The Co-teaching Cycle

In this episode EAL/D Education Leader Kim Rhodes discusses the four phases of the EAL/D co-teaching cycle.

During this episode, Kim makes reference to the following:

  • Honigsfeld, A., & Dove, M.G. (2017). Co-teaching for English learners: a guide to collaborative planning, instructing, assessment and reflection. Sage publications inc.
  • Sharratt, L., & Fullan, M. (2012). Putting FACES on the data : what great leaders do! Corwin Press.
  • Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (n.d.). Australian professional standards for teachers.
Podcast episode 13: The Co-teaching cycle [28:57]

Kate Harris

Welcome to the EAL/D conversations podcast. My name is Kate Harris and I’m the EAL/D Education Advisor for K-6 in the NSW Department of Education. Today I am joined by Kim Rhodes and Kim is one of our EAL/D Education Leaders, so welcome Kim.

Kim Rhodes

Thanks Kate. Thanks for having me back again.

Kate Harris

I’m really excited that you are back again, Kim as this time we are going to be looking more at the co-teaching cycle. Before we get stuck into the co-teaching cycle though, can you remind us of a few of the key messages that you had from the previous podcast.

Kim Rhodes

Yeah, sure. In the first podcast we really drew attention to the power of collaboration in the support of EAL/D learners in schools and if I had to think about 3 important messages that were raised in the first podcast, um, they would be well number 1 the significant need for planning prior to introducing a co-teaching model of support. And this is to ensure that there is clear articulation of why this approach is important and what it hopes to achieve. That there’s an evidence base that underpins the change. That there’s an opportunity for staff input and the careful consideration of how this change will impact the systems and processes within the school. So these were key messages in the first podcast to ensure a sustained and successful shift.

A second key message was the impact that EAL/D co-teaching can have to leverage expertise between two teachers through the combining of their skills. We talked about how this happens over time and quite organically as teachers collaborate, model and observe each other’s practice when they teach together, and when they reflect on their impact through their discussions. And we discussed how these are very authentic conditions for developing capacity. And a final key message talked about in the first podcast was the concept of teacher parity and this is the practice of seeing teachers as equals within a shared space boosted through co-teaching.

Kate Harris

Keeping some of those key messages in mind as we explore the co-teaching cycle will be useful as we start to discuss this collaborative model. But before we delve into the co-teaching cycle, can you remind us why shared responsibility and collective understanding can be so important in the support of EAL/D in schools?

Kim Rhodes

As we move into this next podcast, I think it’s worthwhile re-iterating why a school may consider co-teaching as an option for an EAL/D model of support.

Statistics inform us that 1 in 4 students in NSW government schools have been identified as having English as an Additional Language or Dialect and while this may vary from school to school, I think it is safe to say that within most classrooms sits a proportion – whether small or large, of English language learners, for which teachers will need to respond to their specific learning needs. It definitely highlights the need for all educators to have a growing confidence to support language learners in classrooms and reiterates the message that support for EAL/D learners is collective and shared. And this is how we ensure inclusion and equitable access to learning. I read a great quote the other day in the work of Dove and Honingsfeld, who have produced a great text titled Co-Teaching for English Language Learners, and it read that “Language learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum, that is not a stand-alone subject.” And this is very true – we need a shared awareness in our schools that language learning happens over time, language learning happens in stages, language learning happens in context of classrooms and that the academic language EAL/D learners need to be successful at school sits within the content of the curriculum that we all teach. So this shared awareness strengthens the understanding that the EAL/D specialist and classroom teacher need to be highly collaborative in order to address all of these factors.

Kate Harris

And last time Kim you talked about the importance of co-teaching and teachers being able to work together but to make that successful it’s really important to have some kind of framework to help guide that. So what would you recommend as a framework to help guide effective EAL/D co-teaching?

