Collaborative Teaching

Goochland County Public Schools

Month: October 2016

Differentiating in a Co-Taught Classroom: Assessments

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

I already know I am the luckiest special education teacher in the world. I have support from administration, parents, and students. I have a collaborative teacher who writes music for students to learn and is always willing to discuss teaching strategies. So it should come as no surprise that my co-teacher ‘gets it.’

But today was special. Today my collaborative teacher heard me administer a math quiz to a group of students in our class with IEP accommodations for small group testing.

In class, we had been working on adding and subtracting decimals. The quiz assigned to the whole class was a multiple choice quiz. Some of the problems on the quiz were straight forward (543.23 – 211.06), but others were more complicated, multi-step word problems. They involved extracting and synthesizing information before solving. My students were stumped.

This is often the fork in the road for many teachers. “It’s an assessment, so to be fair, you can’t help them,” some might say. But what is the purpose of an assessment? “The purpose of an assessment is to show whether or not a student understands a concept,” some might say. These people would be right about the second part — the purpose of an assessment is to show whether or not a student understands a concept.

But the purpose of teaching is to make sure students are learning. If a student does not understand a concept, shouldn’t we support their learning? Should all time in school be a learning opportunity? It is my opinion that good teachers assess their student’s level of understanding not just by a number on a sheet of paper, but by daily interactions. Today, our daily interaction occurred while working on an assessment.

One of the questions my students were stumped on involved figuring out the weight of 1 chicken when given the total weight of 3 chickens, and the individual weights of the 2 remaining chickens. I drew a picture of the chickens on the board. I drew them on a scale. I didn’t give them numbers. I had them find the information and figure it out. But I did support them. I did want them them to see why and how we found our numbers.

After the quiz was completed, my co-teacher told me how impressed he was. He admitted that at first he was concerned with the level of support: If I removed the support, would these students be able to answer the questions? What about the SOLs? But the bottom line, which we both understand, is that if they can barely get there with the support, how could we possibly expect them to get there without the support? When the SOL comes, maybe they’ll remember how we figured things out, maybe not. But what they will remember, is that they were supported, that they did not simply fail for lack of knowledge, and that they did not waste an assessment period just sitting around.

So yeah, my co-teacher gets it, and we’re all better for it.

What are your thoughts on differentiating for assessment?

How can I help you?

Joe Beasley, General Education Teacher

In a classroom, group-work can be the bane of a teacher’s existence; often times, group work time can only mean one thing — organized chaos. We all have experienced the group project blues: One person seems to take over the whole project, while others are never doing their fair share of the workload. Group work can be frustrating.

However, teachers realize the importance of group work for students to learn how to work effectively together.  Collaboration is a 21st century skill and most jobs require employees to work as a team in order to complete projects. Employers want to hire people with diverse skill sets and an understanding on how to share those skills collaboratively.

How can I help you?

In our collaborative classroom, students learn the importance of servant leadership. We recognize that we all learn differently and exhibit different abilities. However, we understand that the best way to work together is to serve one another. By asking, “How can I help you?” students are putting others first. If a teammate is facing a challenge while working on a project, the other teammates are expected to work together to help solve that challenge. Instead of ignoring the problem and continue working, we seek to serve one another.

Try this…

At the start of each group work session, have your students ask each other what problems they are facing and how they can help? Stop five minutes early and have students reflect on what they have accomplished for the day. Are we still facing any obstacles? If so, how can I help?

Pick teams based on skill, not on friendship. 

Another approach to a more collaborative classroom would be by having students select group members based on skill, instead of based on friendship. Students need to understand that a great team is a diverse team. We discuss at length the importance of picking partners that will compliment your team. For example, a baseball team is made up players with a diverse skill set. The pitchers can throw the fastest while the outfielders can hit the ball the farthest. No one wants a team full of pitchers. They may be able to strike out the other team, but they may never make it to first base. Students need to make sure that their team is not one dimensional. In our classroom, we recognize that everybody is good at something. Whether it would be research, writing, art, or coding, students need to be able to choose members that will ultimately help their team reach success.

Try this…

Have students select their own teammates. Every time they select a teammate, have them defend why they chose that person. Guide students to choosing teammates based on the skills needed basing on the project.

How do you feel about group work?