus to coordinate and assess the ongoing educational programs of all students. Furthermore, the responsibilities and rewards of meeting the needs of students with disabilities are shared and all students in the classroom are likely to benefit from the teachers’ expertise and coordination” (Vaughn, et al., 2007, p. 36-37). It is this expertise and coordination that will allow the co-teaching team to identify students who may benefit from early intervention and in response, use the co-teaching methods listed above to provide these students with the help they need.
Evaluation of the effectiveness of the implementation of co-teaching will be an ongoing process. When looking at evaluation of each one of the goals specifically there are various aspects that must be considered.
The effectiveness of the first goal regarding using co-teaching to create an environment where all students feel that they belong can be evaluated in several ways. I feel that the best way to evaluate whether or not a positive environment has been created is through general observation. Are the kids engaged, having fun, learning in a hands-on way? Looking at the day to day running of the classroom and the way the students interact with one another can tell a lot about the success of the programs within that room. Another way to evaluate the classroom environment would be to conduct parent interviews. This would give the team an idea of what the kids are saying when they get home and what the parents’ impressions of the program are.
The effectiveness of the second goal regarding dedicating more time and personalized attention to each student can be evaluated easily and effectively by using a time sheet. My partner and I could easily keep track of how much one-on-one or small group time each student is getting from one or both of us. This way we could see how much time each student is getting and make adjustments where needed.
Determining if this personal attention and help was beneficial in the long term success of the students would be dependent on the professional judgment of future teachers. Success of students who were in my classroom during a co-teaching year could be compared to those students who were not in a co-teaching environment and the results could be used to determine the effectiveness of the program.
The effectiveness of the third goal regarding identification of students who may qualify for early interventions can be determined in the short and long term. As far as short term success is concerned that could be determined by simply keeping a record of the number of students who were identified as needing early interventions and recording their progress throughout the school year. Records could be kept to check if these students made significant progress through the early intervention efforts of both the special and general education teachers.
Long term success could again be charted through keeping records of these students as they continue on through the higher elementary grades. Evaluation check sheets could be placed in the files of all students who were in my classroom during a co-teaching year. Teachers would be asked to fill out the check sheets each year in order to evaluate the long term success of the early intervention approaches that were begun in kindergarten.
Land, S. (2004). Effective Teaching Practices for Inclusive Education [Online].
Marston, N. (2008). Six Steps to Successful Co-Teaching: Helping Special and
Regular Education Teachers Work Together [Online]. Available: http://www.nea.org/teachexperience/spedk031113.html
Stickney, D. (2003). Co-Teaching: An Effective Approach for Inclusive Education
[Online]. Available: http://www.wm.edu/ttac/articles/inclusion/coteaching.html
Vaughn, S., Bos, C. & Schumm J.S. (2007). Teaching Students Who Are Exceptional
Diverse and At Risk in the General Education Classroom. Boston: Pearson
Votlz. D.L., Nettye, B., & Ford, A., (2001). What Matters Most in Inclusive Education:
A Practical Guide for Moving Forward [Online]. Available: http://www.powerof2.org/cgiwrap/powerof2/feature/index.php