Inclusive classrooms: How to get co-teachers on the same (digital) page for planning
Long gone should be the days when a general education teacher gives a special education co-teacher a paper copy of a lesson plan the day before class, as schools continue to adopt technology for staff and students. Today’s co-teachers should be sharing lesson plans digitally to make planning, including face-to-face planning, more efficient, says Anne Beninghof, an education consultant and co-teaching author. “Good co-teaching requires good co-planning,” Beninghof says.
With digital lesson plans, teachers can make edits or comments anytime, anywhere. “The special education teacher can then look at those plans and make the necessary adaptations to make sure all students are successful,” Beninghof says.
She shares these co-planning strategies:
- Ensure that co-teachers can access and edit lessons anytime, anywhere. Some districts have digital lesson planning software. Both teachers should have passcodes to log in and view their common lesson plans. “Sometimes, if there isn’t great trust between the general and special education teachers, they might hesitate to give up a security code because it opens up access to other class documents,” Beninghof says. “We need to make sure there’s trust.” If a teacher isn’t comfortable sharing a personal passcode or if the district does not have digital lesson planning software, co-teachers can create a shared online document using web-based software, such as Google Docs, Beninghof says. Both teachers can then view, edit and post comments.
- Use more face-to-face communication. When people communicate through text or email, they can lose important information normally conveyed through body language or tone of voice, Beninghof says. For co-teachers who are getting along well, texting and emailing can make co-planning more efficient. For co-teachers who don’t know each other well or who are not getting along, Beninghof advises that they communicate in person more often. “It’s a safer approach to develop communication, and it helps build trust better than doing everything through technology.”
- Provide outlines before in-person planning periods. Ideally, the special education teacher should have an outline of the next week’s lesson plans in advance, Beninghof says. “If we have a Friday co-planning period for 45 minutes, then I can start looking at the outline and making comments on Wednesday or Thursday,” she says. “If I’m only looking at the lesson plan for the first time at that in-person meeting, we’re not going to get much accomplished during that period.”
- Involve special ed co-teachers in the selection of videos and supplemental materials. Flipped instruction, in which students receive the lecture part of a lesson by watching a video at home, can help preserve class time for more one-on-one support, Beninghof says. “With two teachers in the room, there can be some reteaching and helping students with the application piece so we’re not spending class time on the lecture,” she says. The special education co-teacher also needs to be involved in planning these videos to ensure that they’re accessible to all students. “It could be as simple as suggesting that each item in a slideshow list have an alternating color to make it easier for students with visual impairments to process the information,” Beninghof says. Tools such as Doceri, Pear Deck and Educreations are useful for recording lectures and hosting information online to facilitate flipped instruction, she adds.
- Free up time with in-class digital tools. Co-teachers can also incorporate digital tools in the classroom to free up their time for more robust instructional tasks, Beninghof says. For example, instead of having the special education co-teacher or a paraprofessional read test questions to a group of students, provide students with an audio file or text-to-speech tools so they can listen to the questions. “Reading test questions aloud is not a good use of a skilled educator’s time,” she says.
Jennifer Herseim is an editor for LRP Media Group and program chair for Inclusion and Special Education at DA’s Future of Education Technology Conference.
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