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FRIEND ET AL Co-Teaching. An Overview of the Past, a Glimpse at the Present, and Considerations for the Future

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Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for
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Co-Teaching: An Overview of the Past, a Glimpse at the
Present, and Considerations for the Future
Marilyn Friend , Monica Reising & Lynne Cook
Published online: 16 Jul 2010.
To cite this article: Marilyn Friend , Monica Reising & Lynne Cook (1993) Co-Teaching: An Overview of the Past, a Glimpse at
the Present, and Considerations for the Future, Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 37:4,
6-10, DOI: 10.1080/1045988X.1993.9944611
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Co-Teaching: An
Ovewiew of the Past, a
Glimpse at the Present,
and Considerations for
the Future
s services for students with dis-
abilities have moved toward new
strategies for teaching in general education classrooms, educators have faced
the challenge of creating appropriate
service delivery models. Classroom
teachers have stressed the importance of
having support personnel physically
present to assist in instructional activities
(Giangreco, Dennis, Cloninger, Edelman, & Schattrnan, 1993). Special educators have voiced concern about appropriately meeting the needs of students
with disabilities who no longer participate in pullout programs (Baker &
Zigmond, 1990; Morsink & Lenk, 1992).
One of the most rapidly emerging responses to such challenges is co-teaching.
Co-teaching in special education is an
instructional delivery approach in which
a classroom teacher and a special education teacher (or other special services
professional) share responsibility for
planning, delivering, and evaluating instruction for a group of students, some
of whom have exceptional needs (Friend
& Cook, 1992b). Further, the instruction
generally occurs within the context of a
single classroom. In co-teaching, the
teachers strive to create a classroom
community in which all students are
valued members, and they develop innovative teaching strategies that would
not be possible if only one teacher was
The purpose of this article is to form
a foundation of understanding about
co-teaching. To accomplish that goal,
we will briefly review the development
of co-teaching in public schools and
describe the current status of coteaching. In addition, we will raise a
number of issues and questions that
will need to be addressed if co-teaching
is to become a valid and widely accepted practice.
The Development of Co-Teaching
Marilyn Friend is an associate professor in special education, and Monica
Reising is a doctoral student in special education, both at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, and Lynne Cook is a professor of
special education at California State University-Northridge, in Northridge.
The roots for co-teaching as a special
education service delivery option are
found in the practice of team teaching
among general education teachers.
Team teaching first gained widespread
popularity in the late 1950s when
Trump (e.g., Trump, 1966) proposed
reorganizing secondary schools so that
teams of teachers shared responsibility
for large-group presentations, followSummer 1993
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up sessions for groups of 12-15 students, and individualized study. His
idea stemmed from a need to overcome
the then-acute shortage of teachers,
but also from his belief that such a
model would enable schools to offer
interdisciplinary and individualized instruction to students.
During the 196Os, a number of variations of team teaching evolved. For example, in England, Warwick (1971)
eliminated Trump’s discussion groups
and instead proposed a model that
comprised two components, a lecture
to a large group of students followed
by additional instruction in traditional
class groups. Another variation of
team teaching involved joint planning
by teachers on interdisciplinary units
but individual delivery of the instruction (Geen, 1985). The latter model
was popular in open concept schools,
particularly at the elementary level. In
all of these models, a primary goal was
to create educational environments
that were student centered (EasterbySmith & Olve, 1984).
By the early 197Os, team teaching
had become a widespread practice. It
occurred in both elementary and secondary schools (e.g., Crespin, 1971;
Geen, 1985) in an entire range of subject matter (e.g., Meadows, 1973;
Wood, 1972) and in many countries
(Geen, 1985). However, because so
many different approaches were called
team teaching and because most reports on team teaching were simply descriptions of situation-specific programs, it is difficult to analyze whether
team teaching was successful in terms
of improving educational opportunities for students. What was apparent
was that teachers found in team teaching an approach to their craft that was
both challenging and rewarding.
Recently, team teaching has been
regaining popularity among general
education teachers. It is a strategy
often employed in middle schools and
sometimes used in high schools. The
rationale for these contemporary efforts is twofold: (a) to provide students
with a more individualized and diversified learning experience and (b) to
enable teachers to complement each
other’s expertise while providing a mutual professional support system.
