When we set up our classrooms in early August 2012, we were both so excited to begin this adventure. We spent time thinking about how we could provide the best physical learning environments, and even searched the internet for affordable options for students who like working while sitting on the floor. (We eventually settled on those foam-like floor tiles from Canadian tire.) Because of the lack of “alternative” seating for the “tabletop-free room”, we reevaluated our plan and ended up setting Ivy’s room up as the “conversation room” and my room as the “work room.” We put all the tables into Ivy’s room, and set desks up in my room, trying to ensure we had room for 50 students in each room. We envisioned one room as the place where class discussions would happen while the other would act as the place for mini-lectures, etc. We soon abandoned this plan. Here’s a few reasons why:
1. The conversation room got too loud and the work room was often empty!
Students saw this room as the place for conversing, but were often getting off-task and spending time chatting rather than discussing. It would also get very loud and as teachers we felt the noise was not always the good kind of learning noise. It was much easier to squeeze all 50 students into this classroom, though, as the tables took up less space than the 50 desks. While the work room provided a nice alternative to those who liked to work quietly, it was not effective to have so many students crammed into one area and another classroom almost empty.
2. Our work could not always be easily categorized!
All 50 in Jaime’s room for a film study, comfortable at (and on) their desks.
The work we do with students did not always fit nicely into “loud” and “quiet” categories. Students are often working with other students collaboratively and we do so little that would fit in the “work room” that the categorization didn’t make sense. Both classrooms are now places where work needs to be focused and rigorous. Whether individual or in a group, all students have the right to a productive learning environment. Having common expectations of all students in all spaces is one immense benefit of the team approach!
Students working on free choice projects for our novel inquiry. They used both classrooms, the hallways, stairwells, quiet recording spaces – everywhere they could!
3. The role of the teacher was compromised!
As teachers who try to provide formative feedback and interact with students as often as possible, having too many students in one area did not allow for effective teaching. We began asking groups or students to move around so we could even out the number of students in each room.
PLANNING & INSTRUCTION
Our initial vision involved the co-planning and co-implementation of learning opportunities, and this has become reality. Each unit or project implemented this year has been a product of collaborative planning from the ground up: guiding questions are formulated together; resources are selected as a team; final demonstrations of learning and accompanying assessment tools are designed collaboratively. As a result of this the learning experiences provided to the students are richer and fuller because of the different strengths that we each bring to the table.
Check out our collaborative year plan from 2011-2012 here!
The implementation of all plans and learning experiences has happened side-by-side with our 50 students always in one space for instruction and discussion. We rotate between one classroom and the other for these “all 50” sessions to reinforce that both spaces are theirs, and both are acceptable learning spaces. This team approach to instruction has ensured that all students are learning the same lessons, with the same expectations, and the same variety of perspectives. No longer are students or parents in one pod questioning, for example, the “due date” of the other pod’s assignment because we work together to consider what is best for all 100 students, while always focusing on differentiation. We are able to build on one another’s ideas and model collaboration for our students daily, as we intended when we began this journey.
During a collaborative planning session!
ASSESSMENT & REFLECTION
Beyond the physical space, planning, and implementation, our approach to team teaching has evolved to the point of “team” assessment and reflection. Large projects, because they are co-planned and co-implemented, have naturally required summative co-assessment.* We now co-assess formatively and summatively, using google docs and a joint Jupiter Grades account to help us keep track of our formative and summative assessments of groups or individual students. This also allows students to access both of us for guidance and advice. We have made it a requirement for groups to alternate which teacher they check in with throughout projects and assignments to make sure that they are benefiting from both of our perspectives. Although we have managed to find alignment in terms of planning, implementation, etc., we are still different enough to provide students with varied advice for thinking and problem-solving. For assignments that we do not co-assess, we consult each other often for advice to ensure we are aligned in the implementation of our assessment philosophy.
One example of a cross pod project that we co-assessed (click here to access student blog and view project).
*This need is furthered by our encouragement to students to work across the pods, allowing for a wider variety of choice when working collaboratively. Here at CSS, we have four classes in each grade (e.g. 8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4), and a pod is comprised of two of those classes (8.1/8.2 and 8.3/8.4). Each pod has two teachers, a Humanities teacher and a Math/Science teacher, who are teaching the same pod at the same time. In order to team teach, combine our classes so students are working with those from the other pod (i.e., 8.1 works with 8.3, and 8.2 works with 8.4). Recently, we have further mixed things up and changed our schedule so that 8.1 is now working with 8.4, and 8.2 is now working with 8.3.