Wendy Lipe :
If you are fortunate enough to work in a co-teaching situation, we encourage you to try station teaching and/or alternative teaching as instructional models. Station teaching is perfect for when you want to implement a variety of learning activities, and alternative teaching is an excellent method of differentiating instruction for two groups working at different academic levels.
Co-Teaching is becoming more common as administrators begin to see the benefits to students including increased student performance and decreased student behavior issues. Co-Teaching can be defined as two or more certified / licensed professionals sharing the duties of lesson planning, implementation, assessment, and classroom management. It is generally accepted that there are six instructional models that co-teachers can use to present instruction and they include: One Teach / One Observe, One Teach / One Assist, Team Teaching, Parallel Teaching, Station Teaching, and Alternative Teaching. Both station teaching and alternative teaching provide a defined structure for differentiating content and delivery and allow teachers to work with mixed ability levels. This article will cover these two models in greater detail. For a brief overview of all six models, please read the resource available for download here, The Six Models of Co-Teaching. If you want to learn even more about co-teaching, and how to implement it successfully in your classroom, you may want to consider our full course, Planning for Co-Teaching: Strategies and Tools to Ensure Success.
In the station teaching model of instruction, students and content are divided into three or more groups. Each teacher teaches one section of content, while the remaining sections are based on independent practice activities, and students rotate between all of the stations. Smaller group size inevitably means that students get more individual attention. Additionally, teachers can plan their lesson based on their own instructional strengths. However, implementing station teaching has its challenges as well. It requires a great amount of planning, and timing is critical so it may be hard to coordinate perfectly. Teachers must also consider that some students may not be able to manage themselves appropriately in independent stations, so strong classroom management is key. Station teaching can be used frequently as long as it is planned well based on teacher strengths and implements a wide variety of differentiated activities.
How you form groups for station teaching will be primarily based on the content being taught at each station. Most likely, you will want students to be in homogenous groups so that when they are at a teacher-led station, instruction can be differentiated for the level of that particular group. Even when students are working at an independent station, it will be easier to manage if each student in the group is working at the same level and can have the same activity. However, the key here is flexibility. Groups will need to change from day to day and subject to subject. Your group organization should be based on data from assessments, which can be actual tests, daily assignments or even informal observations. You may even have occasions when heterogeneous groups are warranted. For example, this could be particularly effective if you want to pair up an on-level reader with an above level reader in a buddy reading station.
Here is an elementary classroom where two first grade teachers are co-teaching a literacy block. The class has been divided into three similarly sized groups and will rotate among three stations. At station 1, they will be paired up to read a fiction text with their reading buddy and then they will each draw a picture representing what they visualized while they read. By this point in the year, students have already had a mini-lesson about visualization, so this is not a new skill. At station 2, they will work with one teacher in a guided reading group, and the teacher has separate plans for each of the three groups based on their previous assessment data. At station 3, they will work with the second teacher on their new spelling list, sorting the words based on the spelling pattern. Again, the teacher has planned three separate spelling lists based on levels. For this particular day, the students have been placed in three homogenous groups based on student reading levels, which were determined from a beginning of the reading assessment. Within each group, the teachers have identified pairs of students that are reading at the same reading level and have similar interests.
Station teaching is not limited to elementary school! Here is what it might look like in a secondary setting:
Two high school math teachers are co-teaching an algebra class. The class has been divided into four similarly sized groups and will rotate among four stations. At station 1, they will work with a teacher-assigned partner to solve a set of five polynomial equations. At station 2, they will use laptops to complete a Desmos activity on graphing polynomials. This activity is self-paced and teachers will be able to determine the extent of their knowledge based on how far into the activity they get during the allotted time. At stations 3 and 4, they will work with each teacher as they take notes on a new skill. The groups they have formed are heterogeneous with a mix of ability levels, but for station 1, the teachers planned pairs of students with one higher performing student and one who struggles a bit more with polynomials. This was based on data they collected from an exit ticket the previous day. The teachers are comfortable with the mixed level groups for their new lessons because at only one fourth of the class per group, they will still be able to provide enough individualized attention during their station teaching.
In the alternative teaching model of instruction, one teacher teaches a lesson to the majority of the class, while a second teacher pulls a small group for an alternate or modified lesson. While alternative teaching provides an excellent opportunity for enrichment or intervention as needed, it can lead to students feeling negatively singled out. Alternative teaching is best used for times when any assessment data (whether formal or informal) indicates that a small group of students needs extra assistance before moving on or needs deeper enrichment while the majority of the class needs reteaching.
Because alternative teaching is done when a teacher pulls a small group for a different lesson, groups are usually homogeneous based on academic level. The small group receiving alternate instruction may be a lower group than the rest of the classroom and require intervention or reteaching. On the other hand, the small group may be at a higher level and in that case, the teacher needs to provide enrichment opportunities to extend their learning. As with station teaching groups, the groups need to remain flexible and will change from lesson to lesson. Also as with station teaching groups, groups should be formed based on assessment data. When your data shows particular students struggling with a task or skill, that indicates you and your co-teacher should pull those students aside for extra assistance. When the data shows a group of students who have mastered a skill, you may want to extend their learning with something more complex.
Here is an example of alternative teaching in a middle school classroom. After reviewing data from the last math assessment, a sixth grade classroom teacher and his student teacher realize there is a group of five students who still do not fully grasp the concept of multiplying decimals. The student teacher plans an intervention lesson for those five students, pulling them to work in the common area outside the classroom, while the classroom teacher moves onto the next concept with the remainder of the class.
Alternative teaching can work with subjects other than math as well. Picture two high school language arts teachers who have just collaboratively scored their students' first literature critique essays. The majority of the students appear to be on-level and will benefit from the next planned lesson on adding text evidence to support their critique.
One of the teachers feels particularly passionate about teaching text evidence, and she agrees to plan and teach that lesson the following day. However, there is also a group of 5 writers whose work stands out as above average and they decide that the second teacher, who has experience teaching advanced placement literature classes will pull this group aside to present a more advanced lesson on comparing two pieces of literature.
As you can see, both station teaching and alternative teaching are instructional models that will greatly benefit students when planned well. This is due to the opportunities for differentiation they offer, as well as a lower teacher-to-student ratio. With the tools provided here for you, you can plan and implement a lesson with your co-teacher and see the benefits firsthand!
(Wendy Lipe, Project Manager & Instructor, Southwest Texas State University)