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Exceptional Children

The ABCDEs of Co-Teaching

Sharon Vaughn, Jeanne Shay Schumm and Maria Elena Arguelles

TEACHING Exceptional Children 1997 30: 4
DOI: 10.1177/004005999703000201
The online version of this article can be found at:
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On behalf of:
Council for Exceptional Children

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>> Version of Record - Nov 1, 1997

What is This?

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Tiffany Royal is a fifth-grade teacher at

Flamingo Elementary School in Miami. For
the past 3 years she has co-taught language
arts and social studies for part of the school
day with Joyce Duryea, a special education
teacher. For both teachers, the idea of working coUaboratively with another teacher was
not part of their original plan for teaching.
Joyce said:
When I was preparing to be a special education teacher it never occurred to me that I would need to
know how to co-teach in a general
education classroom. I always
thought I would have my group of
students with special needs and
that is the way it would be.

Tiffany felt the training she received to

become an elementary teacher did little to
prepare her for her present position. She
I was taught about curriculum and
classroom management, but not coteaching. I suppose these changes
took everyone by surprise.
Tiffany and Joyce are part of a growing
number of teachers whose "solo" teaching
roles have changed in the past few years.
For both Joyce and Tiffany, the changes are
for the better. Tiffany said:
We learn so much from each other.
Really, Joyce has taught me how to
implement strategies that are good
for other students in the class, not
just the students with special needs.
It is wonderful to have a partner to
bounce ideas off who really understands the kids.

Joyce put it this way:

I think I'm a better teacher now,
and I definitely have a much better
understanding of what goes on in
the general education classroom
and what kinds of expectations I
need to have for my students.
Both teachers agree that their co-teaching has had real benefits for the students.
They are convinced that the benefits are not
just for students with special needs but for
all students. As Joyce, the special education
teacher, said:
I am able to provide some support
for all of the students in the class.
Mind you, I never lose sight of why
I'm in here, to assist the students
with identified special needs, but
there are benefits for other students,
as well.


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Both Joyce and Tiffany feel lucky to

work with each other. but are also aware
that co-teaching is not always so mutually
satisfying. They know of other teachers who
are working in co-teaching situations where
the partnerships are not nearly as successful. Co-teaching is a bit like a marriage. Both
partners have to feel that they are giving
100% and have to want things to work out.
This is particularly true when their philosophies about teaching and discipline are
different (see box page 9. "Common CoTeaching Issues").

Modifying Models for

eo-Teaching Roles

Tiffany and Joyce are not unusual in that

they had little preparation for co-teaching.
As experienced teachers, both had good
ideas about how they would establish their
classrooms and instruct their students. They
were just not clear about how they would
do it together.
What roles do teachers often implement
when co-teaching? Having observed in more
than 70 co-teaching classrooms, we have
identified several typical practices that teachers implement. We feel that when these
practices are refined, they provide more
effective and efficient uses of teachers' time
and skills. 1\vo practices that need modification are grazing and tag-team-teaching.

In grazing, one teacher stands in front of

.the room providing an explanation or
instruction. and the other teacher moves
from student to student checking to see if
they are paying attention or following along.
Often. in co-teaching situations. teachers are
involved in grazing; and yet they report to
us that they are not sure it is a good use of
their time. Unfortunately. they are uncertain
about what else they could be doing during
this time that would be more effective.
We suggest that teachers replace grazing with teaching on purpose-giving
60- second. 2-minute. or 5-minute lessons
to individual students. pairs of students, or

even a small group of students. Teaching on

purpose often involves a follow-up to a
previous lesson or a check and extension of
what is presently being taught. Teachers
who implement "teaching on purpose" keep
a written log of information for each special
education student who needs follow-up.
Sometimes this follow-up work is related to
key ideas, concepts. or vocabulary from the
lesson or unit. Teachers may realize that selected students are still unsure of critical information; during "teaching on purpose"
lessons, they approach the student. check
for understanding. and then follow up with
a mini-lesson.
You may wonder how students can pay
attention to the presentation at hand if the
co-teacher is moving from student to
student and "teaching on purpose." Students quickly adjust to the role of the second teacher and, in fact, often want the
teacher to check in with them.

