Collaborative Teaching

Goochland County Public Schools

Category: Steeley (page 2 of 2)

He gets it!

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?

Teaching Styles

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

It’s 4:30 AM and I’m up to grade papers and prepare for the science lab I will teach today. I listen to the coffee drip with eager anticipation and hope that my own two children will at least give me 30 minutes of uninterrupted work time before they wake up requesting breakfast. The busy demands of my collaborative teaching position in 5th grade at GES have me stressed in such a way that I am both growing and fulfilled; it is a good stress.

My 4-year-old heard me and just woke up… Thank goodness for Caillou. Let me get to the point… Three things I would like to reflect on since my last entry: teaching styles, pre-test/post-test data, and co-planning:

Teaching Styles:

Joe and I have a lot in common – we both believe in the power of music for teaching, the importance of relationships with students and families, and imperativeness of student engagement. However, we are still two different individuals with unique backgrounds and experiences. Perhaps our starkest contrasts are that Joe is a male who has taught only general education, and I am a female (mother) who has taught only special education. If I’m not careful, my nurturing qualities might neglect to maximize the potential of every learner. But there is great value when our personalities come together, especially because we are both open to communication with one another.

Joe and I respect one another. This allows us to pull one another aside if we think that either ourselves, or the other person, could have handled a situation with a student better. We reflect with an open mind. We are willing to seek first to understand and then to be understood. I believe this may be one of our greatest strengths as a teaching team. 

Pre-Test/Post-Test Data:

We started using pre-test/post-test comparisons for math this week. The growth, for all students, was thrilling. We are so excited to continue with this practice!

Co-Planning:

Yesterday afternoon, Joe and I quickly reflected on what needed to be done before school the next day. (And quite frankly if I don’t stop writing soon, it won’t be done!) But what I loved about this exchange was that I felt like we were volleying a ping-pong ball:

I’ll take grading the math quiz.

         -Great. I’ll make sure the science data gets entered.

         -OK. Reading groups are almost set. I’ll finalize that.

         -Awesome. I need to prepare for the lab.

         Etc…

We both know what’s going on. We’re willing to help each other, and we both want to be able to step in for the other person at any time. We collaboratively “own” this classroom. No responsibility rests solely on one individual’s plate, and if it does, the other person is eager to learn the role and support the teacher who must fulfill the responsibility.

Now back to work! Looking forward to another great day!

Creating a Classroom Culture

Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

The first week of co-teaching was so much fun. I got to be an active participant in the value of creating a strong classroom culture from Day 1. “You were picked to be in this class for a reason,” Mr. Beasley told the students: “We are a family.” He did not just toss out these alluring words – he backed them up, and in doing so, he taught me how to do this, as well. Don’t get me wrong (I know he hates it when I sell myself short), I helped set that tone too: I let those kids know how much they meant to me. But Mr. Beasley showed me how to create a culture of mutual respect, something that a well-meaning teacher like myself might end up with the short end of the stick on: giving respect to one’s students, but unsure of how to get it in return.

Before I move on to the “collaborative” portion of my reflection, I would like to jot down some tips and tricks that I have learned this week:

  1. Shake hands: The first Morning Work direction is to “Shake Mrs. Steeley and Mr. Beasley’s hands and say Good Morning.” This is gold! We teach a firm handshake, eye contact, and approaching an authority figure during this time, but we also set the stage for the day – a student can not assume that the teacher does not know he or she is there.
  2. Get attention: If you hear me clap once; if you hear me clap twice; If you hear me say ‘yay-ya’. It turns out you don’t have to yell to get everyone’s attention, nor should you try. Apparently, the students’ brain wants to respond to these ‘games’ more than saying, “Hey guys? Hey guys, listen up! Class? Class!!”
  3. Manners: I may have cringed the first time I saw Mr. Beasley tell a student to do 5 push-ups for not saying ‘thank you’ to the person who held the door for them (always the second person in line). But oh my gosh! This immediate consequence works so well – the kids willingly correct their classmates or drop to the floor if they are at fault. They want to be better! Consequences for manners (even in the form of a correction) are always immediate.
  4. Music: I’m not sure I need to articulate this. If you know Mr. Beasley, you know that he teaches through the raps he has written about topics including the seven continents and the scientific method. These raps also include dance moves that correspond with the words. Engagement? Just a little bit!
  5. Snuggle with a Book: On Friday, we all brought in our pillows and blankets. We read our books in a dimly lit room with classical music playing in the background. Mr. Beasley and I passed out popcorn and lemonade. One student asked, “Are you guys always this cool?” I tried to smile back in a way that said, “We’ll see…” and not, “OMG! You think I’m cool? Oh man! That’s awesome!”

The above five points are a small handful of what I’ve learned and am learning from being in the classroom with a well-deserving award-winning teacher. Now I’d like to share a few points from what I’m learning about collaborative teaching. Most importantly, I recognize that we are chipping away at a sculpture. We are both learning with the mutual goal of creating something beautiful for everyone. Our “product” (which I put in quotation marks because a teacher’s work will never be complete) will take precious time to share confidently. For now, we will share the process. Here are a few questions we are working through:

  1. Organization: Beasley and I share a creative mindset and a performer’s heart. However, this does not mean that we do not want pretty piles and color coordinated bins; it just means these systems cannot come first for us. My husband once told me that before concrete paths are laid on college campuses, students are left to run freely on the grounds. After their foot patterns have been sketched into the landscape, the paths are laid to cover them. Right now, our students are roaming the proverbial campus.
  2. Planning: Fortunately, we are both going into collaborative teaching with an eagerness to learn and understand the other teacher’s duties. But we’re working on finding a system that works. For example, I want to help plan everything, but I also need to spend time making sure accommodations are fulfilled, IEPs are written, and data is collected. We need to plan in a way that honors the purpose of the collaborative classroom – to scaffold supports for all learners to contact the curriculum – while making the best use of our time and talents.
  3. Teaching: This one isn’t really a question, but a point that will continue to evolve. Who will teach what, and how? This past week, I taught math and geography while Mr. Beasley supported students around the classroom. I learned how to use a SmartBoard in front of the students, and when I didn’t know the answer to a question, I tossed it back to the class: “What do you think? Is that right? Look it up on your iPad!” (I had to giggle to myself.) I had the support and feedback of the most incredible teacher: Just like our students, I was given the opportunity to learn in a safe environment, because the truth is, if you don’t feel safe, you don’t learn. You simply cannot learn without taking risks…

We have a long list of small things we need to take care of to feel like we have all of our ducks in a row, but every teacher does. Not every teacher has an ever-present, fully invested accountability partner standing next to that list. We will check things off, and as we do, new ones will appear. For now, I will pick my chisel up, and get back at it, because this is going to be a truly valuable year.

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