Co-Teaching in a Large Class

Background

LECTURER: Dr. Anna Logan (anna.logan@dcu.ie) and AnnMarie Farrell (annmarie.farrell@dcu.ie)

DISCIPLINE: Inclusive and Special Education

SUBJECT: Bachelor of Education (BEd)

LEVEL: First Year Undergraduate

CLASS SIZE: 400 Learners

MODE OF DELIVERY:  Lecture

Overview

Large class size and plenary type lectures have been features of teaching and learning in higher education for many decades. However, the phenomenon of massification, a term used to describe the rapid increase in enrolment of students on many university programmes in recent decades (Hornsby & Osman, 2014) has placed the issue of class size firmly in the spotlight.

This phenomenon can be partly explained by the imperative to increase access to and participation in tertiary education thus moving higher education from being considered an elite model to one of universal participation (Kerr, 2011). However, that change has occurred in the context of other demands (Kerr) including funding crises and reduction in the number of full-time faculty per full-time equivalent student.

For the most part, large class size is construed negatively, with an assumption that only a didactic, “information-transmission and teacher-focused” (Prosser & Trigwell, 2014, p. 791) pedagogical approach can be used in such contexts. However, assumptions that large classes are inherently problematic and impact negatively on teaching and learning have been questioned (Kerr, 2011) and there have been calls instead for a focus on the investigation of pedagogical approaches that support student learning within large classes (Hornsby & Osman, 2014; Teaching and Educational Development Institute, 2003), particularly in relation to the possibility of opportunities for collaborative group-work (Cooper and Robinson, 2000), thereby developing a classroom community (Iaria and Hubball, 2008).

What Was The Teaching & Learning Challenge?
Co-teaching is defined as ‘two or more professionals delivering substantive instruction to a diverse, or blended, group of students in a single physical space’.

This case study reports on our experience of using co-teaching with a large class of 400 first year Bachelor of Education (BEd) students and considers the extent to which co-teaching might support higher education teachers in addressing the challenges and seizing the opportunities presented in large classes.

Co-teaching is defined as ‘two or more professionals delivering substantive instruction to a diverse, or blended, group of students in a single physical space’ (Cook & Friend, 1995 p. 1). A feature of compulsory education for many years where it is typically associated with mainstream and special education teachers working together to support the inclusion of learners with learning difficulties or special educational needs (Friend, Cook, Hurley-Chamberlain & Shamberger, 2010), co-teaching allows for a broader range of teaching strategies and differentiation for individual students where necessary (Carty & Farrell, 2018) and increasing inclusion of all students (Gately & Gately, 2001).

Addressing The Challenges

This co-teaching initiative involved two lecturers jointly teaching the entire cohort together in 4 workshops in a tiered lecture theatre. The aim of the workshop series was to give students hands-on experience of problem-based tasks relating to a case study of the diagnostic assessment and individual education planning process. Each workshop was of 50 minutes duration and at various points involved direct teaching, students working in pairs and threes, and feedback to and from students and lecturers. In workshop 1 the student task involved the analysis of the pupil profile, in workshops 2 and 3 students analysed a range of assessments completed by the pupil to identify patterns of learning strengths and needs, and in workshop 4, students wrote SMART learning targets arising from the diagnostic assessment. All materials were made available on Moodle prior to the sessions and we also brought hard copies to the sessions. While feedback on student work was provided at the sessions, we also collected the tasks, analysed these and provided collective feedback afterwards on Moodle.

We met initially for about two hours to discuss the possibility of co-teaching this series of workshops; to clarify the content and sequence; and, to plan the roll-out over the sessions available. We liaised using Google slides and docs to develop the materials to be used in the sessions. We met for approximately one hour before each workshop to plan each stage, refining how we would address the learning content and outcomes, and delineating our respective roles in relation to direct teaching input and managing the learning activities. Every detail was carefully planned and meticulously timed.

We agreed who would introduce and conclude the sessions, who would talk to each slide and for how long, when we would both circulate supporting students completing the workshop tasks, who would take feedback from students, and who would record this on screen. We also very deliberately built in opportunities where we could interject and meaningfully challenge each other in front of the students. Careful planning ensured that as co-teachers we were very clear about our roles although on occasion it was challenging to adhere to the agreed timings. However, it is notable that some students did experience the co-teaching as confusing; reflecting the findings of other studies (Bacharach & Heck, 2007; Stang & Lyons, 2008).

Identifying What Worked

Two consecutive cohorts of 400 BEd 1 students completed an anonymous end of module evaluation which included a number of questions pertaining to the co-taught workshops. Additionally, two university colleagues observed and offered feedback on one co-taught workshop. Finally, two co-taught sessions were video-recorded and analysed to supplement and inform our reflective notes written after each session. The study was approved by the institutional research ethics committee.