VOl. 37,No.4
However, like the earlier team teaching Idol, Paolucci-Whitcomb, & Nevin,
models, the current ones vary tremen- 1983) and collaboration (e.g., Friend &
dously in the amount of shared plan- Cook, 19921). The several years of
ning, the extent to which teachers ac- debate about definitions of these
tually share a classroom during instruc- terms, appropriate uses of consultation
tion, and the degree to which the as an intervention for students with
disabilities, and the feasibility of inteaching is interdisciplinary.
direct service delivery by special educaCo- Teaching in Special Education
tion teachers resulted in clearer underEven before PL 94-142 became law, standings about some service delivery
special educators were stressing the im- approaches. At the same time, howportance of partnerships between gen- ever, the debate diverted attention
eral education and special education from the investigation and developteachers (Deno, 1973). Teaming be- ment of other service delivery apcame an integral component of main- proaches, including team teaching.
streaming, and many authors discussed
Most recently, educators have been
how the teamwork between classroom distinguishing more carefully among
teachers and special education teachers the many strategies for addressing stuwas critical for the success of main- dent needs in general education classstreaming. A variety of terms came in- rooms, and team teaching has begun to
to use to describe such teaming, and grow in popularity. In addition, it has
descriptions of it included different ap- been labeled cooperative teaching
proaches to teacher collaboration in (Bauwens & Hourcade, 1991; Bauwens,
jointly instructing students with dis- Hourcade, & Friend, 1989) or co-teaching
abilities. However, team teaching was (Friend & Cook, 1992b) to distinguish it
not a commonly acknowledged role for from the teams of general education
special education and general educa- teachers who may share instructional
tion teachers. For example, none of the responsibilities.
authors of early texts on operating resource programs even mentioned team
Current Practice
teaching (e.g., Harris & Schutz, 1986;
The momentum of the trend educatWiederholt, Hammill, & Brown, 1978,
most students with disabilities in
1983), even though other alternative
education settings has provided
roles (i.e., consultant) were thoroughly
for educators to explore in
the possibilities opened
By the early 1980s, team teaching
teacher and special
was identified as a strategy borrowed
share instruction.
from general education and applied to
work with teachspecial education as a means for mainers
or evaluating
streaming (Brandenberger & Womack,
and on a
1982; Garvar & Papania, 1982), but it
conwas heralded as an innovative apducted
proach only just receiving attention
and requiring clear communication
and careful negotiation among the be typical practices.
teachers. In many ways, the potential
of team teaching was overshadowed by Who Is Served
other controversy and a confusion
Most co-teaching occurs for students
about service delivery. Specifically, the with mild disabilities, particularly
rapidly growing need for approaches to learning disabilities, and it is most
providing services for students with often a strategy of choice when a clusdisabilities in general education class- ter of students with special needs exists
rooms was accompanied by recogni- in a particular grade level or class. That
tion of the problems with traditional is, in elementary schools, co-teaching
consultation as a special education may occur in the fourth grade because
service approach function. These fac- there are 12 students with learning and
tors prompted the introduction of the behavior problems in that grade, whereterms collaborative consultation (e.g., as it may not be used in the frst grade,
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where only two students have been identified as having disabilities. In a junior
high school, co-teaching may be preferred when a special education science
class or six or eight students can be combined with the general education science
class that is taught during the same class
period. Co-teaching is most often practiced in elementary schools and somewhat less so in middle schools. In junior
high schools and high schools, co-teaching is not a widely accepted practice.
How Co-Teaching Occurs
Most co-teachers report that they establish a schedule for co-teaching and
follow that schedule for either a semester or the entire school year. For example, in an elementary school, co-teaching may occur in Mr. Craft’s fifthgrade class each afternoon from 1:OO
p.m. until 1:45 p.m. for social studies.
In a high school, Ms. Limbaugh and
Ms. Shane might co-teach daily for
junior English. It should be noted that
despite teachers’ apparent preferences
for this scheduled approach to coteaching, other approaches are also
possible. For example, in some schools
teachers co-teach only when the difficulty of the content, the needs of the
students, or the types of activities
planned make it an attractive alternative. In other schools, co-teaching is
scheduled, but not daily. The amount
of co-teaching scheduled for any classroom depends on the number of students with disabilities and the intensity
of their needs.
Classroom Structures
Co-teachers are approaching their
shared instruction by employing a
range of options. In some classes, the
teachers take turns; one leads wholeclass groups while the other observes
students or quietly offers assistance to
students. In others, teachers divide
groups of students into heterogeneous
groups and then create parallel instructional groups or classroom teaching
stations. In yet others, the two teachers
share an active role, jointly sharing a
discussion, demonstrating a historical
event through an impromptu skit, or
modeling skills such as notetaking. An
outline of these various structures is
provided in Table 1.
