Friday, August 15, 2014

Co-Teaching in an Autism Classroom: Reasons Why

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:
2.  Reasons Why to Co-Teach

Today we will cover Reasons Why to Co-Teach.

Co-Teaching is a lot of why is it worth it to take on this extra load of work when teachers already have so much on their plate?
Grouping Kids.  The number 1 reason we decided to co-teach was to group our kids appropriately.  Both of us had such a range of kiddos (from verbal to nonverbal, from working on basic matching and waving hi to working on multiplication and writing essays, etc.) that it was hard to independently create groups of kids who were at similar levels within our separate classrooms.   We felt our kids needed some time during their day to work with other kids similar to them so that they had opportunities for appropriate peer-interactions, socialization, and peer-modeling.

Also, within our separate mornings, our kids were basically traveling around the classroom in groups of 2 and we both wanted to find a way to teach our kids "group skills" like waiting, taking turns, raising hands, following group directions, etc.  Combining our classrooms and using Co-Teaching allowed us to come up with enough kids at similar levels to work on all of these functional and academic skills.

Grow as a Teacher.  We didn't go into this process thinking that we would grow as teachers.  I'm not totally sure what we thought we would get out of it in the beginning, but it turned into an amazing way to collaborate on interventions for kiddos with tough behaviors, how to teach tricky topics like complex math/reading skills, and how to teach group skills.

Generalizing Skills to New Environments/Adults. Kids with autism struggle with generalization.  We work so hard to create such rigid routines and activities to help our kids be successful, but sometimes our kids get so caught up in these routines that they cannot generalize the skills learned to new environments or new people.  We need to find ways to specifically program teaching generalization skills throughout our day.  Co-teaching is a great way to increase the number of opportunities for generalization throughout your students' day!  In our co-teaching set-up, the kids rotated to both of our classrooms (generalizing skills across environments) and they worked with me/my coworker as well as all 7 of our paraprofessionals (generalizing skills across people).  

Opportunity for Variety of Activities. As you will see in the upcoming days, co-teaching allowed for our students to participate in a greater variety of activities as well.  The way my co-worker and I set it up was that as we were co-teaching small groups, our other kids (not grouped at that time) rotated through both of our classrooms completing work at different stations such as independent work, science, and social studies.  My coworker and I split the work load on this as well.  She set-up independent work/social studies in her classroom for both of our classrooms, and I set up independent work/science in my classroom.  This allowed half the teacher planning/double the amount of kid work to be engaged in throughout their day!

Make sure to check out my other posts on Co-Teaching in an Autism Classroom!

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