Thursday, May 04, 2006

Teaching Together--Oh, The Possibilities!

In the teaching profession we tend to label ourselves with the usual stamp of teacher or educator-but why don't we say that we are collaborators too? I think about how much time we truly do spend with our colleagues, and I feel that we are putting our talents to waste if we don't try to work together. We tend to just email one another, locked in the chair at our desks- grading, plugging in grades, going over grades, explaining grades, changing grades, getting yelled at becasue my kid doesn't have this grade,stacks of grading on the desk-oh, sorry- random tangent!); for as much as we see each other, we should think about how great it would be, in small doses at first, to intertwine each other into our units or in an entire semester. In the ideal situation, (time/schedules, personality differences and curriculum mandates aside)think about what we could do if we came together and taught in a way where we could present our content from varying perspectives across the curriculum.

Here we have this amazing staff- some of the most creative, intelligent, and caring individuals when it comes to their profession, and how much do we use each other's expertise and knowledge to better our own(and not just the department around you)? Even more so, how are we using each other or working together to benefit our students' learning and help them to see a wide array of issues/information/points of view when looking at the things we teach?

A few questions: Is collaboration or team teaching something you could apply in your content area or across contents? What would you need to make that happen? What would need to change? Do you see this method of teaching as something to consider when looking at learning/teaching in the 21rst century? What are your worries about working with someone else in the classroom?


  1. I like it when teachers work together. It generally generates very good ideas. Also, it can eliminate the discrepancies between classes that are supposed to learn the same thing. I always find it surprising how differently teachers can conduct the same class. Particularly around scheduling time, everyone knows which math teacher actually grades homework problems, which teachers are pushovers and which teacher no one seems to like. Especially now that we introduced the computer scheduling and have less choice over teacher, it would be beneficial to have everyone teaching the same class to actually keep the class constant.

  2. When I taught at Northglenn high school the majority of the History classes (u.s history and world history) had options to be taught with their english classes. The teachers and students loved this integrated approach. The part that made this easier was the content, esp. historical content, was lined up together. (U.S. history with American lit etc.) They found that students that had been taking the integrated classes had better test scores (csap, etc) and better grades then the students who did not take the integrated. I never taught one of these classes but I think it would be a great idea. Teaching history, their are so many times that I want to integrate literature but I feel crammed for time, and my knowledge is limited. I can not imagine the possibilities...

    I have tried one co-teaching experience before. It was an elective and I would teach one unit, and the other teacher taught another. I think it had some benefits but I was very difficult at times for both the two of us and the students in regards to expectations etc. I think if you do go into team teaching you have to be very compatiable with the one that you are working with.

  3. I have a few limited experiences with team teaching--there are two teachers running each biology lab, we teach Link Crew Class with all five sponsors, and running volleyball camps and clinics I always have several coaches helping out. No matter the environment--the forum for zero hour, the lab, or the gym--I can really see the benefits of working together. It's great to have someone else there to jump in and add some additional perspective. The kids learn more and so do we.

    In terms of merging biology with another content area, I think it has great potential. It would probably work best to start by collaborating on one or two units. Something like what Steve and Alexis already do for Evolution and Inherit the Wind. Or maybe something with Genetics and Probability. I would definitely like to try it, but like Allison said, time (for connecting with the other teacher, planning, etc.) would be the first major hurdle to jump over.

  4. I think all kids should experience a class(especially Language Arts and History) where they see the connections between literature and the time period in which it was written. One of the best classes I took in college was my Shakespeare class where he taught the history of England along with the plays of good old Will. It was amazing to see the connection and inspiration behind his writings.

    So, I guess what I am saying is that I can see the possibilites for many humanity style classes. I think it would be amazing to see it offered in the Honors programs. However, the downside to this is that our curriculums do not match after their freshman year. We would need to do some major reorganizing. I am all for it and believe the benefits would be outstanding. Who's up for the challenge?