When the two teachers truly perceive (Harris et al., 1987) provided positive
that they are equal partners in co- data on a high school program. Pasteaching, they report it as a tremendous- saglia (1992) discussed the complexities
ly energizing experience. However, two of co-teaching but also shared her exrelated problems are relatively common: periences with the rewards of this type
First, in some co-taught classes the fun- of collaborating. Others reported simidamental classroom structure, instruc- lar experiences (e.g., Adamson, Mattional format, and leadership do not thews, & Schuler, 1990).
change. That is, the classroom teacher
may assume that the special educator’s
Considerations for the Future
presence should not have any impact on
Whether co-teaching will become a
the class. Second, in such situations, the
accepted practice in schools respecial education teacher typically funcmains
be seen. In part, this will detions more like a paraprofessional or stupend
resolution of several crudent teacher in the class. Problems such
as these may be the result of too little
planning prior to co-teaching. They may
also occur because of a sense of losing in- Resources
In this era of economic constraints
structional control.
and shrinking school resources, any
discussion about the future of coMuch of the information currently teaching must begin with an acknowlavailable about co-teaching is anec- edgment of its costs. First, it is expendotal. For example, Friend and Cook sive for two qualified professionals to
(1992b) interviewed a co-teaching share a group of students not much
team; the teachers reported that co- larger than the group the classroom
teaching was effective in positively af- teacher taught alone. Second, in order
fecting student achievement and self- for co-teaching to be used effectively,
concept and that it enabled them to ex- teachers must have opportunities to
periment with a wide variety of teach- plan together and to evaluate their
ing techniques. White and White shared instruction. This, of course, re(1992) reported similar positive experi- quires even more time. Third, coences in a middle school co-teaching teaching requires an increase in the
model, and Harris and her colleagues resource of space allocation.
Co-Teaching Structures
One teach, one assist
Both teachers are present, but one-often the general
education teacher-takes the lead. The other teacher
observes or “drifts” around the room assisting
Station teaching
Teachers divide the content to be delivered, and each
takes responsibility for part of it. Some students may
also work independently. Eventually all students participate in all “stations.”
Parallel teaching
Teachers jointly plan instruction, but each delivers it
to half of the class group.
Alternative teaching
One teacher works with a small group of students to
pre-teach, re-teach, supplement, or enrich while the
other teacher instructs the large group.
Team teaching
Both teachers share the instruction of students. They
may take turns leading a discussion, demonstrate
concepts or learning strategies, and model a p
propriate question-asking or conflict behavior.
Note. Information in this figure is adapted from Cook & Friend (1993),Co-teach! Strategies
for Creating Successful Teaching learns (in preparation).
Summer 1993
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To respond to the cost issue, educators must first ensure that the instruction that occurs in a co-taught
classroom is quantitatively and qualitatively different from that offered in
other classrooms. That is, an observer
visiting a co-taught class should see the
teachers creatively dividing students
for small-group work, modeling question-asking and role-playing, and
otherwise using both teachers’ talents
to the maximum extent. What cannot
be justified is a classroom tht looks just
like it did with one teacher except that
now there are two teachers, one of
whom is “helping out” or acting as an
instructional assistant.
The matter of planning time is another resource issue demanding consideration. Co-teachers explain that
one of the lessons they must learn is to
use their time wisely (Adams, Cessna,
& Friend, 1993). They change the
typical teacher interaction pattern by
intentionally discussing their shared
teaching as the first topic of conversation rather than first discussing the
day’s events or other personal or
school topics. Social conversation becomes a decidedly less time-consuming
part of interactions. Further, teachers
who co-teach may find that an occasional block of time (e.g., a half-day
once each grading quarter) is sufficient
for long-range planning and that other
briefer planning periods can be created
from existing planning time.
The matter of space for co-teaching
is one typically beyond the control of
school professionals. In some schools,
classrooms are large and the addition
of a few extra students or increased activity such as one that accompanies
multiple learning groups can easily be
accommodated. In others, however,
the primary criterion for arranging furniture is to leave enough room for an
aisle. The former schools may find coteaching a much more attractive alternative than the latter.
In sum, the cost of co-teaching must
be weighed against its benefits. The
amount of co-teaching in any special
education program should be based on
a simultaneous analysis of co-teaching’s
priority to school staff, benefit to
students, and feasibility given other facVol. 37,No. 4
tors such as the availability of the needed which they are to engage and the ways
in which they are supervised. These
time and space.
factors raise several questions: Is coParticipants
teaching possible when one teacher is
A second group of issues concerns certified and employed as a teacher and
the staff members who might best en- the other is a paraprofessional? What
gage in co-teaching and the coordina- is the impact of this on parity in the
tion of their efforts. In the past several classroom? If paraprofessionals want
years, co-teaching has been proposed to co-teach, to what extent is it approas a role for special education teachers priate to give them full instructional
of students with mild and severe disa- responsibility for a topic or group of
bilities, speech/language therapists, students? Is it ethical to ask an indiremedial reading teachers, occupa- vidual, even a willing one, to carry the
tional and physical therapists, and psy- responsibilities of a teacher without rechologists and counselors. For each of ceiving appropriate compensation?
