ISEC 2005

Inclusive and Supportive Education Congress
International Special Education Conference
Inclusion: Celebrating Diversity?

1st - 4th August 2005. Glasgow, Scotland

about the conference

Co-Teaching: Best Practices for Education

Jane M. Sileo
Clark County School District
9623 Gunsmith Drive
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89123

Background Information

            Educating students in the least restrictive environment is important.   For students with disabilities, placement in the least restrictive environment enhances the achievement of individualized educational plan (IEP) objectives, interactive social and communication skills development, and skills generalization (Fisher, Sax & Pumpian, (1996). In order to promote success for students with disabilities in general education settings, general and special educators need to work together. One such method is co-teaching.

Definition. Co-teaching has been defined as an instructional delivery approach in which general and special educators share responsibility for planning, delivery and evaluation of instructional techniques for a group of students; general and special educators work in a coactive and coordinated fashion, which involves the joint teaching of academically and behaviorally heterogeneous groups of students in integrated settings. (Bauwens & Hourcade, 1991; Bauwens, Hourcade, & Friend, 1989; Friend & Cook, 1992; Scheffel, Kallam, Smith, & Hoernicke, 1996; Walther-Thomas, Bryant, & Land, 1996).   Although co-teaching integrates components of collaboration and team teaching, it is not solely collaboration or team-teaching. In co-teaching, the teacher to student ratio is decreased (Friend, 2001). Typically, co-teaching is used to provide services for students with mild to moderate disabilities in the general education setting (Sileo, 2003). General and special educators are present while co-teaching in the general classroom, thus maintaining joint responsibility for specified classroom instruction (Bauwens, Hourcade, & Friend, 1989). Research shows that general educators have expertise in knowledge of the curriculum while special educators have expertise in instructional processes used to teach individual students who may learn atypically (Adams & Cessna, 1991; Reeve & Hallahan, 1994; Ripley, 1997). There are a variety of co-teaching approaches. Each approach is designed to enhance different types of activities or for learning environments.

Co-teaching Structures

            There are myriad co-teaching structures. Co-teaching structures depend on the needs of the students, therefore teachers either co-teach for the entire day or for just one academic period (Sileo, 2003). Often, the general educator utilizes whole group instruction while the special educator teaches small group or individualized activities (Vaughn, Elbaum, Schumm, & Hughes, 1998).

            There are several variations of the co-teaching structures. The five basic co-teaching structures include (a) one teacher who is teaching, while the other teacher is assisting; (b) station teaching; (c) parallel teaching; (d) alternative teaching; and (e) team teaching. (Bauwens & Hourcade, 1991; Bauwens & Hourcade, 1997; Bauwens, Hourcade, & Friend, 1989; Cook & Friend, 1995; Friend, 2001; Friend, Reising, & Cook, 1993; Gable, Hendrickson, Evans, Frye, & Bryant, 1993; Reeve & Hallahan, 1994).

In the one teach, one assist model, both teachers are present, however one teacher leads the teaching while the other assists the students. This structure can also be used for data collection within the classroom. It also allows for individualized reteaching within a whole group format. In station teaching, the class is divided into two to three equal groups of students. The teachers divide the instructional content, teach one group and then rotate through the additional groups. This structure works well when utilizing computer instruction in the classroom. In parallel teaching, the teachers jointly plan and deliver two separate lessons. This structure is used most often for small group activities. Parallel teaching has also been used for science experiments or other hands-on activities. In alternative teaching, one teacher works with a small group while the other teaches the whole class. Alternative teaching allows teachers the opportunity to deliver instruction on the same content, while having the opportunity to modify the instruction for student needs. Finally, in team teaching, both teachers share the instruction of the students equally and are responsible for all components of academic instruction. (Bauwens & Hourcade; Bauwens & Hourcade; Bauwens, Hourcade, & Friend; Cook & Friend; Friend; Friend, Reising, & Cook; Gable, Hendrickson, Evans, Frye, & Bryant; Reeve & Hallahan).

            When utilizing co-teaching, it is imperative to plan for the social as well as the academic needs of the students (Sileo, 2003). Both teachers are responsible for the academic and social growth of the students in co-taught settings. Many social themes are imbedded in the curriculum and therefore the above structures allow both teachers to be actively involved in monitoring behavior and academic instruction (Warger & Rutherford, 1993). Student groupings for co-taught settings should always be based on the needs of the students. One of the biggest benefits of co-taught classrooms is the opportunity to change the student groupings, therefore allowing the students with disabilities the opportunity to work with different students within a classroom environment.

 Planning for Co-taught Instruction

Co-teachers have a professional relationship that is unique to their situation in that it involves two educators working together in a single environment for a common purpose (Sileo, 2003). Therefore, planning for co-taught instruction is imperative to a successful relationship.

