“Can I add something to that?” – Co-teaching in secondary math

I’ve come to realize what the two most beneficial phrases that myself and Ms. LaChapelle say in our MFM1P Grade 9 math class are. As co-teachers, we’ve shifted in and out of slightly different roles throughout the semester. However, one thing has remained constant. We are both present and active for lessons. We don’t do a ton of teacher-directed lessons, however when we do (usually as consolidation from rich group problems), one of us is always watching as a participant. In doing that, we get to watch the students reactions, see who is struggling and what might have been missed.

The observing teacher often says “Can I add something to that?” during a lesson. It’s a quick interruption to repeat, highlight or state something in a different way based on observing the students needs. It can also often be to bring students attention to the “meta” component of math or learning.

The second most important phrase we use is by the teacher leading the lesson or small group. It is “do you have another way to explain this?”.

Having two teachers in our class has by far let me grow more as a teacher than any other professional development activity I have ever participated in. It has also, hands-down, been the best initiative to support improved student success in math that I have seen. Students see more ways of solving problems. More teaching strategies. More assessment strategies. More attention in general. More support when needed. They also see teachers learning from each other every single day. We often have conversations in front of our students that start with “REALLY? I had no idea!”. Or, ” I had never thought of that”.

Every so often students get confused when we’ve each told them conflicting instructions without realizing it, but we can always solve that with a laugh and some humor.

Co-Teaching in Grade 9 Math

This semester I have been given the opportunity to co-teach a couple grade 9 applied mathematics classes. I am officially the teacher for one of the classes and I am a math SERT (special education resource teacher) in the other class. However, both of our classes are following a co-teach model. We are alternating who is instructing or “running the show” while the other is conferencing with, supporting specific learning needs and observing students. The students think we are just both their teachers. They see no difference between our roles.

Unlike most teachers, I’ve personally had many opportunities to co-teach, co-plan and observe others teach. After only a week, I am already realizing how it is even richer to watch how YOUR students respond, behave and learn during lessons. The ability to step back in your own classroom and observe students is something we rarely have the opportunity to do. After only a few days, I feel as though I already have a better handle on my students and their needs than I would have after a month of teaching on my own.

We always talk about providing students with ongoing, timely feedback, and yet as teachers we rarely get feedback on our work. When you work to continuously co-plan and co-teach with another teacher the professional dialogue is integrated into your day. The 5-10 minute check in before school starts, the time during our prep period, the quick check-in over lunch hour and then the 10 minutes after class. This immediate dialogue and feedback is authentic, focused on student learning and never obscured by any feeling of assessment or evaluation. We’re in it together. The discussion is simply on what we can do to improve student learning.

In both the grade 9 math classes we are building in a method for timely, descriptive feedback for students as well. With two teachers in the room, one can spend the time each day to conference with each student who struggled with yesterdays concepts. The goal being to ensure students never get further than that one concept behind. While all teachers try this, in a busy class, it often becomes impossible. We easily are able to do that when co-teaching.

I have never been more excited to teach. I have a whole host of crazy things I want to try with my grade 9 applied mathematics class including;

  • OneNote class notebook with Wacom writing tablets (plug into laptops like a mouse to allow writing) for ongoing assessments and portfolios (we have a BYOD program where all students bring their own laptops)
  • ClassFlow with Wacom tablets for interactive math lessons
  • a classroom culture supporting a growth mindset and resilience
  • learning through inquiry for most, if not all concepts
  • integrating a couple games (Minecraft and DragonBox) to investigate mathematical concepts through
  • integrating some First Nation culture and outdoor education by completing some investigations into the math found in dreamcatchers and archery
  • integrating some art into mathematics by providing choices for inquiry that include connections to art (TurtleArt, visual arts, music)

With a full class of 24 students and 12 of these students with individual education plans, I was very worried about my ability to try these new things in addition to providing enough opportunities and entry points for all students in the class to access the content. Having two teachers in the room and the embedded professional support this provides has given me the confidence to try many new things in one semester.

What a great opportunity! Have you ever had the opportunity to co-teach an entire semester or extended period of time? If so, do you have any tips and tricks to provide for us?