these groups, co-teaching offers the And finally, at some schools, profespotential for incorporating instruction sionals are seemingly deciding to “cash
into the natural context of the class- in” a special educator for two or three
room, but what about the impact of paraprofessionals. Is the resulting inthis on the classroom teacher? Some crease in people available to assist in
teachers find that if they have consider- classes an appropriate substitution for
able diversity in their classrooms, a pa- the professional judgment and decirade of professional follows. Add to sionmaking skill of a special education
this the potential of having student teacher? This raises another ethical
teachers, parent volunteers, tutors, question concerning the appropriate
and/or other assistants in the class- provision of services to students with
room, and the matter of preserving the disabilities.
Attempting to provide simple anintegrity of the classroom community
swers to these complex questions about
becomes critical.
To avoid the problems that may be paraprofessionals and co-teaching
caused by several adults working in a would be presumptuous. However, we
single class, teachers and other school urge professionals developing coprofessionals should openly discuss teaching programs to consider them
how to efficiently manage their co- carefully.
teaching program. Sometimes this includes sharing responsibility for the Implementation
day-to-day instruction of students with
A third area of consideration for codifferent needs. For example, a speech- teaching is implementation, and again,
language therapist might provide in- a number of questions have not yet
struction to students with learning been addressed. One fundamental condisabilities in a first-grade classroom, cern involves students. To date, little
thus freeing the teacher of students information is available t o demonwith learning disabilities to work in strate that co-teaching is an effective
another class. The professionals keep strategy for any particular group of
each other informed about progress students with disabilities, or for these
and problems of the students in their students as a whole. A few studies
(e.g., Harris et al., 1987) have reported
respective co-taught classes.
The use of paraprofessionals for co- that students prefer a co-taught class,
teaching also needs mention. In some but far more detailed information is
locations, paraprofessionals are fully needed to make informed decisions
certified teachers who are confortable about committing t o co-teaching as a
taking significant responsibility for in- service delivery approach. It might be
struction. In other areas, parapro- that students with mild learning or
fessionals may have little or no educa- behavior disabilities will benefit more
tional training or experiences. In both from co-teaching than from resource
instances, paraprofessionals usually programs, consultation, or other apare poorly paid and limited by position proaches. The same may be true for
description in the types of activities in students with moderate or severe disaPREVENTINGSCHOOL FAILURE
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bilities. At this point, there simply are
not enough data available to provide
valid information concerning students.
And, it should be noted that the same
is true for the impact of co-teaching on
students without disabilities. Extensive
research is needed on the impact of coteaching on students.
Another implementation matter is
one of quantity. How much co-teaching is enough? Should teachers share
a time slot or class every day? If coteachers share instruction only periodically or only on specific units, are the
benefits to students the same as when
co-teaching is daily? Can this approach
be justified in terms of meeting the requirements of IEPs? On the other
hand, if teachers are locked into specific co-teaching schedules, do they
perceive that they are giving up the
freedom to be flexible in their teaching? And are services then unavailable
to other students and classrooms?
One additional implementation matter is related to the school context. Coteaching often has an impact on many,
if not all, aspects of a school’s scheduling. For example, in a high school, if
a biology class is co-taught it may be
that a disproportionately high number
of students with disabilities are placed
in that class. Informal and inappropriate tracking may be the result. In an
elementary school, many teachers may
want co-teaching to occur during a language arts period. If so, some teachers
may have to schedule language arts activities for late in the afternoon instead
of in the morning so that the special
education teacher can accommodate
the requests. In any school, if coteachers need shared planning time,
other teachers may not receive the
planning period to which they are accustomed.
Co-teaching holds great promise as
one approach for supporting students
with disabilities in general education
settings. It has past and present support in team teaching, and it is consistent with the increasing emphasis in
schools on collaboration (Friend &
Cook, 1992a). Teachers report that
students in their co-taught classes perceive that someone is always available
to assist them and that everyone receives special help. Teachers also share
that they experience a sense of professional renewal when they co-teach.
However, co-teaching is not a panacea.
It is labor and time intensive and requires a high level of commitment and
a high degree of coordination. The articles in this special issue demonstrate
how co-teaching can occur. However,
whether co-teaching will be an integral
part of schools of the future or a fad
that rapidly fades is not yet clear. Until
the knowledge base about co-teaching
increases, we recommend that it be explored optimistically but with appropriate caution.
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