In this familiar scenario. one teacher stands

in the front of the room providing a lesson
or presentation. and the other teacher either
stands in the back of the room or sits at a
desk involved in another activity. When the
first teacher has completed the lesson, he
or she moves to the back of the room or sits
at a desk, and the second teacher takes over.
Teachers often use tag-team-teaching because they are unsure of how else they can
deliver instruction to the class as a whole.
Further, they have been provided few alternative models for how two teachers might
effectively teach together.
We have identified several alternative
models-Plans A through D-to grazing
and tag-tearn-teaching. We suggest that you
try all the
just select the one
that makes most sense to your teaching
team (Bauwens, Hourcade, & Friend. 1989).


One Group-One Lead

Teacher, One Teacher "Teaching
on Purpose"

As we previously suggested, teaching on

pUTpOse is an effective alternative to usual
models of co-teaching. Also called
"Supportive Learning Activities" (Bauwens
& Hourcade. 1995), Plan A provides
effective roles for both teachers.

In this structure, the general education

teacher does not always assume the lead
role, nor does the special education teacher
solely serve in the role of teaching on
purpose. Teachers can use the Planning
Pyramid Unit or Daily Lesson Form (see
Schumm. Vaughn, & Harris, 1997; Schumm.
Vaughn. & Leavell, 1994) to record the key
ideas they want every student to know and
then monitor the progress of students with
special needs through teaching on purpose.
Teachers can also use the Co-Teaching Daily
Lesson Plan Form (Figure 1 shows sample
items from this form with teachers' plans
added) provided in Figure 2.

Two Groups: Two Teachers

Teach Same Content

In Plan B, the students in the class form two

heterogeneous groups. and each teacher
works with one of the groups. The purpose
of using two smaller groups is to provide
additional opportunities for the students in
each group to interact, provide answers, and
to have their responses and knowledge
monitored by the teacher. This co-teaching
arrangement is often used as a follow-up to
the whole-group structure in Plan A.
Because small-group discussions and
teacher instruction always result in somewhat different material being addressed in
each group, teachers may want to pull the
groups together to do a wrap-up. The
purpose of a wrap-up is to summarize the
key points that were addressed in each
group, therefore familiarizing the whole
class with the same material. A wrap-up
also assists students in learning to critically
summarize key information.
Some teachers wonder whether students
must always be heterogeneously grouped
or if it ever makes sense to group students
based on their knowledge and expertise
about the designated topic. We feel that it
does; the next co-teaching model addresses
that issue.


Two Groups: One Teacher

Re-teaches, One Teacher Teaches
Altemative Information

In Plan C, teachers assign students to one

of two groups. based on their levels of
knowledge and skills for the designated


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1ratIspirafton at1d
wa1a' rl!Qulatiott



Roots at1d sfettts

What are you

going to teach?

General Educator

Figure I

aItwttative itlfonMa1fot1 Oast go 1ItitlvtaJ.

Platt A:
0t1e lead. Otte 1eachittg
on purpose. PIal' c: 0t1e
re-1eaches, Otte 1aches

to ",mum.

Platt J:
Two hehroQeneous

dffferettt groups.


Various types
of pIattts, library
books ott pIattts,

short video.

Celery staib,
carrots. colored
water. lab no1IbooI<,

What materials
are needed?

Ms. P: Lead.
Ms.l: Teaeh 011 purpose.
Mi-P:----- Vaselme. lab
ttOt!book. colon.
Ms. l: AIten1atfve


Each 1eacher works

wittt otte group of

Ms. P: Work wittt OM

Ms. l: Mot1Hor the
other groups.

Platt P:
Assigtl studettts 10

What are the specific

tasks of both teachers?

Which co-teaching
technique will you use?

- Lab report.


