Team teaching is an approach in which two or more teachers are jointly responsible for course content, lesson activities and assessment. Could it work for you?
By Melissa Gardner, Sally Heppenstall and Sarah Todd.
Several years ago, our Geography Department at Stanchester Community School considered setting up a team teaching room. We wanted to interact in front of the class, discussing specific topics from divergent perspectives, and take turns presenting material appropriate to their individual areas of specialisation.
The goal was to accommodate up to 60 students, two teachers and learning support assistants. We also had to allow for the fact that we are an inclusive school and sometimes we can have up to three students in wheelchairs in one class.
Before the project began, we all had our own rooms with data projectors and were relatively well-resourced. The designated team teaching room was already equipped with a mobile interactive whiteboard.
Our starting point
In setting up a team teaching room we had to consider the impact on:
- student learning
- delivering the National Curriculum
- ICT availability
- using brain-based learning
- classroom management
- developing and promoting motivation and learning
- staff motivation
- working relationships within the department
- relationships with the students • ownership of a class
- tutor group bases
- displaying students’ work
How did we organise ourselves?
We began by making a wish list of the perfect classroom. Like all good geographers, we undertook a mini-enquiry! We investigated what children thought by asking them to carry out an Environmental Quality Survey of their current learning space. Their comments are listed below.
Positive student comments
- you know this room is about places and people
- lots of our work is on display
- carpeted with nice blue tables and chairs
- lots of pictures to think about
- plenty of space to move about in
- tidy and neat.
Negative student comments
- dangling things stop me seeing the board
- the board is nice – shame we cannot see it
- the room is too light to see the projector’s pictures
- paper things hit my head when I walk around
- it’s too busy; it distracts me; I cannot look at it all
- hot and stuffy with horrid windows and damp walls.
Research on emotional intelligence makes it clear that the correct learning environment is crucial before we can begin learning. The pupils’ comments showed it was clearly not quite right. It was distracting and it needed to change.We had all been trained in the importance of emotional intelligence with the University of the First Age(1), a national educational charity that works in partnership to develop the confidence, achievement and potential of young people through extended learning opportunities. This training had stressed BASICS(2) – Belonging, Aspiration, Safety, Identity, Challenge and Success. We therefore wanted to further enhance the quality of the existing learning space.
So how were we going to achieve this in the new team teaching room?
A small budget was available to change the room and the changes had to consider consumable teaching resources, new furniture, pigeonholes for class resource management, ICT equipment and access, all within four months. We love a BIG challenge!
We realised that the fixed classroom storage units had to be removed to enable 60 students and two teachers to fit into the room. This then posed the problem of where we were going to store all our resources. It became clear that we would need a separate store room/office for filing cabinets and a teacher workspace. With the units gone and a new office for the department, we opted for a colour scheme and layout with a geographical theme; green and blue desks laid out like a world map, representing continents and oceans.
With 60 pupils to enter and dismiss, we wanted to limit the loss of time at the beginning and endings of lessons. To achieve this, we created desk-top resource boxes containing pencils, coloured pencils, scissors, glue, mini whiteboards, etc. They minimise disruption from disorganised students and also help in practical lessons. Each box contains a checklist to ensure resources are returned.
Piloting the room
As geographers are very spatial people, we wanted to see how the students and teachers would cope in this environment. We carried out pilot studies with 60 students entering and exiting the classroom. This highlighted issues such as:
- Where were the bags going to go without causing a health and safety issue?
- Space for the teacher to move around (we could not afford to put on any weight!).
- Where the focus of learning had to be.
- The mobile interactive whiteboard and projector took up too much space – what was the solution?
- How was the room going to be ventilated, especially in the summer?
After the pilot was complete, we readdressed the room layout, wall-mounted the interactive board, ceiling-mounted the data projector and created formal seating plans for each team teaching group.
This phase took a considerable amount of personal time, effort and energy to get right and we were lucky that we had such a committed team. We planned thoroughly how we would introduce the room to students, created the entrance routine, the introduction of the resource boxes and the management of homework distribution/collection.
Ensuring effective learning
To ensure effective learning we produced an introductory PowerPoint for the students, which focused on expectations for the room and published the seating plans. The lessons within our current schemes of work were designed to follow the four-part learning cycle, with which many teachers are now familiar (connect, activate, demonstrate and consolidate/review/ reflect). Our department ethos is to empower all learners by providing a range of activities to suit different learning styles (visual, auditory and kinaesthetic). This was not going to change with team teaching.
As a department we have been constantly assessing the teaching and learning that has taken place as a result of team teaching, using SWOT analysis. You may like to consider how our experiences could relate to your school or classroom environment.
We have also been very aware of the students’ opinions of team teaching and have regularly asked for their views. A summary of their most recent feedback can be seen below.
Ideas are still flowing and through evaluation, team teaching can only get better. We would like to acknowledge the support of the Royal Geographical Society for recognising this as an ‘Innovative Geography Teaching Project’, for which we received a £500 grant to help us to set up and implement team teaching in geography at Stanchester Community School.
Students’ thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of team teaching
1. There are two lots of expertise to learn from.
1. There are too many people for the space.
2. Teachers can help each other.
2. It’s hard to see the board(s) and TV due to the angle and people’s heads.
3. It’s good when one teacher talks and the other writes on the board.
3. It is noisier because there are twice as many people and there are more distractions as there are more students in the class.
4. Two teachers are better than one.
4. When one teacher is away, supply teachers struggle so less learning is achieved.
5. There is competition between the two teaching groups in the room.
5. It is harder for teachers as they cannot help everyone.
6. Whilst one teacher is teaching, the other can be helping students.
6. The two classes are always being compared.
7. There is more variety of input and responses as there are more students.
7. There is competition between the two teaching groups in the room.
8. The lessons are more fun.
8. There is no room to move.
9. Everyone can help.
9. We don’t get the same amount of help as when we were two separate classes.
10. The teachers work well with each other.
10. It’s hard to understand/cope if both teachers are talking at once.
- University of the First Age, www.aoy.org.uk
- Smith, Lovatt and Wise, Accelerated Learning a Users Guide Network Educational Press 2003
First published in Teaching Expertise magazine, Issue 11 Spring 2006