When teachers Megan Suarez and Dana Swensson attended a training on co-teaching, they were so excited they couldn’t wait to get back to their classrooms to implement it. Suarez is a special education teacher and Swensson teaches a traditional third grade class at South Ridge Elementary School. The co-teaching model allows them to teach all of their students together, in a unified classroom without barriers. No matter what level a student is academically, they get to spend time with peers and achieve at their own level. And they have seen immediate results: student math scores have improved, and the class has become more inclusive overall.
Suarez and Swensson grouped students with similar skill sets together. Then they created teaching stations in different areas of the room. Each group circulates through the same teaching stations. At one station, students work as a group on a list of problems; at another, they use laptops and headphones to do independent math games. Swensson teaches multiplication to one group at the whiteboard, and Suarez helps other students use colored squares as a visual way to solve problems. Every student goes through every station—and each station can be customized to that student’s level of learning.
Teacher Dana Swensson works with students on multiplication at one station.
At another station, Megan Suarez works with a group of students using colored squares to visualize multiplication.
Another group of students plays a math game on laptops.
There is a very wide range of abilities in the classroom, but the activities run seamlessly. Suarez explained, “I’ll typically start each group with the same problem. If they struggle a little bit, I can either re-teach or work on the fundamental skills. If they do fine or notice some mathematical challenges, then I can go a little deeper. I can really tailor to each group.”
For many years, students who required specialists in learning disabilities, in advanced learning, or in English as a second language were separated from their classmates, pulled out of class for focused learning time. Often it put them further behind, because they were missing the day-to-day instruction that other students received.
Now with co-teaching, all students get to spend time learning together in the classroom. Students who need help still receive specialized learning time during WIN (What I Need) time each week, but the majority of their day is spent with a group of students in their grade level. “Now I only work with them for a very small percent of the day,” Suarez said, “to help build some of the basic skills that they’re missing.”
With two teachers in the classroom, students get more focused attention for each lesson. “It’s not exactly one-on-one. But the small groups allow more time to meet the needs of the kids,” Swensson explained. While they had only a partial year of co-teaching last year, classroom and standardized test scores improved. “We noticed once we started this teaching model that they got the best scores they’ve ever had.”
Swensson and Suarez enjoy working together, being able to support each other and plan together for their classes. And they see benefits for their students as well. “The kids like working with another teacher,” Swensson said. “And they enjoy getting to work in a group, getting to collaborate. Students aren’t excluded; they get to be included with their peers. It allows them to be part of a more positive community. They’re all a part of this together.”