- KWLSheet.
- Piagra", of

WuJdy quiz.
Lean1ittg logs.


CotMpletiott of
lab report.

How will you

evaluate learning?

Special Educator----=M.=.=s.::....:P::....:urv::..:.....oc..;:8a=-


ott-OM or wittt par1t1er.

lab report ott co",.

usittg speIIchecIc 10 assist
wittt hat1dwrttftIg at1d

r. and Joat1: Retype

Sally W.: Reread library

book 10 illt1PtWe flUetlCy.

JohM at1d Julie: Review

vocabulary words


bul: Have bul paraphrase

sRps before

Information about students

who need foUow-up work

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What are you

going to teach?

General Educator

Figure 2

Which co#teaching
technique will you use?
What are the specific
tasks of both teachers?

What materials
are needed?

Special Educator
How will you
evaluate learning?


Information about students
who need follow#up work

COpy ME!

Collllllon Co-Teaching Issues

Based on extended observations and interviews with more than 70 general
education/special education teacher teams, we have identified several issues
that co-teachers must address if they are to be successful.
Whose students are these?

Address this issue before co-teaching begins: Who is responsible for the students in the classroom? The general education
teacher is responsible for all of the students in the class, but
how do these responsibilities change when the special education teacher is in the room? Who is responsible for the students
with special needs? Under what conditions do these responsibilities change?
Perhaps the issue that warrants the most discussion prior to coteaching is grading. Special education teachers are accustomed
to grading based on the effort, motivation, and abilities of the
students. General education teachers are accustomed to grading based on a uniform set of expectations that is only slightly
adjusted to reflect issues of effort, motivation, and student abilities. Making joint decisions about how grades will be handled
for in-class assignments. tests. and homework will reduce the
frictions frequently associated with grading special education
students in general education classrooms. Working together,
teachers can develop guidelines for grading to use with both
students and parents.
Whose classroom management rules do we use?

Most general and special education teachers know the types

of academic and social behaviors they find acceptable and unacceptable. Over the years, they have established consequences
for inappropriate behaviors. Rarely is there disagreement between teachers about the more extreme behaviors. The subtle
classroom management difficulties that are part of the ongoing routines of running a classroom. however, can cause concerns for teachers. Often. the special education teacher is unsure
about when he or she should step in and assist with classroom
management. Teachers should discuss their classroom management styles and the roles they expect of each other in maintaining a smoothly running classroom.
What space do I get?

When special education teachers spend part of their day instructing in general education classrooms, it is extremely usefulto have a designated area for them to keep their materials.
Adesk and chair that are used only by special education teachers provide them with a "base" from which to work and contribute to their position of authority.
What do we tell the students?
An issue repeatedly brought up by teachers is how much in-

formation should be given to students. Should students be in-

formed that they will have two teachers? Should students know
that one of the teachers is a special education teacher and that
she will be assisting some children more than others? The students should be informed that they have two teachers and that
teachers have the same authority. We think it is a good
idea to introduce the special education teacher as a "learning
abilities" specialist who will be working with all of the students from time to time. It is our experience that students willingly accept the idea of haVing two teachers and like it very
much. In interviews we have conducted. many students who
have participated in co-teaching classrooms tell us that having
two teachers is better because everyone gets more help.
What do we tell the parents?

Teachers are often unsure of how much they should tell parents about their new teaching arrangement. One of the concerns
that teachers have is how parents might react to having a special education teacher in the classroom for part of the day. It
is our experience that these programs are most successful when
parents are brought in early and are part of the planning
process. Thus. parents are part of the process from the beginning and are able to influence the development of the program.
Parents of average- to high-achieving children may express concerns that their children's education may be hampered because
students with special needs are placed in the classroom. Teachers report that these students fare as well or better, academically and socially, when students with special needs are in the
general education classroom; and all students benefit from the
support provided by the special education teacher (Arguelles.
Schumm, & Vaughn. 1996).
How can we get time to co-plan?

