6 Co-Teaching Strategies for Remote Learning


Rachel Ignacio

by | 11.19.20

Rachel is a high school ELA and ELL teacher in New York.

I’m teaching remotely this school year, and I miss being in the classroom. I miss seeing the kids every day. But one thing I’ve been really excited about is exploring new technologies and strategies – and helping my students explore them, too. And one big reason I’ve been able to do that this fall has been my strong partnership with my co-teacher.

Over my nine years of teaching, I’ve worked with 21 co-teachers. I’ve learned how supportive co-teaching can be for students – and also how important it is to invest time getting the relationship right. Co-teaching during remote learning can be just as impactful as it is in any other setting – but that doesn’t mean the transition to virtual collaboration is without its challenges! 

That’s why I was grateful for a recent webinar from New Visions for Public Schools, which helped me adapt some co-teaching best practices to this unusual time. The webinar was especially focused on supporting students with IEPs and multilingual students, but the practices are valuable for any student population.

Here’s what is working for my co-teacher and me this school year:

Best practices for co-teaching during remote learning:

  1. Hold a “forming and norming” conversation with your co-teacher, and ask another educator to help facilitate the conversation.
  2. Schedule regular check-in meetings with an agenda.
  3. Clearly define your roles.
  4. Get comfortable communicating aloud during lessons.
  5. Use breakout rooms to give students individual and small-group support.
  6. Let student work guide your co-planning.

1. Hold a “forming and norming” conversation with your co-teacher, and ask another educator to help facilitate the conversation. 

Co-teaching is a complex relationship, and as in any type of partnership, it works better when there is open communication. Starting the co-teaching pairing with a “forming and norming” meeting is worthwhile, especially if you can sit down with another colleague who can serve as a facilitator for the initial conversation. You and your co-teacher can discuss your vision for your relationship and plan how you’ll approach each other when issues come up later. The conversation sets the tone for the rest of the year, and it also means your co-teaching pair has a relationship with a colleague who you might call on to support another conversation if you need support working through any tensions or challenges down the line – especially helpful when we’re teaching in this new remote setting.

2. Schedule regular check-in meetings with an agenda.

Often, co-teaching pairs set out with the mutual understanding that we want to support each other and contribute equally, but then the work is done in passing, and routines become muddled. It’s so helpful to set aside strictly protected time to meet, with routines and an agenda, and use that time to revisit your goals and plan next steps. Setting those meeting dates in advance allows you to hold each other accountable to keeping them. During remote teaching, this is even more important, because you don’t have passing interactions or the opportunity to just drop by and sit down together after school. 

We usually meet for 45 minutes. Before we meet, I set an agenda based on our to-do list, including allocating how much time we will spend discussing each topic. When we meet, we discuss each item on our list, decide which items require collaboration and which can be completed individually, and set due dates for individual tasks. It’s a helpful running record that holds us accountable. Here’s an example of what our agenda looks like:

Monday 11.02.20  Ignacio

TO DO 

Peat

TO DO

Lesson 

Plans

(15 min) 

Change Wednesday’s lesson (Run- on Sentences & Compound sentences) – Due 11/4

Finish all student- facing material for next week 

– Due 11/9

Review lessons for next week and be prepared to ask questions about lesson sequence on Wednesday 

– Due 11/4

Grading 

(15 min)

Participation Grades Nearpod 

(1.21) Self-Assessment Grades

(1.19) Email missing grades 

Participation Grades Nearpod 

Check grades for the following students: – 

[Student names] 

 – Due 11/17

Participation Grades Nearpod 

Check grades for the following students:

[Student names] 

 – Due 11/17

 

3. Clearly define your roles.

When our students work in groups, they have assigned roles: Someone is the note-taker, someone is the reader, someone is the scribe. Getting that granular with planning your roles as co-teaching partners helps, especially now. We lose so much communication without the interpersonal, face-to-face interactions. We need to sit down together, try to anticipate all the needs that might come up, and delegate everything. Who is taking attendance? Who will respond to students in the chat? Who will be on standby to respond to emails and support kids who are struggling with tech? When we first started remote teaching, my co-teacher and I would put our names on the slides that we’d each read aloud during our lesson. Because we’re not physically moving between classrooms or seeing new groups of students come in and out, we can get lost in all the online stuff. Delegating roles is a way of building out new routines. 

4. Get comfortable communicating aloud during lessons.

Of course, you can’t plan for everything, and during virtual teaching, we can’t rely on the same cues as we can in person, or pull each other aside for a chat. It can be hard for each co-teacher to know when to jump in during a lesson and tough to check in with each other. My co-teacher and I decided to just get comfortable communicating aloud during class. Sometimes, I’ll narrate our roles, so both the students and my co-teacher know what’s coming. I say, “Ms. Pete’s going to check the chat,” so she knows that she’ll respond to everyone’s chat messages while I’m speaking out loud. We’ve also gotten comfortable working things out in real -time, in front of the students. She might say, “A student emailed me with this issue,” and sometimes it’s just a matter of unmuting ourselves to say “yes,” and acknowledge what the other has said. We’ve also kept our screens on, because it feels weird talking to a screen and not knowing if what you’ve said has been received.

5. Use breakout rooms to give students individual and small-group support.

Whether remote or in-person, the most important benefit of co-teaching is always the increased support available for students. A lot of students like having a thought partner while they work, and having two teachers doubles the opportunity to offer that. We’ll separate students into breakout rooms, and then the two of us will move through the rooms, or one of us will lead the class while the other holds one-on-one conferences.  

6. Let student work guide your co-planning.

New Visions for Public Schools offers a guide for co-planning called the Looking at Student Work Protocol. It’s not just a tool not just for evaluating student work, but also for using student work as your launching point for planning. The student work tells you what plans you need to make. Here’s how it works:

First, you review the content objective you intended for students to learn in a lesson or assignment, and then you look together at what patterns emerge in the work itself: 

Next, you choose 1-2 “priority skills” or gaps to focus on in your next lessons, and make a plan for how you’ll differentiate to support each students’ needs.

If you’re teaching in small groups or 1:1, you can further break down the methods you’ll use to address skill gaps and which of you will provide the support.

Finally, you’ll plan your next steps and how you’ll assess whether your planning was successful. 

When you use this protocol, you start backwards with your planning, and as you look at student work together, you’re also building a common understanding of the content. It makes my co-teaching more effective. (You can find the full description of the protocol from NVPS here.)

While successful co-teaching demands an investment, I’m so grateful to have a partner in some of my classes this school year. In the midst of the pandemic, the way we lesson plan has completely just changed overnight. We have to figure out how to make materials differently and teach using new strategies. Co-teaching means I’m not in that alone – and I can better ensure every one of my students gets the support they need. 


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