Sunday, September 11, 2011

Collaborative teaching: Advantages and challenges


Teaching and learning in an open space certainly presents a number of challenges that are not faced when teaching in a ‘single cell’ classroom. It was one of the criticisms of the open-plan spaces in the 1970’s (Woolner, 2010). But it also presents a number of advantages too and the case study by York-Barr, Ghere and Sommerness (2007) details them well.

The research, conducted in a Mid-west urban elementary school found that ‘collaborative teaching relationships were productive and rewarding’ (p. 301) with a substantial increase in student achievement. The study focused on English language learners (ELL) in a diversely populated K-6 school of about 600 students. Prior to the study English language learners attended separate classes taught by different teachers. Against a backdrop of declining performance on statewise tests the school set out to establish a greater level of collaboration among teachers focusing on creating a more coherent educational experience for students.

Significant emphasis was placed on teacher professional development and support with collaborative practice prior to the setting up of the collaborative teaching classes. Teachers timetables were reorganized and new structures created in order to support collaborative planning and instruction. Once set up teams met regularly to discuss ongoing assessment data and differentiated teaching and learning strategies.

In most cases the instructional teams developed in ways that supported not only student but also teacher growth. The teams didn’t all work out though; some struggled due to different learning philosophies, content knowledge and the value they placed on collaborative teaching. The perceived benefits though looked like this, and it’s worth detailing them in full:

“• More flexible and creative use of instructional time that advantaged students;
• Knowing more about all the students and seeing different student strengths given the opportunity to view them in varied learning contexts; 
• Greater shared ownership of students and student learning;
• Increased reflection on individual and collective teaching practices;
• More learning from and with colleagues about students and about teaching and learning;
• Increased collective expertise resulting in greater effectiveness with a variety of students;
• Decreased teacher isolation, increased support and feeling valued by colleagues;
• Itinerant teachers experiencing varied collaborative designs and strategies then being able to share those experiences and ideas across classrooms; and
• Having more energy and greater enjoyment from teaching.” (p. 317)

Of course it wasn’t all positive and it’s important to read the challenges that teachers found too:

“• Loss of instructional and decision-making autonomy;
• Decreased flexibility and creativity given a set schedule for when additional instructional personnel  would be present in classrooms;
• Increased communication demands given instructional interdependence
among teachers;
• Role shifts and confusion about how to share instructional time (e.g., who leads, who follows, how to co-teach) and how to share responsibilities (e.g., assessment, reporting);
• Feelings of insecurity because teaching became public and teachers were expected to work with more diverse students than they had in the past; and
• Differing “philosophies,” which was the term often used to describe differences between teachers related to orientations or beliefs about instruction and professional practice.” (p. 318)

The findings from this group of teachers, and in particular their lists of challenges and opportunities makes a very useful starting point for schools setting out to explore collaborative teaching situations. These points might well form the start of a number of conversations about how an open learning space with collaborative teaching can be best utilized. How can the opportunities be maximised and the challenges minimized in order to create the best possible learning and teaching environment?

 References

Woolner, P. (2010). The design of learning spaces. London: Continuum.

York-Barr, J., Ghere, G., & Sommerness, J. (2007). Collaborative teaching to increase ELL student learning: A three-Year urban elementary case study. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 12(3), 301-335.

4 comments:

  1. Hi Chris

    Enjoyed reading your post. I like the way you consider both sides. I can see there are many factors that come into play when considering teaching in open spaces and it is not for the faint hearted. However if you take careful and weighted steps I believe the benefits are larger than the challenges.

    I look forward to your future posts :-)

    Jamin

    ReplyDelete
  2. i am at the forming ideas stage and my colleague and i both work well together in what is on the surface an open space. do you lead a key area each and therefore responsible for the assessment etc. i believe planning and reflection will be key to this. what is the biggest cautionary tale you could share?

    ReplyDelete
  3. These studies and statistics can we find common ground and what needs orientation for the balance later. friv 3

    ReplyDelete
  4. Much has been made of having a well-designed classroom these days, and with good reason. A number of studies have shown that a poorly laid out classroom can cause problems for both the students and the teacher. Students find themselves more easily distracted and less engaged, and teachers have a hard time finding needed materials and keeping the mountains of paperwork they need manageable and under control. Most of us do not have control over which classroom we are assigned. However, we can all find ways to make the best use of the space we have. As discussed in my last few blogs, teacher centered learning is becoming less fashionable while student cooperative learning is thriving. Additionally, teachers need to take into account various student learning styles and comfort levels to maximize classroom success. Here are some helpful hints towards these goals. Flexible seating arrangements using flexible furniture come in handy. Sitting students in a U for class discussions has been found to be more effective than in rows. This also leads to better all around eye contact and a feeling of equality between students. DigitalBuyer is an office products retailer specializing in fireproof file cabinets & safes, office furniture, industrial materials handling, office equipment, and commercial products. They proudly serve government, education, corporate, and end-users with everyday low prices and personalized service. They provide School Chairs for every grade-level, including elementary, middle, and high school student chairs. Also featuring combination chair desks, and science lab stools. https://www.linkedin.com/company/digitalbuyer-com

    ReplyDelete