The most pervasive concern of both general and special education teachers in co-teaching situations is obtaining sufficient
time during the school day to plan and discuss instruction and
student progress. This is of particular concern for special education teachers who are working with more than one general
education teacher. Teachers report that planning often comes
on their own time. Even when a designated period is established for co-planning. teachers report that this time gets taken
away to be used for meetings and other school management
activities. Teachers need a minimum of 45 minutes of uninterrupted planning time each week if they are likely to have a
successful co-teaching experience. One suggestion made by
several of the teacher teams with whom we have worked is to
designate a day or a half-day every 6-8 weeks when teachers
can meet extensively to plan and discuss the progress of students. as well as changes in their instructional practices.


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topic. Although students with special needs

are often in the group that requires re-teaching, this is not always true. The criterion for
group assignment is not ability but skill level
on the designated topic. Though ability and
skill level for the designated topic are often
related, they are not the same. This is often
referred to as flexible grouping, because the
group to which students are assigned
is temporary and relates solely to their
knowledge and skills for the designated
topic. As the topic and skills that are addressed change, so does group composition.
In a co-teaching situation, it is tempting
to have the special education teacher always
provide instruction for students in the
re-teaching group and to have the general
education teacher provide instruction for
students who are ready for alternative
information. In our experience, the special
and general education teachers find it most
effective to alternate between groups. This
allows both teachers an opportunity to
work with the full range of students and
curriculum content.



One Group: Two Teachers

Teach Same Content

Plan E is perhaps the most difficult to

implement and certainly extremely challenging for teachers who are first learning to
co-teach. In Plan E, two teachers are
. directing a whole class of students, and both
teachers are working cooperatively and
teaching the same lesson at the same time.
For example, in one classroom where this
was implemented, a general education
science teacher was presenting a lesson on
anatomy; and the special education teacher
interjected with examples and extensions of
the key ideas. The special education teacher
also provided strategies to assist the students
in better remembering and organizing the
information that was presented.

Multiple Groups: Two

Teachers Monitor/Teach; Content

A Co-Teaching Plan of Action

May Vary

As mentioned earlier, these five approaches

to co-teaching are part of a coordinated
effort to implement multiple types of
co-teaching and grouping procedures that
can and should be implemented.
Let's visit Tiffany and Joyce again to
see how they are planning for effective
Tiffany and Joyce co-plan to determine
the critical information they want to cover
for selected units. Using a pyramid plan,
they consider information they think all
students should know, most students
should know, and some students should
know. They organize this information in
writing (see Schumm et al., 1997). Tiffany
and Joyce then consider the activities that
they will implement to ensure learning on
the part of all students. While considering
classroom activities, they think about the
materials they need and the co-teaching
structures they intend to use. Because both
teachers are highly familiar with the five coteaching alternatives described in this article, they refer to them by their
letter names (A, B, C, D, or E) and then decide which teacher will play which role. Decisions about the co-teaching structure

Plan D is much like using learning centers

or cooperative learning groups. Activities
related to the topic or lesson are arranged in
designated areas throughout the classroom.
(One area may have computers, another
may have audio equipment, etc.) Groups of
students either alternate working in each of
the designated areas, or are assigned to work
in a particular area that responds to their
specific needs. Teachers can perform one of
several roles:
Monitoring student progress.
Providing mini-lessons to individual
students or small groups of students.
Working with one group of students
during the entire period while the other
teacher monitors the remaining students
and activities.
This multiple-group format allows all or
most students to work in heterogeneous
groups, with selected students pulled for
specific instruction. Plan D can be particularly effective in language arts when students with specific reading disabilities
require specific and intensive small-group


