K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

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  • Cooperative learning: Cooperative learning is an instructional method in which students work together in small, heterogeneous...

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Also known as co-teaching or collaborative teaching, team teaching is an instructional strategy used across subject areas primarily in middle grades in a variety of methods. Teams are typically composed of between two and four teachers working collaboratively to plan thematic units and lesson plans in order to provide a more supportive environment for students.

History of team teaching

In a 1963, William M. Alexander — known as the “father of the American middle school” — was scheduled to discuss the structure of the junior high school at a conference at Cornell University. However, after re-thinking the needs of adolescents at this age, he proposed the middle school concept where a team of three to five teachers would be assigned to 75 to 150 pupils organized either on a single-grade or multi-grade basis.1 This recommendation of junior high school reform is where the idea of team teaching developed. Team teaching is now used in all grade levels and across disciplines. When done correctly, this approach has been shown to create bonding opportunities for students and to engage teachers in collaborative, interdisciplinary planning.

Team teaching requires that the faculty is organized so that teachers share a group of students, a common planning time to develop curriculum and instruction in multiple content areas, the same schedule, and that the teachers are in the same physical area of the school.2

Benefits of team teaching

The need for team teaching is based on the premise that middle school is a transitional period between the traditional elementary structure, where students have one teacher all day, and the high school setting, where students have multiple classes and teachers on a daily basis. Because students coming from a traditional elementary structure are accustomed to having a small group of peers and one teacher, they sometimes become overwhelmed when they have to change classes and have more than one teacher. Research suggests that students who do not feel connected to peers and their teachers often have a higher rate of academic failure.3 “The formation of interdisciplinary teams has been proposed as one way of reducing student alienation and increasing students’ sense of membership… Teams provide students with a greater sense of identity, belonging, and support.”4

Ideally, teams should consist of 120 or fewer students with a student to teacher ratio of 25:1.5 The Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development suggests that the size of teams should be as small as possible depending on the content knowledge and strengths of the teachers.6

Middle grades team teaching models

According to John Wallace (2007), the two-teacher team model is usually done with sixth graders, “as a sound transition from a single teacher, self-contained classroom in the elementary school to the four- or five-teacher team commonly found in seventh and eighth grade.”7 In this model of team teaching, the teachers are usually certified in two content areas or are certified in elementary education and teach two subjects. Because there are fewer children in this model, there are more opportunities for flexibility and combining subject areas into one lesson.

The four-teacher team is “the most commonly used and most logical composition, with one teacher specialist in each of the four core areas.”8 In this model, educators teach in the content area in which they are certified, and they plan interdisciplinary units. This model of team teaching is generally used in the middle school after sixth grade.

Importance of planning time in team teaching

Thomas Erb and Chris Stevenson (1999) contend that teams need collaborative planning times in their schedules. Research conducted through The Project on High Performance Learning Communities suggests that team teachers should have the opportunity to meet four to five times per week for at least 45 minutes. Furthermore, the results of this research study show a correlation between frequent common planning time and interaction with school support staff like counselors, specialists and administrators. Common planning time among team teachers also improved teachers’ rates of coordination of student assignments, assessments, and feedback, and teachers engaged in this type of planning had more contact with parents. Additionally, research suggests that teachers who actively participated in this frequent collaborative planning time exhibited positive attitudes towards the profession of teaching.9

Ideal student/teacher ratio in team teaching

The Project on High Performance Learning Communities recommends that the maximum number of students should be limited to 120 or fewer per team. Furthermore, the results of the study suggest a negative correlation between parent contact and involvement, contact with other resource staff, coordination of student assignments, assessments, and feedback, coordination of curriculum, and the quality of teaming when the number of students on a team is increased. Thus, researchers use this data when recommending that the optimal number of students to be included on one interdisciplinary team is fewer than 120.10