Erin Hodges

Douglas MacArthur Junior High School
Jonesboro, Arkansas

Best Practices

1) Learning is Required for Every Student – Professional Learning Communities (PLCs): Educators should strive to achieve success for every student by maintaining high expectations for all students and supporting them through reteaching, interventions, and extra time to practice the skill until mastery of the standard is met. A school’s most at-risk students are capable of learning at high levels. Educators must accept responsibility to ensure this happens. To put it simply, “learning is required for every student” means the collaborative teams of teachers do not allow students to fail. It does not mean just passing or teaching to lower standards.

To achieve a mission of high levels of learning for all students, educators must commit to a critical assumption: all students can learn at high levels. While every student might not learn all of the required state curriculum taught in a particular year, all students will learn the essential standards/skills identified by teacher collaborative teams. This will be identified when the collaborative teams answer the first critical PLC question: What do we expect students to learn and be able to do? This question is about establishing clarity and focus. What is it that we really want kids to know? Or better yet, what is it that they really need to know and be able to do? This question requires teachers to clearly identify each essential learning target for the students they serve.

How will we know when our students have learned the essential standard? This is the second PLC question teach teams answer. The team will determine what artifacts they will accept as evidence that their students have mastered the standard or skill. Question two speaks to the development and the power of the use of common formative assessments to inform students and teachers about their progress towards an intended learning target.

The third question for PLC is: How will we respond when there is evidence that there are students who are not learning? This question forces collaborative teams to focus on each student who is not meeting the intended learning target. It is not enough to simply look at the grade average of the class, or to be satisfied with “most” students getting it. One of the beliefs of PLCs is a belief that all students can learn at high levels. This means teachers in a PLC will provide additional support in the form of reteach, interventions, extra time, etc. to ensure that all students meet or exceed in the essential learnings.

Question for for PLC: How will we respond when they already know the materials? Collaborative teams must look at what systems and strategies they have in place to allow students to accelerate their learning beyond the articulated curriculum. Oftentimes, students who master the standard or skill are required to wait until the rest of the class is ready to move on to the next standard of skill. Schools must honor the learning for all students, so it’s just as important to extend the learning for the students who meet expectations the first time. This question forces collaborative team members to review evidence of student learning for every student, and develop creative ways to challenge students to take the next step in their learning.

2) Inclusion: Inclusion is critical for special education students to achieve their highest potential. Inclusive education means classrooms filled with diverse learners, it give special education students equal access to the same educational foundation as their peers. Inclusion models provide students with disabilities working alongside general education students. Teachers deliver the same lesson to the entire class but provide additional support and differentiation for students with disabilities.

Co-teaching is more that just “two teachers, one classroom.” It’s a model of shared responsibility that allows for professional collaboration during planning, instructing, and assessing students. Co-teaching is an inclusive education model in which students with special education needs are provided the opportunity to learn in a mainstream classroom with the additional support of a special education teacher who co-teaches with the general education teacher. This model allows special education students the opportunity to transition from modified assignments to typical assignments as the student develops skills and confidence. As a result, co-taught special education students are generally more likely to meet grade level standards. Students continue to receive specialized instruction. Special education teachers within the mainstream classroom can provide support to students individually or in small groups to ensure their students are successful completing assignments.

There are several co-teaching models for teachers to deliver instruction. One teacher/one observes or assists: one teacher delivers a lesson while the other observes and/or assists students. This model is most effective for topics that are detailed or require the delivery of extensive content such as dates, names, and timeline events. As on teacher explains new ideas, the other teacher reviews student notes to ensure all students are obtaining the same information.

Parallel teaching is another model of co-teaching. Students are divided into two groups and each teacher teaches the same content using different strategies to their group of students. This model is most effective when co-teachers have identified different learning styles.

Station teaching provides students with the opportunity to move around the classroom and work with different peers. Desks are grouped into four or five different areas around the room. Two of the groups are “staffed” by the co-teachers who deliver content directly to students to check student progress on assignments. The other stations include independent group work.

The team teaching model requires all students to learn from two different teachers, who may have different personalities. In team-taught lessons, the entire class is in one group. However, if students seem to struggle with the lesson, one of the teachers can pull a small group to reteach or provide additional support.

What better way to shape social skills than seeing two teachers work together with a common goal? Collaboration and cooperation are the heart of the co-teaching model, which allows the teachers to model appropriate behavior while interacting with one another. With effective co-teaching, students are exposed to daily lessons in encouragement, politeness, teamwork, and support.