Co-Teaching in Distance Learning

Kelly Nelson-Danley
Kelly Nelson-Danley
Assistant elementary school principal; Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction
Teacher on a video session with students and another teacher.

What is Co-Teaching?

Co-teaching involves more than one teacher sharing the “teaching” role in a classroom. In a co-teaching relationship, teachers share the responsibilities of planning, delivery of instruction, and the delivery of assessment and feedback. In this type of setting, teachers equally take on accountability for instructing students. Oftentimes this occurs when a general education teacher pairs up with a special education teacher, an Enhancement teacher (music, PE, art, etc.), or an instructional coach, but can occur when any two teachers teach together.

Educators choose to co-teach for many reasons. Co-teaching creates an opportunity for students to interact with more than one knowledgeable teacher. It also allows students with disabilities access to the general education setting and curriculum in a more inclusive way as they have access to their regular education teacher and content, while having access to differentiation provided by their special education teacher.

Furthermore, lessons developed by more than one teacher tend to be stronger, more creative, and well-planned lessons due to teachers sharing in the planning process and brainstorming ideas that will meet the needs of all students. Co-teaching, when done correctly, can build relationships, foster collaboration, and meet the needs of a variety of students.

Co-Teaching Models and Strategies for Distance Learning

Co-teaching can occur in a variety of ways and in a variety of settings. The following models are ways co-teaching can be done in and out of the classroom.

  • Parallel Teaching – This occurs when a class is divided into groups and each teacher delivers the same information to students at the same time. When applied to distance learning, this can occur in a Zoom meeting by using the breakout feature to place students into two groups. Each group would receive the same instruction, at the same time, from a certified teacher.
  • Teaching and Observing – This type of co-teaching occurs when one teacher delivers instruction while the other teacher observes students as they are learning and working. This can be done in a Zoom session as well. In this situation, one teacher would lead the Zoom lesson while the other teacher observes and takes notes. After the lesson is complete, the teachers can collaborate by reflecting on notes taken and using this qualitative data to plan further instruction.
  • Teaching and Assisting – Teaching and assisting occurs when one teacher delivers instruction and the other teacher assists students as needed. Teaching and assisting could also be done virtually. As one teacher instructs students, the other may open up a breakout room for one or more students to assist with individual learning needs as they arise.
  • Alternative Teaching – Alternative teaching happens when one teacher delivers content to a large group of students and another teacher instructs a small group of students based on student need. Alternative teaching is similar to ‘teaching and assisting’ in that it allows a group of students to participate in the regular classroom while receiving accommodations and modifications to help them be successful. Chat features and breakout room features in virtual classrooms can assist special education teachers in modifying lessons as needed for their students.
  • Small Group Teaching/Stations – This occurs when each teacher teaches a part of the content to a small group. Students rotate through groups to get each part of the content. Breakout groups in Zoom can be utilized to put students into small groups or virtual stations. Teachers have the option to bring the entire class back together and assign students into new groups, as a virtual rotation.
  • Team Teaching – Team teaching is a type of co-teaching in which both teachers deliver instruction at the same time, taking turns instructing and observing or assisting. This can also easily be done over Zoom. Zoom lessons allow teachers to take turns speaking and sharing screens. Additionally, many online tools and platforms such as Google Classroom and Class Dojo allow “co-teachers” in virtual classrooms. This feature allows multiple teachers to manage course content and deliver instruction.

Co-teaching is a great alternative to traditional classroom teaching and learning. Alternative learning strategies consider individual student needs and make student engagement a priority. Additionally, co-teaching promotes collaborative teaching and learning. The ability to meet with colleagues and plan solid instruction is key to ensuring students receive what they need. Peer planning exposes educators to more instructional tools and resources, as well as new ways of teaching. Another great thing about co-teaching is that it can be done in person or virtually. By utilizing co-teaching strategies, educators can improve collaboration and bring quality instruction into a virtual setting.

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