Tiffany and Joyce will implement are closely

related to learning goals and activities. The
following is a typical plan for a unit of study:
1. Plan A is commonly implemented
during the first and second day of a new
unit. In this way, one teacher can provide
critical information to the class as a whole,
and the second teacher can provide
2. On the third day of the unit, Tiffany and
Joyce have decided to use Plan B, which
allows most students to interact with the
new material. The teachers can also ascer
tain which students understand the new
material and at what level of understanding they are operating. Plan Bprovides key
opportunities for the teachers to expand,
clarify, and extend learning.
3. On Days 4 and 5, the teachers decide to
implement a whole-class project in which
students are asked to work in heterogeneous
groups (Plan D). One teacher takes the lead
to explain the project, while the second
teacher assists the students with special
needs to ensure they are following the
directions. When students form small
groups, both teachers work actively with
each group. At the end of Day 5, the
teachers provide a brief quiz covering the
material presented during the week. The
information from this quiz is then used to
determine their co-teaching activities for the
following week.
4. Because six students performed poorly
on the quiz, the teachers use Plan Con Day
6. While one teacher re-teaches the students
who performed poorly, the other teacher
provides an alternative lesson to the rest of
the class.
5. During Day 7, they return to the wholegroup structure of Plan A.
6. For Days 8 and 9, the teachers use
learning centers and small groups (Plan D).
Thus, designing the co-teaching
structures they intend to implement each
day is an integral part of planning and
instruction for Tiffany and Joyce. When
planning for the
unit as a


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NovIDEC 1997 9

whole, both teachers consider how they will teach the critical infonnation and the roles each teacher will play. Like most teachers.
Tiffany and Joyce often have to make changes as they teach. but
they always feel they have a common roadmap or understanding
of where and how they want students to learn and the roles they
can play to facilitate that learning.


. . . . . .1

Arguelles. M. SChumm. J. 5. & Vaughn. S. (1996). Executive swnmaries for

ESElFEFP PilDt Program. Tallahassee. FL: Repol1 submilled 10 Florida
Depanment of Education.
Bauwens. J. & Hourcade. J. J. (1995). Cooperotive teaching: Rebuilding the
schoolhouse for all students. Austin. TX: Pro-Ed.
Bauwens. J Hourcade. J. J & Friend, M. (1989). Cooperative teaching: A
model for general and special education integration. Remedial and
Special Education. 10(2). 17-22.

Dieker. L. A. & Barnell. C. A. (1996). Effective co-teaching. TEACHING

Exceptional Children. 29(1), 5-7.
Kluwin. T. N.. Gonsher. w., Silver, K.. & Samuels, J. (1996). The E. T. class:
Education together. TEACHING Exceptional Children. 29(1). H-I S.
SChumm. J. 5., Vaughn. 5. & Harris. J. (1997). Pyramid power for collaborative planning for content area instruction. TEACHING Exceptional
Children. 29(6), 62-{;6.
SChumm. J. 5. Vaughn. 5. & Leavell. A. (1994). Planning pyramid: A framework for planning for diverse student needs during content area instruction.
The Rrotiing Teadzer. 47(8). 608-61 S.
Sharon Vaughn (CEC Chapter # 121). Professor, Depanment of Special
Education. University of Texas at Austin. Jeanne Shay SChumm
(CEC Chapter # 121). Professor; and Maria Elena Arguelles. Graduate
AssisraIU. University of Miami. Office of School-Based Research. Florida.

Dieker and Barnett (1996) suggest

having both teachers check, discuss,
and then assign grades for student
work. This process allows teachers
, to become familiar with each other's
standards and is especially helpful
when student's work is borderline.

To avoid issues related to territory, both

teachers should move into a different
classroom rather than one teacher
moving into the other's space
(Bauwens & Hourcade, 1995; Kluwin,
Gonsher, Silver, & Samuels, 1996).

Address rorresporuJence to Sharon Vaughn. Depamn.ent ofSpecial Education.

University ofTexns at Austin. School ofEducation SZB 306. Austin TX 787121290 (e-mail:


Asking community volunteers or

university students who are majoring in
education to direct certain classroom
activities or accompany students
to schools assemblies may allow for
some extra planning time (Bauwens &
Hourcade, 1995).

Copyriglu 1997 CEC.

74-,;,,9, ,



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