Kim Rhodes

That’s an important question as the framework that underpins a co-teaching model plays a key role in ensuring its success. As we know, a framework is a structure that serves as a support. So, if we think about that in this context, that structure will allow the co-teaching process to remain steady, to remain consistent and it will support the key elements that are going to make it work.

Sharrott and Fullan’s Co-Teaching Cycle is the framework that has guided my own experiences of leading not only EAL/D co-teaching, but also in the development of co-teaching between mainstream teachers when responding to new infrastructure within a school and the creation of flexible learning spaces that required a shift to a school-wide co-teaching approach. And so to break down the framework, Sharrot and Fullan’s Co- Teaching Cycle is comprised of four essential processes: Co-Planning, Co-teaching, Co-debriefing and Co-Reflecting, with each part holding equal importance in the overall success of the process. What you will notice is that within the Co-Teaching cycle there is an ongoing flow of collaborative practices. When we unpack it further, you will clearly see that the Co-Teaching Cycle drives collaboration before, during and after teaching and it prompts powerful planning, effective delivery and purposeful reflection. I think it’s important to share that Sharrott and Fullan’s Co-Teaching Cycle is very much supported within the NSW Department of Education, particularly through the Learning Environments Team and so it will be the framework that we break down today in order to establish the elements that sit within each part of the cycle but also to consider how the four parts are interconnected. We can often think about co-teaching as just the process of the teaching itself – the teaching and learning that is taking place with the students in classroom, however the building of teacher capacity and student outcomes will be limited without the other three parts of the cycle.

And just to wrap up this discussion around the framework, Sharrot and Fullan say and I quote “the co-teaching cycle is the most powerful way to improve teaching practice.” They go on to say that it ‘pushes professionals to make their practices transparent and public in order to become increasingly more skilled, reflective and thoughtful.’ And so this gets us thinking about what the specific skills and strengths are that each teacher brings to this process and how we can maximise this in the most effective ways as they merge together.

Kate Harris

Thanks, Kim. I think now would be a really good time for us to be able to go through and look at each of those elements within the Co-teaching Cycle. So the first one is co-planning. Why would you say co-planning is such an important element of the Co-teaching Cycle?

Kim Rhodes

We know that in mainstream classrooms and general teaching teams, planning leads to teaching. One really doesn’t happen without the other and the same applies to co-teaching – co-planning is the starting point and the point in which we make decisions with our learners in mind. Co-planning between the EAL/D specialist and the classroom teacher really begins with a strong understanding of what the EAL/D specialist is bringing to this process so that it is incorporated well.

EAL/D specialists bring a distinct body of knowledge and expertise that can very much complement that of mainstream or subject teachers. First and foremost, EAL/D specialists are perfectly placed to shine light on student details that are crucial in the development of inclusive programs. This is about knowing your EAL/D learners and the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers advocates this as critical to quality teaching. The EAL/D specialist can ensure that decisions for future learning are made with a number of factors in mind, and this begins with a clear picture of the English language proficiency levels that exist within the class. Next, they can guide decisions with a specific understanding of the learners’ literacy levels in their first language and how this may impact on the learning to come. They also plan with a strong knowledge of how schooling experiences from around the world can contrast to how Australian classroom operates and its impact, and finally, they’re very tuned into the cultural and language trends within the class in order to consider how these might be made visible in the development of the program. So, you can imagine how rich this talk of the learners can be in relation to diversity, language and literacy. This knowledge opens the door for opportunities to boost intercultural understanding through planned text selection, through the perspectives that can be woven into the program, through the discussions to be facilitated and through the global and cultural connections that can be made. And this conversation also leads to essential talk about the language and literacy needs of EAL/D learners, how to mitigate the barriers and make learning as comprehensible as possible for EAL/D learners in mainstream classroom.