  5. I hope the algebra teachers next year will collaborate not only on content but also teaching styles and assessments. It is a big step in our department; see Molly's comments above. If we (the algebra teachers) are successful then the following year, when we implement the new geometry curriculum, more teachers will collaborate. I don't believe every math teacher will agree to common assessments or that this collaborative effort will change the problems Molly pointed out, but it is a start!

  6. I agree with Anne about the type of classes that this would be effective with. There are many possibilities with the humanities. Language Arts and Social Studies do seem to have common traits which would work well together. I am not sure that it would work with every class. Government and economics would be a couple of classes that would seem to pose some challenges. I think one thing to be careful with is not to water down one course to make it fit with another one.

  7. I would love to teach World Civilizations integrated with a language arts class. Unfortunately, as Anne mentioned, our curricula do not align right now. There is the possibility of coordinating with a language arts teacher for a certain unit, but since not all of my students would have that teacher it would be very difficult. Maybe there is a way to design a course that would meet both departments' curricula. I guess the problem is that I would probably need the language arts course to conform to the course I teach, since there tends to be less flexibility in a history class.

  8. I think that collaboration with other teachers is always going to improve the way that we teach by giving new perpectives and ideas. One of my most memorable classes in high school was a humanities class with 3 teachers (1 Social studies and 2 english). We had a large lecture then each split into different groups with a teacher and rotated. One focused on the history, one on the art and one on the literature of the time period. I can see that this is a useful way to teach whether it is combining two subjects or just within one.

  9. I would love to team teach English--particularly Shakespeare--with psychology. I studied psychology in college, and I frequently offer it to my students as a means of analyzing literature. Some of my students are as fascinated by it as I am. I realize that science and English are not typically team taught, but I'd be willing to pioneer it with a creative partner. It would probably be a class that worked more like Lary and Karen's--one period for English, one period for pyschology. But wouldn't it be amazing to take a lesson on the Freud and dreams and apply it to Lady Macbeth, for example? Or to analyzie Macbeth's hallucinations from a scientific perspective? Or to diagnose Holden Caulfield or Jay Gatsby?

    My greatest fear about working with another person is that I can be a control freak at times. Perhaps we could spend time psycholanalyzing me along with the fictional characters.

  10. Alright, so this is only the fourth time I have tried to comment on this post . . . I agree with Anne about the freshman year (especially Honors). We actually sat down at the end of the year last year and coordinated the books that they were going to teach in English 9 with the US History timeline, and it seemed to work out really well. The students brought many ideas from Fahrenheit 451, Inherit the Wind, and The Chosen, to name a few, into US History.

    Regarding the issue of matching up Social Studies and Language Arts, we may be more (or less!) closely aligned after next year's Social Studies curriculum revision. I would really like to approach Social Studies and Language Arts from more of a humanities perspective across the board. I think that the students would really benefit. On the other hand, I also like what Anne, Maura, Brad, Stacey and I came up with regarding related books because the students' schedules did not all have to be changed in order to incorporate a humanities focus, yet we were able to discuss many of the same themes.

  11. So, I see that I waited a long time to post. All of the comments deal with what I would think would be a natural connection between disciplines. (Example: LA and History) What about the more difficult classes? By more difficult, I mean the ones without the obvious overlap? Chemistry is team taught, like Cara said about Biology, but that it where it ends. There are times when the students tell me that we are covering the same material as math but us it a class that stands alone? Why not an art connection? Where are the foreign language connections? (Is science based on European history or not?) Can science connect with history? I think it can.. After all, where are the advances taking place during times of conflict? What about the way that astronomy or physics applies to the world?

    I have never taught a course that was cross-curricular. (Link aside.) I think it could push us to new levels. I also am thinking about the time. Bt, I am asking myself if this is always going to be an easy way to say "no thanks" to something else.

    I also think that it is important to have these conversations so that we can help students see the connections between the material that they are studying and the rest of the world.