Evidence from student survey responses and from field notes recorded by both peer observers suggest that co-teaching enabled the kind of active involvement that might not otherwise be possible in the large class context. Findings indicate that the co-taught workshops facilitated interaction and feedback between lecturers and students, and recognised the value of co-teaching in terms of lecturers formatively assessing student learning. Survey responses seem to suggest that at least some students engaged in deep thinking during the workshops. Our analysis of the tasks completed by students during and after the workshops gave us insight into their understanding and enabled us to provide students with feedback on their work. This we hoped would ultimately scaffold their learning in preparation for summative assessment of the module which required them to engage in and to demonstrate their skills and ability in solving similar problem-based tasks to those presented in the co-taught workshops.

Overall, student responses indicate a high level of satisfaction with co-teaching. However, it is important to note that some students were less satisfied with co-taught sessions and reported negative impacts on their learning finding the presence of two lecturers distracting and experiencing the co-taught sessions as confusing.

Tips For Implementing This Practice

Liaise closely as co-teachers and plan approach well in advance of the semester start

Plan each co-taught session in detail.

Meet to reflect on each session and use this to plan subsequent sessions.

Make use of technology such as Google Drive to co-prepare and refine class remotely

Use the Virtual Learning Environment to provide feedback to students (in addition to that offered in the co-taught classes),

Seek student feedback to further inform the practice of co-teaching.

Invite peer observers into co-taught classes to offer objective feedback.

Use reflective notes/journal as a self-evaluation tool to further enhance the approach.

Reflections & Future Plans
Some students perceived inequalities between the co-teachers observing that one teacher seemed to dominate. The issue of role equality in co-teaching is among the challenges identified in research about co-teaching in compulsory schooling and could be explored with student teachers in subsequent deconstruction of co-teaching. The confusion experienced by some students in co-taught lectures arguably reflects students’ perceptions and prior experiences of large class teaching in higher education. Nevertheless, the potential for confusion warrants consideration by other researchers who might wish to explore the potential of co-teaching in large classes across other disciplines.

While we are not suggesting that large classes are ideal for teaching and learning, we hope that this research may serve to illustrate the potential of co-teaching as one of many pedagogical approaches which have potential utility for higher education teachers working with large classes. Arguably the challenges of the large class can best be recognised and overcome when faculty adopt a ‘student focused’ approach (Prosser & Trigwell, 2014). Thus, as recommended by Hornsby and Osman (2014) we intend in future studies to build on this initiative by seeking the perspective of students on what supports and impedes their learning in large classes. This might shed further light on how the confusion experienced by some students in co-taught lectures could be ameliorated. It is by working collaboratively with each other and with our students that we can better understand the dynamics of engaging pedagogy whether in large or in small teaching and learning contexts.

Further Reading

Bacharach, N., & Heck, T.W. (2007). Co-teaching in higher education. Journal of College Teaching & Learning, 4(10), 19-26.

Carty, A., & Farrell, A.M. (2018). Co-teaching in a mainstream post-primary mathematics classroom: An evaluation of models of co-teaching from the perspective of the teachers. Support for Learning, 33(2), 101-121.

Cook, L., & Friend, M. (1995). Co-teaching: Guidelines for creating effective practices.  Focus on Exceptional Children, 28(3), 1-16.

Cooper, J. & Robinson, P. (2000). The argument for making large classes seem small. In J. MacGregor, J. Cooper, K. Smith, & P. Robinson. (Eds.), Strategies for Energizing Large Classes: From Small Groups to Learning Communities, pp.516.  New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 81. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cuseo, J. (2007). The empirical case against large class size: Adverse effects on the teaching, learning, and retention of first-year students. Journal of Faculty Development, 21(1), 5-21.

Friend, M., Cook, L., Hurley-Chamberlain, D., & Shamberger, C. (2010). Coteaching: An illustration of the complexity of collaboration in special education. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 20, 9-27.

Gately, S.E., & Gately, F.J. (2001). Understanding co-teaching components. Teaching Exceptional Children, 33 (4), 40-48.

Hornsby, D., & Osman, R. (2014). Special Issue: Large class pedagogy: Opportunities and challenges of massification. Higher Education, 67(6), 711-719.

Iaria, G., & Hubball, H. (2008). Assessing student engagement in small and large classes. Transformative Dialogues: Teaching and Learning Journal, 2(1), 1-8.

Kerr, A. (2011). Teaching and learning in large classes at Ontario Universities: An exploratory study. Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario http://www.heqco.ca/SiteCollectionDocuments/Teaching%20and%20Learning%20in%20Large%20Classes%20ENG.pdf

Logan, A. & Farrell, A.M. (2018). Co-Teaching in a Large Class in Higher Education: Working Collaboratively in Support of Engaging Pedagogy. Published January 15, 2019 as part of ICEP 2018 proceedings, accessed March 7, 2019, http://icep.ie/past-proceedings/.

Prosser, M., & Trigwell, K. (2014). Qualitative variation in approaches to university teaching and learning in large first-year classes. Higher Education, 67, 783–795 DOI 10.1007/s10734-013-9690-0

Stang, K., & Lyons, B. (2008) Effects of modelling collaborative teaching for preservice teachers. Teacher Education and Special Education, 31(3), 182-194.

Teaching and Educational Development Institute (2003). Teaching large classes project 2001: Final report. University of Queensland: Australia. Retrieved 5th November 2018 from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292615752_Teaching_Large_Classes_Proje ct_2001_Final_Report

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