When placed in co-taught situations, special educators often take on several different roles. Weiss and Lloyd (2003) found that special educators often (a) provided support to students, (b) taught the same content in a separate classroom, (c) taught a component of the curriculum in the same classroom, and (d) team taught. Furthermore, they found that when the special educator was confident with the material being taught, s/he often took on a more participatory role. Conversely, when the special educator was unfamiliar with the material being presented, s/he took on the role of supportive personnel. Therefore, it can be assumed that when two teachers plan together utilizing their specific knowledge bases there should be a clear definition of the teacher’s roles. In addition, when teachers plan together there are clear expectations of the accommodations and modifications to be made.

Research shows that collaborative planning time is an integral component of the co-teaching relationship. It is imperative that when planning for a co-taught classroom, both teachers consider the accommodations and modifications for all students enrolled in the class. For example, effective accommodations in the area of reading might include reading grade level text to a group of students rather than having them read the text to themselves, student presentation of a verbal rather than written book report, or utilization of a group book report rather than individual reports. In 2004, Dieker created the co-teaching lesson plan book. This book is a great tool to use while planning for co-teaching classrooms. The gist of the plan book includes responsibilities for the general educator as well as the special educator. Dieker (2004) suggests the general educator be responsible for completing the big ideas/goals of the lesson, lesson activities, and assessment procedures. In turn, the special educator is responsible for determining the appropriate co-teaching structure, behavioral and academic adaptations, and additional materials/support needed.

Furthermore, Taylor and Harrington (1998) found that teachers must be innovative and employ creative strategies when co-teaching. They must be able to define goals and objectives for each class and these must be in sequential and ascending order of difficulty so that all children can achieve success over time (Taylor & Harrington). All students must be provided with appropriate homework and class work so that each has the opportunity to learn and participate in the classroom process (Ripley, 1997).  


            Co-teaching is comprised of many components and structures. A large majority of the core components must be available in order for co-teaching to be successful. Co-teaching is an effective practice for working with students with mild to moderate disabilities (Sileo, 2003). The nature of co-teaching allows for smaller teacher ratios and more individualized instruction. The most promising component of co-teaching is that both teachers plan and deliver lessons together based on student needs. In doing this, the special educator does not always have to teach the small remedial group, in fact, the special educator may well teach the whole class.


Adams, L., & Cessna, K. (1991). Designing systems to facilitate collaboration:Collective wisdom from Colorado. Preventing School Failure, 35, (4), 37-             42.

Bauwens, J. & Hourcade, J. J. (1991). Making co-teaching a mainstreaming strategy. Preventing School Failure, 35, (4), 19-24.

Bauwens, J. & Hourcade, J. J. (1997). Cooperative teaching: Pictures of possibilities. Intervention in School and Clinic, 33, (2), 81-85,89.

Bauwens, J., Hourcade, J. J., & Friend, M. (1989). Cooperative teaching: A model for general and special education integration. Remedial and Special Education, 10, (2), 17-22.

Cook, L. & Friend, M. (1995). Co-teaching: Guidelines for creating effective practice. Focus on Exceptional Children, 28, (3), 1-16.

Fisher, D., Sax, C., & Pumpian, I. (1996). From intrusion to inclusion: Myths and realities in our schools. The Reading Teacher, 49 (7), 580-584.

Friend, M. (2001, February). Co-teaching for general and special educators. Paper presented for Clark County School District, Las Vegas, NV.

Friend, M., & Cook, L. (1992). The new mainstreaming. Instructor, 30-36.

Friend, M., Reising, M., & Cook, L. (1993). Co-teaching: An overview of the past, a glimpse at the present, and considerations for the future. Preventing School Failure, 37(4), 6-10.

Gable, R. A., Hendrickson, J. M., Evans, S. S., Frye, B., & Bryant, K. (1993). Cooperative planning for regular classroom instruction of students with disabilities. Preventing School Failure, 37, (4), 16-20.

Reeve, P. T., & Hallahan, D. P. (1994). Practical Questions about collaboration between general and special educators. Focus on Exceptional Children, 26, (7), 1-10.

Ripley, S. (1997). Collaboration between general and special education teachers. District of Columbia, US: Office of Educational Research and Improvement. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED409317).

Scheffel, D. L., Kallam, M., Smith, K. N., & Hoernicke, P. A. (1996). Inclusion: What it is and how it works best. Fort Hays, KS: Fort Hays State University. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED412663).

Sileo, J. M. (2003). Co-teaching: Rationale for best practices. Journal of Asia-Pacific Special Education, 3(1), 17-26.

Taylor, G. R., & Harrington, F. C. (1998). Inclusion: Panacea or Delusion. Opinion paper. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED423225).

Vaughn, S., Elbaum, B. E., Schumm, J. S., & Hughes, M. T. (1998). Social outcomes for students with and without disabilities in inclusive classrooms. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 31, (5), 428-436.

Walther-Thomas, C., Bryant, M., & Land, S. (1996). Planning for effective co-teaching: The key to successful inclusion. Remedial and Special Education, 17, (4), 255-Cover 3.

Warger, C. L., & Rutherford, R. B. Jr. (1993). Co-teaching to improve social skills. Preventing School Failure, 37, (4), 21-27.

Weiss, M. P., & Lloyd, J. (2003). Conditions for co-teaching: Lessons from a case study. Teacher Education and Special Education, 26(1), 27-41.


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