  12. Like you, Brian, I am late responding but I do love the perspective of looking at all of your comments. Big picture, what do these say about what is on most of your minds. It's possibly time to begin to have these opening discusions about what could be; what is getting in the way that we might be able to address,even in small ways; what might be the smaller steps we could begin with that could lead to larger steps; and what better place to begin with than with our group. Let's at least have the conversation - NOW!
    As I read and made notes on each of your thoughts, it triggered memories of my own about my own exprieneces and their impact on me. I worked with an english teacher with honors students where they flip-flopped hours with me. Once a month , we went to the art museum for lectures related to the art ,architecture and music of the period using the resources of the museum. The teacher collaboration was very limited but it was an incredible experience. I also team taught basic skills language arts and history for about 15 years at AHS and I do think we had an impact on those students.
    As a result and reflecting on your comments, a few things are very clear! You cannot force team teaching. It requires respect for each other and your ideas and philosophy of teaching, as well as common beliefs about classroom managetment. Perhaps PLC's will help get us there.I think Ali's comments are very telling about the potential for helping our students to a deeper understanding of content. In regard ot Cara's concern about time,it probably start small and would require administrative support if it is to grow. Julie Calrson has set up joint meetings with principals for 3 meetings next year to help generate more of these discussions about the direction we should take academically as a school. Anne posed the question about can it happen. I believe it taks a common will and belief. Look what Karl has acomplished this year because he deeply believes inthe process we have embarked on. And Barb, if we have success, it is infectious and we always invite and leave the door open to others. Rob,I agree we can't afford to allow the process to water down any class but, oh the possibilities. What about a collaboration with econ and the math department, and what is all that great political thought based on? The written word - watch out language arts!
    And what are the possibilities With the fine arts department - geometry and drawing,etc. And why are we only experimenting with just the honors kids? And did you know that awhole 7th grade team worked together to put on "Oliver" to raise $ for awonderful field trip? ENOUGH!

  13. OK...I'll play a bit of a devil's advocate. I think the attempts to have "official" tag teaming has been great. Karen and Lary, Mark and Jess (or Jeff), the attempts for US Honors, etc. BUT...

    I think one of the most impressive things I have seen this year has been watching juniors fischbowl in Escue and McBride's courses where THE STUDENTS did the work to coonect what they've learned from various subjetc areas. Withoutany official attempt, they brought together information, philosophies, interpretations, etc from their work in English, science, government, law, philosophy, sociology, US history, world history, etc.

    While I think there are great benefits to the discussions between groups (for me, I've utilized science more directly than English as Hatak has helped my Cold War - nuclear issues discussion tremendously), doing so in an official-tie-these-courses-together approach does some of that work for the student that they are capable of doing in a system that becomes more and more constructivist. Additionally, my Department Chair-Financial Advisory - Negotiator roles insist I point out that teamed courses are an expensive luxury unless people expand their teaching hours or the teamed courses increase in size to truly equal the numbers we see elsewhere. I don't want costs to be a roadblock, but here I see greater potential through constructivist approaches to do cross-curricular work.

  14. I would love to be able to team teach a class. It would be just like going in and observing other teacher's classes, except all of the time. However, just like Brad says, I would like to see the students as the ones that bring in the connections, and relatedness. I think that having a huge discussion class, linking all of the subjects together in a grand web of thought. How do we schedule this? Maybe the summer classes that Mr. Booth wants us to do?

  15. As always, finding time to coordinate lessons with another teacher would be challenging, but I think it would be such a wonderful endeavor...the kids would see the connection between writing, reading, listening, etc. and wow! the real world.

    Michael Schneider got a job at the new Castle Rock high school and he was telling me that in their high school they have cadres of sorts based on a thematic content. He will be in the Science/Technology house, even though he's English. How exciting to bring in literature, movies, writing styles, etc. that have this content slant. I think they will have such a buy-in because the students that are in that house, like science and will see the practical connections between all the contents under one veil. How exciting.