The posting below looks at some teaching approaches that have been found to be particularly effective with "at risk" learners. It is from Chapter 2, Common Issues and Practical Solutions to Co-Teaching, in the book, Purposeful Co-Teaching: Real Cases and Effective Strategies, by Greg Conderman, Val Bresnahan, and Theresa Pedersen. Published by Corwin Press, A SAGE Company, 2455 Teller Road, Thousand Oaks, California 91320. [www.corwinpress.com] Copyright © 2009 by Corwin Press. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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Effective Teaching Behaviors
Several research-based teaching behaviors or presentation techniques have been found to be effective for all students at all levels, but especially for learners considered at risk.
Teach for Understanding Rather Than Exposure
One principle is to teach for understanding rather than exposure. This powerful phrase - 6 words and 12 syllables - is contrary to the way in which many teachers conduct lessons. This phrase holds the secret to successful teaching in both the traditional and co-teaching models. Often, teachers teach for exposure rather than in-depth understanding. To teach for understanding, teachers reduce textbook information to a few areas of critical understanding and design and present instruction around big ideas. Teachers can ask themselves questions such as "If my students only take one idea away from this unit, what would that be?" "What do I want them to remember ten years from now?" "What am I teaching that has universal application?" "What key concepts do I need to cover in depth?" and "How can I relate these key concepts to other lessons I have taught or to other disciplines?"
Determining big ideas helps you communicate your lesson's objectives with your co-teacher. In addition to providing a clear objective for co-teaching, determining big ideas is essential in planning lessons to accommodate the wide diversity within today's classroom.
Another effective teaching behavior is to use explicit instruction. After determining big ideas, share them with students and repeat them often. Start each lesson by telling students what they are going to learn, the rationale, and how new material is connected to what they have learned before. Always tell students exactly what you expect of them in terms they can understand. If you assign a final product, provide a good model for example before students begin working. Designing a rubric is a good way to be explicit about the range of your expectations. Apply the rubric to several models of student work within a range; keep the models in front of students, so they can compare their work against a standard; and refer to the models often while students complete the project.
A third effective model is called scaffolded instruction. Here, you provide students with ongoing support as needed, but you gradually reduce the level of help you provide as students demonstrate competence in working independently. The three stages of scaffolding are as follows:
1. Teacher modelling or "watch me do it." At this beginning stage, the teacher shows and tells students what to do while demonstrating. Usually the teacher uses words such as "First, I will...; next, I will...; finally, I will..." Teacher think-alouds are effective in demonstrating expectations.
2. Teacher and student together. At this intermediate stage, the teacher provides assistance for students, gradually reducing teacher involvement as students gain proficiency. In this stage, teachers may say, "Now, you do it with me," or "Let's do this together."
3. Student alone. At this final stage, the student performs the activity independently under the teacher's guidance.
These three steps are also referred to as "I do, we do, you do."
Teachers can also incorporate errorless learning into their presentations. Errorless learning means that instruction is presented at the level at which students can achieve success, with a minimal number of errors. Often teachers reframe, redesign, or rerepresent a learning task by teaching in smaller steps, providing more examples and nonexamples, using more visuals, and checking frequently for student understanding. Content area teachers may find the expertise of co-teachers particularly valuable when designing presentations that promote errorless learning.
Active Involvement of Students
Another effective teaching behavior is to actively involve students. Some techniques for involving students include promoting unison responding, using dry erase boards, and teaming students with a partner with whom to share a response before responding to the class. While one teacher presents the lesson, the co-teacher can circulate and monitor student written responses, allowing for immediate feedback. With this feedback, you can decide to reteach, provide more practice opportunities, or advance to the next skill or concept.
Providing Practice Opportunities
Effective teachers also provide numerous practice opportunities for students. Most of us forget how to complete tasks we seldom practice. This is especially true for many learners in diverse classrooms who need frequent opportunities to learn new skills and concepts. For maximum effectiveness, practice must be sufficient, varied, distributed, and integrated into new learning tasks. A benefit of co-teaching is the opportunity to discuss creative ways to provide students with repeated practice.
Monitoring of Teacher Presentation
Teachers can also monitor their teacher-talk and their pace. How often have you listened to someone but not understood a word he was saying? Perhaps he talked too fast, used words you never heard before, used very complicated sentence structure, or put so many ideas together that you simply could not follow what he was saying? Students in diverse classrooms may feel confused when teachers present too much verbal information in a short period. Often the content area specialist is so familiar with the concepts and has presented the lessons so many times that she uses vocabulary and sentence structure beyond students' comprehension level. Consider tape-recording yourself presenting a lesson. Take special note of your vocabulary. Are you sure all students understand your words? Similarly, teachers need to use proper pacing, which means that lessons are long enough to provide necessary scaffolding and repeated practice but quick enough to maintain student attention. Proper pacing also involves limited time spent on transition, so that student contact time is maximized. In addition to recording themselves, teachers can monitor each other and then give feedback.
Giving Feedback to Students
Finally, effective teachers frequently assess and provide timely and corrective feedback to students. To know what to teach, you need to be aware of which students are learning and which students are falling behind. We realize this is a challenge, especially in single-teacher middle and high school classroom, where teachers teach as many as 100 students each day. Providing timely corrective feedback to students can be more manageable in co-taught classrooms when teachers share assessment tasks, use various instructional models, and share student observations.
If you and your co-teaching partner continually review your teaching behaviors in light of these research-based principles, you will be well on your way to ensuring success for each student in your classroom.