And this can happen as EAL/D specialists also bring an extensive understanding of EAL/D pedagogy to co-planning and are uniquely positioned to link theory to practice. And there are many EAL/D or effective EAL/D methodologies and strategies that support language development in education. When there is a shared understanding of why a strategy is so effective and what research or evidence tells us this, then we are more inclined to apply this with intention and look for its impact in ongoing and formative ways. EAL/D specialists can advocate for the use of this pedagogical thinking in any planning session to enhance programming for language learners. And it’s also at this time, when the metalanguage and specific naming and implementation of EAL/D pedagogy is being discussed and applied, and so a transfer of knowledge is taking place in a very authentic way. EAL/D specialists are able to dive into content and find the language demands of the curriculum and as a result of this they can ensure that language goals are considered, that there are opportunities for language to be explicitly taught, that prior knowledge is activated in lessons to bridge with the new learning, that scaffolding is applied in controlled, guided and independent ways and that communicative structures are embedded in teaching, and these are all examples of how an EAL/D teacher can contribute to co-planning.

But we can add to this even more. EAL/D specialists bring insight into factors that might limit engagement in the learning process. They understand deeply that learning a language is overwhelming and challenging and that motivation can diminish when it is difficult to express your understanding and that persistence can waiver when learning is overly complex or the appropriate level of support in not considered. When co-planning, EAL/D specialists are very good at anticipating barriers to learning, particularly situations where there may be difficulty accessing content or situations where they may be difficulty communicating or demonstrating what they know. We know that language presents in all mediums, through written information and text, through spoken instruction and through multimodal ways and so co-planning with an EAL/D specialist opens the door to explore options and to consider adjustments that reduce these barriers to learning.

Kate Harris

Thanks, Kim. That was a really comprehensive explanation about why co-planning is so important. And we’re often asked by teachers, what could co-planning look like in the lead up to co-teaching? And I know that you’ve touched on this already with some of the things that you just mentioned, but, what else could this look like in the lead up to co-teaching?

Kim Rhodes

I think I have really highlighted what EAL/D specialists can bring to co-planning and this leads nicely into thinking about how to co-plan. In the first podcast we considered the practicalities of what this looks like between two educators in a way that is manageable, and we talked about the importance of having systems and structures that have factored this in and established time for this to take place. I think it is also worth recognising the challenge for EAL/D specialists who work across numerous classrooms and within an EAL/D co-teaching model will need to co-teach and therefore co-plan with a range of educators across a school.

There are lots of different ways that co-planning can occur, and these ways will generally reflect the processes that exist within a school already. This might begin at the team level. Many schools establish planning days or planning sessions and include the EAL/D specialist in a collaborative way. These team planning sessions are typically where the bones of a program are built based on syllabus outcomes, core objectives, big ideas and non-negotiable content. And in my experiences, EAL/D specialists can contribute very successfully to this bigger picture planning, particularly when there are clear expectations as to what this looks like. When collaborative planning is loose and not guided by structure, it tends to be a less productive use of time and expertise.

But moreso we have co-planning that occurs between the co-teachers themselves, this is the shoulder-to-shoulder talk that focuses more on the lesson objectives for a class, the learning activities that have been designed and how these will be delivered through the various co-teaching models. This planning also prompts the necessary adjustments that will enhance the lesson, any assessment measures that might be in place and the allocation of responsibilities for resource preparation.

Another effective co-planning strategy that I have seen is where the co-teachers start separately, by layering their individual lens over the lesson sequences ready to come together to join forces, review, adjust and confirm the lesson design. As mentioned earlier, this time together is quality planning time, but it is also where the professional learning is taking place as they exchange metalanguage and build understanding of the application of theory to practice. The key point is that, however the time is used, it needs to be maximised and structured to ensure equitable contribution and clarity of expectations between each other. Planning tools can assist with this. As the co-planning is taking place, teachers may utilise a range of tools to support the process such a discussion framework, or a co-planning template, they might refer to co-teaching model diagrams or visuals, they might refer to EAL/D terminology charts or specifically designed note-taking processes that are defined and consistent on a shared platform. These are all practical ways that support quality and structured co-planning.

