Monday, September 1, 2014

Co-Teaching in an Autism Classroom: Topics to Teach

In the spirit of back to school, I wanted to share with you one of the best things I ever did as a teacher: Co-Teaching.  Co-Teaching with one of my colleagues best friends was almost always the highlight of my day.  I learned so much from her, and I truly believe that the two of us working together helped our kids make more progress than either one of us could have done alone.

Co-teaching is not something I started with in my first year of teaching...I waited until I was a few years in before taking on this project.  Since our co-teaching set-up is quite complex and involves a decent amount of prep work, I am going to take the next few days to bring you through the nitty gritty of co-teaching in an autism classroom.

We will cover:
4.  Topics to Co-Teach
5.  Grouping in Co-Teaching
6.  How to Schedule Co-Teaching
7.  How to Plan for Co-Teaching

The 3 main topics we covered when co-teaching were Group Skills, Literacy, and Math.
 Group Skills.  The first year I co-taught, we primarily worked on group skills like raising hands, taking turns, having conversations, etc.  This took place throughout a variety of activities such as games, literacy activities, math activities, holiday themed activities, drama, etc.  It was not very planned out or organized, but we knew that our main focus was to teach skills to help our students be successful at working/learning in a group setting.   Although we moved on to co-teaching literacy or math (depending on the year), we almost always maintained one group that needed to work on the basic group skills like turn taking, waiting, following group directions, etc.

One of the things we did EVERY day for a while in this group was create “rules” for group time.  We would make a happy face/sad face and write the kids initials underneath the correct column based on whether or not they were following the rules.  After a few months of teachers running this at the beginning of the group, we put our kids “in charge” and they were hilarious. (my favorite rule in this list is the second one down "no fartn"...ha!)  

Literacy.  After the first year, we decided to really focus in on literacy for our kiddos who had gotten pretty good at group skills.  Some of our groups were working on learning letters while others were working on reading sight words and answering basic comprehension questions, and still others were reading short stories, working on grammar concepts, and writing detailed sentences.  We worked together to come up with differentiated lessons and teaching strategies to cover all of our levels of learners.  (See my post on lesson planning in an autism classroom)

Math.  This past year, we decided we were both pretty comfortable tacking literacy on in our own separate classrooms, but we both felt like we could use some help upping the quality of our math teaching.  So this year, we worked together to create differentiated math units to fit all of our students’ needs.  We had groups working on basic numbers, counting and shapes; groups working on basic addition, patterns, graphing, and measurement; and groups working on triple digit subtraction with regrouping, multiplication, and complex word problems dealing with time, money, and measurement. 

You can see from this example why these subjects are so hard to take on by yourself as a special education teacher.  When you have kids of such varying abilities, it is so difficult to find the materials and create the lessons to meet everyone’s needs.  When you have another teacher with students similar to yours, it is so much easier to share this workload and make sure your kids are getting the most out of their education.

Although group skills, literacy, and math were the main topics my coworker and I directly taught during our years co-teaching together, we also had a variety of other activities set up for the kids not working with us to be involved in.  These activities consisted of independent work (blog post on my work system, blog post on my coworkers work system, blog post on our life skills room), science, and social studies.  All of these activities were set up by my coworker and me, but were monitored or run by assistants.

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