Getting started with collaborative teaching will provide challenges, "aha" moments, frustrations, celebrations and rejuvenation. After three years of working with co-teachers, I couldn't imagine going back to my own single cell classroom. It would seem lonely and boring after working in a collaborative environment. My best piece of advice - "Start Small, but Dream Big". Every journey begins with a single step and to begin with they will be small. But don't underestimate your students and what they are capable of. Before you know it, your practice, learners and relationships will change and grow.
Start by checking out this video of real teachers beginning their journey.
Most teachers will need to make adaptations to their environment for successful co-teaching. Even if you are moving into a purpose built ILE, students need support to work in an environment where they can make choices about where they work and with whom they work. There are lots of ideas around about setting up your environment and curriculum for different types of learning, (click here for a great example) but how do you get the students started?
In the first few weeks, one technique that I have found works really well is what I call "Freeze Frame." This is when the roving teaching will just call out " Freeze", while all the students are working. They will then call on students or groups of students, asking what they are doing and why where they are working is the best place to be. Often we will take photos of students making great learning choices and choosing a great spot in the environment. We then turn these into photo stories, wall posters, blog posts etc. These visual reminders are really effective - parents enjoy looking at them too. Depending on the age of the students this might be a teacher directed activity or teams of students might be working on creating these visuals. There are lots of classroom discussions with the students, looking back at the photos and really engaging the students with the process of developing self-direction, independence and agency.,
You do need to watch for students trying to claim their "favourite working place" each day. I usually minimise this by having different systems for sending students off to get started on activities, but am always looking to see if there are those who are always on the bean bags or always on the couch! Often just reminding the students about making learning choices based on their activity will prompt them to move somewhere else.
There will sometimes be students who really struggle to find a good place to work. For some, the distractions of being able to work with others is overwhelming.You may even find some of your diverse learners still need a specific place in the learning zone that is theirs, for a while anyway. In any environment I have worked in, we always try to have a space that is quiet. This means that any student who needs to just work quietly, away from distractions, is able to do so. At times I have been surprised how many students have wanted to do this. This might be a break out space, or an area created by furniture.
Students as interior designers is a great way of engaging students in being actively involved in the ownership of the environment. One way I have seen this used, is each Friday lunchtime a team of designers could stay in and rearrange the class. After lunch, they would briefly explain their thinking and the spaces they had created. The classes would then work in that space for the week. Sometimes the kids had some awesome ideas - things that an adult might not have thought of. There were also a few disasters, but powerful conversations from reflecting on why aspects of the design hadn't worked to support their learning.
New Entrants Furniture Design
Year 5/6 Furniture Design
Setting up at the Beginning of the School Year.
Why Schools Need Collaborative Spaces
Does an MLE suit all learners?
Curriculum - What might teaching and learning look like?
As I talked about in CEM#1 post, do you have your value, vision and curriculum in order? There are so many ways that schools are using the NZC to create learning experiences for students that meet their unique needs and the needs of their communities. If your school doesn't have a graduate profile, I would encourage you to look here. It is vital that everyone knows what they are aspiring to achieve.
Below are some ways I have seen the curriculum being delivered in collaborative teaching environments. Definitely not "one size fits all". Remember that for schools this is an ever evolving journey and is likely changing every term, as systems, teacher confidence and student self direction develops. Teachers will often trial different ideas, reflect and change. I have found beginning quite traditionally is common, usually in one subject area at a time. After a time in this experimentation phase, more integration and agency becomes possible.
Examples of Curriculum Delivery
One of the key changes I have noticed when moving into collaborative teaching, is group size doesn't tend to matter. When I first began teaching, the focus was on having the smallest groups possible. When you are grouping 75 students as opposed to 25, you will often find that groups of 10 - 15 work just fine, depending on resources, ages and activity. Because the roving teacher is keeping everyone else on track, no interruptions means focused learning time for the group and they have more people to work with and learn from. Teachers have often commented to me that they began with two groups working at similar levels, but ended up joining them together with more success than working with the smaller groups.
There are different schools of thought about having a roving teacher. I personally think it is the hardest job in an ILE. You are busy the whole time! It is not just about behaviour management - it is about supporting learning. When I've been roving, I've been known to take an impromptu workshop if I've spotted a common learning need. Or I might call down a group of students to go over instructions again. I have heard it said that if you were in a Single Cell, all the teachers would be "teaching" the whole time, while when there is a roving teacher, there is one less person actively teaching, so the students are being shortchanged. I would have to argue that if you are roving well, the quality learning that is going on in groups is maximised as there are minimal interruptions. Also, think back to the single cell class where you sent off groups to very quietly finish an activity. They were stuck? Well too bad for them - don't interrupt the group I'm teaching! You want to collaborate with others? No way, it's too noisy and my group is getting distracted! Now, with a roving teacher available, a student who is stuck actually has someone to ask for help, instead of sitting there or getting off task.
Examples of Student Activities.
To get an even better picture in your head of what teaching and learning in an ILE is really like - check out a "Day in the Life of Clearview School".
My name is Ngaire Shepherd-Wills. This website is a record of my TeachNZ sabbatical, Term 2, 2013 and then I have continued to share my wonderings and discoveries about Innovative Learning Practices. I now work for CORE Education. Views are my own.