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BY Melissa

The Benefits of Co-Teaching for Students with Special Needs

We all know that a student with special needs has the right to a free and appropriate public education. This is mandated under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA 2004). This law also states that a student should be educated in their least restrict environment. Ideally, this would be the general education classroom.

We know this is not the best placement for all students to meet their unique learning needs. However, for those students who are included in the general education setting, I would encourage educators to consider co-teaching as a service delivery model.

Co-TeachingResearch studies have shown that co-teaching can be very effective for students with special needs, especially those with milder disabilities such as learning disabilities. When implemented correctly, co-teaching can be a very successful way to teach all students in a classroom setting. On the other hand, uninformed teachers can poorly implement this model which will not yield positive results for students.

Here is a basic explanation of what co-teaching means along with the benefits and different models of Co-teaching.

The Definition of Co-teaching:

Two or more teachers delivering instruction at the same time in the same physical space to a heterogeneous group of students (Friend and Cook, 2004).

Benefits of Co-teaching:

  1. Students with disabilities are provided access to the general education curriculum and general education setting
  2. Students with disabilities will still receive specialized instruction
  3. Students will have the opportunity to be taught in an intense, individualized manner
  4. Greater instructional intensity and differentiated instruction
  5. Teachers will learn from each other’s expertise and expand the scope of their teaching capacity
  6. Reduces negative stigma associated with pull-out programs
  7. Students with disabilities may feel more connected with their peer group

Models of Co-teaching:

(defined by Friend and Cook, 2004).

  1. One teach, one observe:
    one teacher delivers instruction while the other observes student learning and assesses student understanding and academic functioning
  2. One teach, one assist:
    one teacher will take the lead in providing instruction while the other moves around the classroom and assists students who may be struggling
  3. Parallel Teaching:
    The class is divided in half and the same material is presented at the same time by both teachers (teacher to student ratio becomes more manageable)
  4. Station Teaching:
    Both teachers are actively involved in instruction and the students rotate from one station to the next, learning new material
  5. Alternative Teaching:
    One teacher takes a small group of students and provides instruction that is different than what the large group is receiving
  6. Team Teaching:
    Both teachers instruct on the same lesson with all students present

Tell us what you think… Have you found co-teaching to be a helpful

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Written on March 25, 2013 by:

Melissa Ferry is a special education teacher for Mt. Pleasant Public Schools. She earned her bachelor's degree from Michigan State University with an endorsement in learning disabilities. Melissa is continuing her education at Central Michigan University in pursuit of a Master's Degree. Prior to her career as a teacher Melissa volunteered at Friendship Circle for seven years.
  • It will be almost impossible to encourage educators to consider co-teaching my learners because I can’t seeing them paying for two teachers…but, I hope I’m wrong because the benefits to learners is obvious to me. Great Post Thanx MBa

  • Spreading the Word

    This is a great idea! The special education classes
    at my former high school have at least 3 teachers, 1 teacher and 2 or 3
    paraprofessionals. I have yet to see a classroom with only 1 or 2 teachers.
    Usually, the head teacher will conduct a lesson while the paras assist or
    sometimes the students will break up into stations. Co-teaching is definitely a
    great idea and so much more effective than only having one teacher.

  • Danielle

    I’d like to point out that this is beneficial to the typical students as well. They learn that their special-needs classmates are learning just like they are. They may be learning different material, at a different level, but they are capable of learning, too. The typical kids learn that the special needs students are more like them than they sometimes realize.

  • Drew

    give us some more links to research so I can get my colleagues in to this idea! the gen ed teachers need convincing as do my sped. colleagues. What about identifying students with IEPs in Gen Ed settings? How do we tiptoe around that? What about grade books with two credentialed teachers in the room? What are some effective ways to set up back to school night/parent teacher conferences? More links please. Which models work better? _Do_ different models work better? (or does it depend on the teachers?) When co-teaching is effective, in what context is it effective (i.e. both teachers selected it instead of being appointed?)? Do both teachers need to be content experts at the high school level (and to what degree, if not?)?

  • bazz

    Hello, I am Thai mathematics teacher in English Program school,in Thailand.I am interested in Co-teaching so I read a lot about co-teaching on research-based ,but I am not clear cause I have not enough knowledge deeply about steps of teaching each model. I want to do a research : Devolopment of achivement in Math by co-teaching model. If who know about steps of teaching all model of it.Please tell me. [email protected]

    thank you so much. I am a teacher,I am not a business man so I want to improve my thai students. Please help me. Sorry if I misstake in English.


  • madeline bell

    Do you take part in a co-teaching environment? If so, do you enjoy it? If not, do you ever consider taking part in one?

  • Jachelle

    I am a special education teacher an have been co-teaching with one of our 7th grade English teachers for the past two years. It has been one of the best things I have ever done for my students and my teaching. We typically split up the class period taking turns as the lead teacher and milling around and helping the students.
    The results have been great. Takes supportive admin and a co-teacher you click with.

  • Ross Sharp

    As a future educator and current student teacher I found this information to be very benifical. I’m currently not a room that allows me to use co-teaching strategies, but I see it being a strategy that I will use in the near future. For the school i’m in I feel like one teach, one assist would be the most successful type of co-teaching strategy. I would love to see how parallel teaching works in a class since i’ve never been exposed to this before. I feel like having great co-teachng strategies would involve great communication between both teachers. I think one of the most important things with co-teaching would be to have both teachers on the same page and work well together. What happens if you don’t gel well with the other teacher? How would you handle this situation? Any information would be great!


  • Teacher 2

    I was very excited in reading this post. This year I had a student teacher and by the end we had done some co-teaching and I loved it! I am a second grade general education teacher, but will be doing inclusion with the second grade special education students. The Intervention Specialist will be spending a large portion of the day in my room. Has anyone had experience co-teaching with the special education teacher (she was in a regular classroom up until last year)? Do you have any suggestions on things that worked/did not work? I think there could be some neat possibilities for both the special education students and the typical students. I was curious on the research you mentioned. Do you have any references that I could look up additional information to help strengthen my case to present to our district?

  • Janis Wilkinson

    I find this information very useful.As a future educator I have found
    co-teaching to be beneficial in my student teaching experiences. The
    intervention specialist would come into the classroom for reading. The
    teachers used team teaching. I liked this way of co-teaching because I
    felt both teachers bounced ideas and thoughts off of each other to help
    the students learn. we used parallel teaching when we wanted to read a
    story out loud. I would take a group, the regular classroom teacher and
    the intervention specialist would take a group. It worked out great! I
    think with gelling together every teacher needs to understand everyone
    has a different teaching style, both teachers just need to make sure
    they communicate about what they are going to teach.

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  • user

    This is very insightful and concise. I like this. Thanks be to you for sharing, Melissa F. 🙂


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