Kate Harris

Some really great tips there Kim. If we move into the second phase of the framework we are looking at co-teaching, so what is important to consider in the co-teaching phase?

Kim Rhodes

So, we know that co-teaching is what happens in the learning space. This is where teachers turn planning into practice. Part of the co-planning process, as we mentioned earlier is to build consensus on how the two teachers will synchronise together in the space in order to co-facilitate learning, thinking and engagement, but also to monitor and formatively assess the students.

In the world of co-teaching, there are various co-teaching models that can guide how the two teachers are positioned in the room and their role, and from my experiences, one of the key points that I would like to stress is that the ability for teachers to select and action these models with confidence takes time, practice and reflection. What co-teaching does is it allows for options in relation to where teacher attention is focused and options to be able to shift and change how the students will access the learning. And each option is worthy of being explored and evaluated in terms of how well it allowed for the learning intention to be achieved in different lessons.

We commonly refer to the following co-teaching models in education, One Teach One Observe, Station Teaching, Parallel Teaching, Alternate Teaching, Team Teaching and One-Teach One Assist. These are commonly used co-teaching models and it is vital that when co-planning there is a shared understanding of what each model looks like with regards to how students are grouped and how teachers are placed. It is also important that the use co-teaching models is fluid and flexible, to ensure teachers can reflect upon the effectiveness of a model in relation to student outcomes.

The co-teaching models that we described earlier, define the placement of the teachers in the space, with each model presenting its own advantages and disadvantages depending on the purpose of the lesson and the learners within the class. I like to think of the models as how teachers synchronise with each other during the lesson and in my experiences, there can be lessons where more than one model is combined, or variations of a model are used. When co-teachers have diversity in their co-teaching approach it strengthens the teachers’ capacity to consider what works best for future lessons, but it can also boost the idea of parity, by reducing the concept that one teacher has turned up to ‘help out’ or ‘assist’ and that neither teacher is working in isolation.

In the next podcast we will break down each of the co-teaching models and consider the advantages and challenges within an EAL/D co-teaching model but for now, as we consider the co-teaching cycle and the process of co-planning and co-teaching, this must be seen as a work in progress, something to tune into and notice what is happening for the learners and teachers in the room. These insights are powerful, they need to be communicated with each other and with others in small ways in order to build capacity, and build confidence and sustained overall practice within the school. And so this links really nicely with the final two stages of the co-teaching cycle – Co-Debriefing and Co-Reflecting.

Kate Harris

As you just mentioned, Kim, the last two stages of the co-teaching cycle are co-debriefing and co-reflecting. So we might start unpacking those now, so, how can these elements be beneficial for both teachers and also for learners?

Kim Rhodes

If the ultimate aim of EAL/D Co-Teaching is to integrate content and language learning through co-facilitation, then there must be time and space to discuss to what degree this is or is not working. One of the common questions that often comes up is ‘what is the difference between co-debriefing and co-reflecting?’

I like to think of a co-debrief as quick but intentional dialogue in relation to lessons that have recently taken place. While it can appear as informal chat, it is much more than that. Co-debriefing is always of most benefit when there are a few well thought out questions for co-teachers to consider. Pre-planned questions help a de-brief to be timely, focused and allow the teachers to walk away with ideas that can be actioned. De-briefing usually changes things in small ways as the teaching and learning moves along. Simple co-debriefing questions might include: What worked well, what didn’t work well, what do we need to address, reduce or increase? or what surprised you? And so these questions, while they seems simple in nature, are powerful in generating small, impactful change as it is this dialogue that leads to relevant adjustments and improvements and you can see that it is very formative in nature.

So, in summary, a debrief doesn’t have to be long and complicated, nor does it need to take place after a lesson has ended, it can certainly happen as a lesson is taking place where the two teachers hold a brief conversation in the moment in response to what’s happening at the time. As teachers, we mentally debrief about our lessons all the time and so we may be considering how to fit this in to a busy day, but I urge that this step is not missed and that this simple reflective practice, when planned and structured, keeps the co-teaching cycle as one that is evolving and strengthening.

