Batman and Robin; Mickey and Minnie; milk and cookies. Dynamic duos come in many forms, and at KIPP NYC our powerhouse co-teachers implement a variety of instructional models and evolve in their partnerships. At KIPP Washington Heights Middle School, Aneka Stewart, Special Education Teacher, and Ana Vargas, Reading Teacher, mix it up to keep students (and themselves) energized and engaged in their 5th grade reading class.
Tell us about your co-teaching model?
Aneka Stewart: The greatest part of working with Ana is that we use a variety of teaching models. Sometimes we are co-leading, modeling strategies for the kids, bouncing ideas back and forth in front of the kids so they get an idea of how to think about a text. Or I pull a small group while she works with the larger group. Sometimes we have an independent group in the back and I have one group on one side and she has another group on the other. I don’t think there is one model that we use, which is really cool for us and the kids.
How do you decide what model works on what day?
Ana Vargas: That’s part of our conversation when we co-plan. We look at the lesson and say “Based on what the kids have shown on their exit slips, this is what I think we should do,” because they might struggle on this particular aspect of the lesson. Sometimes we vary the pace or structure of class. For example, today we’re not going to wait to pull them during the lesson, we’ll pull them straight from the “Do Now” because they’re going to need extra time to read and work through questions.
Aneka: More often than not, we are meeting daily after lessons to debrief and determine whether groups need to change because we try to use flexible grouping. I think you need daily communication; you can’t wait till the next co-planning meeting to talk about how something went. We need to talk while it’s still fresh so that we can respond immediately based on the lesson outcomes.
What’s the best thing about co-teaching?
Aneka: When we interrupt each other to say the same thing at the same time and everyone in the room, including kids, laughs. It happens often. There’s this fun banter as we take on exaggerated personalities for the kids.
Ana: Together we build a culture of readers. Our kids, regardless of their current reading level, all say they love reading. A lot of them, especially if they’ve experienced difficulties with reading in the past, come in thinking of reading as a major obstacle. But because we have such a good time and because they feel supported by all these different groupings and models we use, they think, “Yeah, this is awesome. I just need to find the right fit for me and I know I’m going to be supported by my teachers.”
How has your co-teaching partnership changed over time? What has improved? Do you currently want to change anything?
Aneka: This is our second year together and we’ve made leaps around more structured communication and planning. Our next goal is to create time to intellectually prepare together, before we even start to co-plan. Planning has two layers, two phases, one where we align on how we are thinking about the objective and the text. For example, Ana might characterize our main character differently from me, and we need to have sufficient time to discover that and align. Then, we need to co-plan how it’s going to play out in the classroom. First, we must grapple with the content together and then we think about how to maximize student engagement with the text. But that’s the joy of co-teaching – what’s already good can become even better.