Claremont College: Differentiation in a Co-Teaching Model

26
Sep 16

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Claremont College is a thriving co-educational primary school, renowned across Sydney as a school that achieves excellence in all aspects of its operation. Claremont College is an inclusive school where students with a wide range of abilities and special needs are catered for through a fully integrated approach to learning within a co-teaching model. Claremont College began the move to a co-teaching model across the whole school in 2011, opening up and redesigning classroom spaces to whole grade learning spaces.

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“Co-teaching is two or more people sharing responsibility for teaching some or all of the students assigned to a classroom. It involves the distribution of responsibility among people for planning, instruction, and evaluation for a classroom of students… Co-teaching can be likened to a marriage. Partners must establish trust, develop and work on communication, share the chores, celebrate, work together creatively to overcome the inevitable challenges and problems, and anticipate conflict and handle it in a constructive way” (Page 3. S. Cushman 2013).

Teaching Teams

The staff who co-teach within each year group are called our Teaching Teams, and each member of the team is essential to the learning for the year group. It is not unusual to see three or four staff members working in the learning space at any one time, for the equivalent of two classes (or a maximum of 60 students). The members of each teaching team, plan, program, deliver, assess and reflect on the success of the learning for their particular year group. Teaching Teams are comprised of Classroom Teachers (two in each year level), a full-time Teaching and Learning Assistant [TLA] and a Learning Support Teacher (working across two year levels).

Claremont College has embraced the co-teaching model and in doing so has restructured learning support so that all teaching happens within the classroom. Classroom Teachers, Learning Support Teachers and TLAs co-teach in the classroom so that learning at Claremont College is focused on genuine integration through whole class differentiation. Students are no longer withdrawn and taught in isolation of the classroom curriculum, via programs disconnected from the syllabus by a teacher external to students’ regular classroom. Students with additional learning needs have been welcomed back into the classroom as full-time members of the grade, participating fully in classroom life.

The entire continuum of learning

Differentiation has provided a framework that enables teachers to support learning across the entire continuum of learning. Teachers monitor and assess the levels of learning of ALL students, across the curriculum. Differentiation is used to maximise the capacity of each student using ongoing formative assessment, a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006), and developing learning dispositions such as; persistence, motivation, ambition (Simister, 2009) in state of the art learning spaces.  

The additional staff allows teachers to provide differentiated instruction to groups of students to access the same classroom curriculum by providing entry points, learning tasks, and outcomes that are tailored to students’ needs (Hall, Strangman, & Meyer, 2003).  It is not a single strategy, but rather an approach to instruction that incorporates a range of strategies. In the classroom we can differentiate content, process, and/or product (Tomlinson, 2000).

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Collecting data on student progress in a central location

Teachers incorporate different instructional strategies based on the assessed needs of their students. Throughout a unit of study, teachers assess students on a regular basis. This formative assessment includes formal tests, but is often informal and can include taking anecdotal notes on student progress, examining students’ work, and asking the student questions about his or her understanding of the topic. The results of the assessment drive further instruction. In this model, it has been important for all teaching staff to be involved in the collection of evidence of student progress and recording these data in a central location, on Google Drive. This has been an important part of the process in a co-teaching model when you have up to four and possibly five educators in one learning space for any given lesson.

By providing flexible learning and differentiation across the curriculum through a co-teaching model, Claremont College teachers are able to cater for the varying needs and interests of all our students within the classroom. We have brought the expertise into the classroom. We don’t purport to have all the answers on differentiation however we do believe that by having two, three and even four educators in the classroom at the same time, we can spark interest “that which engages the attention, curiosity, and involvement of a student” (Tomlinson & Imbeau, 2010, p.16). Becoming an expert at differentiation is a career-long goal. One step at a time, you will get there.

Further information about Claremont College can be found at www.claremont.nsw.edu.au

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Submitted by Doug Thomas & Brenda Dalheim

Doug Thomas is Principal of Claremont College NSW and Brenda Dalheim is Head of Learning Support.

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