Let’s talk now about co-reflection. In my career so far, I have always advocated for and explored the benefits of structured, critical reflection between co-teachers, whether this be EAL/D specialists and classroom teachers, or two or more classroom teachers. What co-reflecting is, is an intentional process that widens the scope for deeper collegial discussion and evaluation. Co-reflection requires dedicated and established time and is often most effective when guided by a discussion protocol or framework to ensure focus. And so this will require support at the leadership level to create the conditions for this to take place and the scheduling of this at various points throughout the year.

Co-reflection generally involves co-teachers teachers sitting down together in a dedicated space and engaging in a structured, dynamic, teacher centred, critical conversation. A reflection protocol or discussion framework can help to keep the conversation as timely and succinct as possible. Another benefit of co-reflection protocols is that they can be designed to balance conversation with questions created that drive conversation about student learning, teaching practice and pedagogy and of course, questions designed with regards to the co-teaching relationship itself. I have seen co-reflection models where a colleague has facilitated the reflection process and I have done this myself many times, but I have also seen co-reflection guided by the co-teachers themselves, using the protocol or discussion framework to guide the session. When co-reflection is supported and safe, teachers can explore various options, the can apply changes, make suggestions, celebrate successes, solve problems and grow professionally.

In the first podcast we spoke of the power of collective efficacy on student achievement and put simply, it is the idea that together teachers can achieve more, especially if they collectively believe that they can do so! And co-reflection is a major contributor to collective efficacy. When questions are designed to prompt thinking as to whether the needs of EALD learners are being served, as to whether co-teachers are making the most effective decisions for the learners by drawing on their strengths and expertise, as to whether the learners are engaged, and what is being noticed about the co-teaching partnership, then it works as a catalyst for collaborative change and improvement.

Kate Harris

You’ve really explained the four different aspects of the co-teaching cycle in depth today, Kim. And I think you’ve emphasised the importance of each of those parts and the part that they have to play within a bigger picture. Often we can think of co-teaching and go straight to the teaching. And in the last podcast you talked about the importance of building up all those structures to try and build it up for success. And today you’ve unpacked the different parts of the cycle and what each of those look like and what they’re important. So, thank you for your insights again. Before we finish up, do you have any final thoughts that you would like to share?

Kim Rhodes

Thanks, Kate. I think it’s important to reiterate that we know that language acquisition happens over time and in stages and so an EAL/D Co-Teaching Model of support, guided by a continuous cycle of co-planning, Co-teaching, co-debriefing and co-reflecting makes sense. From my perspective and through my experiences, it is an effective model of support to maximise the expertise of EAL/D specialists. Because collaborative practice is woven through the four parts of the co-teaching cycle it provides a platform for continuous professional conversations about EAL/D learners that result in actionable change in both teaching practice and teaching relationships.

One of the biggest enablers for the success of an EAL/D co-teaching model of support is the successful cohesion of all four parts of the Co-Teaching Cycle. When this is happening co-teaching provides a wonderful platform for the transparency of practice and a bridge to transfer and share pedagogical strengths and skills, resulting in the optimisation of language learning strategies in mainstream classrooms. There is definitely power in EAL/D specialists and mainstream classroom teachers collectively addressing the diversity of needs within classrooms.

Kate Harris

Thank you again for joining me to discuss co-teaching, and I know that we have another episode planned where you mentioned a little bit earlier that we are going to go through the different models of co-teaching so I am sure that you’ll again provide us with lots of insights from your experience working in and with schools. So thank you Kim for joining me.

Kim Rhodes

Thank you, Kate. Thanks for having me back and I look forward to continuing the conversation.

Kate Harris

And thanks everyone for listening to this episode of the EAL/D conversations podcast.


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