I recently attended a meeting in my building. It was designed to be a check-in with regular education and special education teachers collaborating in a co-teaching model. The facilitator of this meeting wanted to get a sense for how we were doing with our co-teaching model given that it is our second year of implementation. It was really helpful to pause and reflect. Given the time to think about this question, I'm taken aback by just how much easier this year is. This is not to say that last year was a struggle. It wasn't. I really enjoy working with the teacher who is the special educator in my room. Given that we now have a greater appreciation for each other's style, personalities, idiosyncrasies, etc., we're just firing on all cylinders this year. I appreciate how we've grown together and I know our students will benefit from our ability to effectively collaborate.
At some point, the facilitator started asking us some very focused questions. Questions about lesson delivery, shared responsibilities of assessment and planning, etc. started to make me feel a little judged. For example, the teacher-facilitator does not believe in whole-class instruction. She uses station teaching with leveled groups. When we spoke about a child's difficulty attending during a ten-minute whole-class lesson, she patiently explained that her small group lessons make it easier for students to attend and that our principal and superintendent really do prefer station teaching.
My hair started to stand up on the back of my neck. Now, I love small group instruction. It is a treat to be able to work with 2-3 children on a specific skill. However, research points to the fact that when group sizes increase to sizes much larger than 2-3, the benefit decreases. I am not a fan of using station teaching exclusively or even using it quite often. I have a really good reason for this. When kids are stuck in leveled groups they never have an opportunity to stretch. For example, those bright kids. let's call them "eagles" never have to break down their steps or really simplify their process so that it makes sense to a variety of learners. This is an important skill that students will need as they move into higher grades and their careers. Equally concerning is when students are in leveled groups with few peers, they get to hear very few of their classmates' viewpoints. When students are denied access to higher level thinking we begin to have an equity problem in the classroom.
Here is what I do believe: Students can learn from short whole-class lessons when the instruction is high quality. When a teacher has good command of both content and pedagogy, whole-class instruction can ensure that all students have access to the same rigorous curriculum. Honestly, when instruction is delivered in manageable chunks (ten minutes) nearly all students can learn and make progress toward proficiency. Parallel teaching, when I take half of the class and my co-teacher takes half, is a nice tool to use when we want to provide instruction and need to monitor closely for understanding. Also, the use of smaller groups may make it easier for some students to actively participate. Getting your voice in the room is sometimes easier when the group is smaller. I wouldn't rely on parallel teaching for all instruction because I really do believe that students benefit from being part of a larger conversation. I LOVE using one-to-one instruction! There is NOTHING more meaningful than sitting beside a child, teaching him or her a concept and then listening to the child to deeply understand where he or she is with the learning. Asking open questions helps me to better understand the depth of a student's understanding. I use this model as often as I possibly can especially for assessment. However, in a class of 22, I won't be able to get to all students often enough to rely on this model to deliver instruction.
What I do not believe in is leveled instruction. I just don't. I'm not against pulling a couple of student for some discrete skill instruction because both seem to have the same gap. I'm not at all for putting a kids in a group that will mold their identity. Some students actually go off to college remembering that they were once a "bluebird" and that actually still means something! I hate leveled groups because they limit students' access to the curriculum and to challenge. I don't know what more to say about this. I just hate them!
In the end, I felt like this meeting turned into an inquisition versus an offering of support. I did feel a little judged even though the facilitator repeated time and time again that there was no judgement. Still, I feel great about the direction of our co-teaching model. I'm proud of how far we've come. I look forward to the journey ahead. And, I am actively puting this meeting behind me.