|A teaching team: More than the sum of its parts
Lorraine Day and Derek Hurrell
[ Refereed papers ]
Team teaching is not a new idea with a history spanning more than 40 years. It is an enduring idea yet its practice would not be the norm in most Australian school settings and across most content areas. This paper discusses the experiences of two educators who were given the opportunity to team teach in the area of mathematics education at a tertiary institution. It explores some of the challenges and joys of working in an educational environment which celebrates discourse, questioning and risk taking while modelling a collaborative approach for students.
Keywords: team teaching, professional practice, pedagogy, tertiary teaching, dialogic teaching
As part of a mathematics specialisation pathway for (predominantly third year) undergraduate pre-service teachers, a unit in primary school statistics, probability and algebra was offered. A total of 29 students were involved in this unit and were split into two tutorial workshops of three hour duration over a 13 week time span. Two mathematics educators were allocated to facilitate one workshop of the unit each and the decision was made to team teach the workshops.
For the purposes of this paper team teaching will be defined as a group of two or more teachers working together to plan, conduct and evaluate the learning for the same group of learners (Deighton, 1971).
Six models of team teaching have been identified by Maroney (1995) and Robinson and Schaible (1995) and team teaching usually involves a combination of these models dependent on the particular teachers and learners. For a description of the features of these models see Table 1.
|Traditional team teaching|
|Complementary team teaching/ Supportive team teaching|
|Differentiated split class|
The mathematics educators involved in this project made the conscious decision that the elements of the traditional, collaborative and monitoring teaching models would underpin the learning environment.
In order to facilitate this team teaching approach, the authors engaged in a four stage process.
Although the situation may not allow for a choice to be made, for example where teachers are put together through a particular need of a work environment, it was advantageous that the members of the team had a respect for each other and have personalities which allow them to work together. This does not mean that disagreements did not happen, and in the planning stage some disagreements are probably both inevitable and also desirable as they facilitate reflection on what is being proposed, but these disagreements needed to remain on a professional level.
Given that in any one tutorial session there may be, and in this particular circumstance always was, more than one 'part' (i.e. activity, discussion, feedback session, reading etc.) then a broad plan of who would facilitate each part was required. This allowed the opportunity to discuss not only what the content was to be but also how the lesson would flow. Issues such as the order of the activities to best draw out the learning required and the value of keeping the same person delivering for the sake of continuity or bringing a 'fresh' voice to the discussion, needed consideration.
It was this model of one person leading and the other supporting that the authors decided to adopt. In planning for the delivery of the learning, one person would take the role of the leader for a particular part of the lesson and be charged with preparing the materials, planning the delivery and having a clearly defined set of outcomes. This was then brought forward for discussion and any fine tuning took place. It was also at this time that any possible 'value adding' from the second teacher might be discussed. The 'value adding' might be where an area of expertise or experience might be brought to bear to add authenticity or clarity to the situation.
It should be noted that the construct of the leader and supporter roles to facilitate planning and delivery is not the only manner in which to team teach. There may be compelling reasons to share the planning and delivery in a manner where both teachers are equally sharing the delivery of the very same materials. The authors of this paper did not feel that this was a model with which they would be comfortable as it could lead to some dislocation of message. It is also a model which seemed to lend itself to the need for a much tighter 'script' and this did not suit the preferred style of delivery of the authors as it may have detracted from the degree of spontaneity.
At this stage it was also important to determine the assessment tools which would be employed in the course. There needed to be a consensus not only on what was to be assessed, but the method of assessment, the rubric used to grade the assessment and who would design the assessment. Agreeing on these matters at this stage eased much of the possible consternation down the track and sharpened the focus all parties had regarding the intended outcomes.
There was also the prospect of getting into what Anderson and Speck (1998) call a 'respectful debate'. That is a debate which is professional, collegial and expert. This was a powerful demonstration to the students that disagreements can be had, and can be discussed without rancour and that different perspectives can be brought to bear on the same situation.
The teachers had to be careful that the sessions did not become a dialogue just between them, no matter how fascinating they found the topic under discussion, at the centre of that discussion had to be the learning of the students. Therefore the students needed to be included in, and perhaps take over the debate as quickly as possible and feel an integral part of the intellectual discourse.
In a classroom with dialogic possibilities, the phrasing of this question by the support teacher could then be enhanced, explained or explored by the leading teacher. Fundamentally there was a greater chance that the question would in the first place be asked and that the quality of the question would be enhanced. Game and Metcalfe (2009) suggested that team teaching assists in opening the questioning process.
Open questions can be quite challenging for some teachers, allowing a situation to exist where the answer may not immediately be known may be uncomfortable. The situation of having a second teacher in the classroom alleviated this discomfort somewhat in that the clarification or answering of the question could be taken on by the second person. Again, the capacity to sit back and reflect on the question could be an enormous advantage, as was having two knowledge sets to draw upon. Also, the capacity to admit a lack of knowledge about something reinforced the teacher as a co-learner with the students, a co-learner who was willing to admit areas of uncertainty and pursue understanding.
In the case of the authors, it was decided that there would be three assessment pieces required of the students in completing the course. Due to University policy one of these was an examination and two were in the form of assignments. Although both teachers were involved in creating the topics and questions for the assignments and the ensuing marking rubric by which the marks would be allocated, one teacher took the duty of marking one assignment and the second assignment was marked by the other teacher. This allowed firstly for a uniformity in the expectations for the assessments and a consistency in the manner in which marks were awarded. Equally important was that on more than one occasion the advice of the supporting teacher was asked in order to clarify a student's response to a question. This was seen as a way of moderating the response that the lead teacher might supply, or equally add strength to the reasons behind perhaps not accepting a student's thesis and perhaps delivering a low mark.
This reflection was essential in that it could help steer the content, pedagogy and discussions that would form the subsequent sessions, it also brought focus to the quality of interactions between the teachers involved, as well as the teachers and the students. There was a natural sense of addressing the question of "Is this working?" and an opportunity to make adjustments, small or large, as required.
Circumstances do not always offer the opportunity for team teaching to be possible. Sometimes this is through a lack of resources in a work environment, sometimes a lack of will and sometimes a lack of understanding about the process and the rewards it can bring. There is no doubt that at first view the preparation required to make team teaching work effectively can seem quite daunting but the rewards from a personal and professional viewpoint more than mitigate this.
Although the experience described in this paper was situated in a mathematics education setting, the modelling of collaborative pedagogy and the flexibility of approach enabled by the team teaching environment, could lend itself to any learning area. The feedback from students, coupled with the reflection of the authors, see the benefits of this approach as generic rather than subject specific.
From the perspective of both of the authors of this paper, the opportunity to engage in a team teaching environment has been one of the more rewarding educational experiences in careers as teachers spanning more than 30 years. The opportunity to model for students the kind of educational environment which celebrates discourse, questioning and risk taking has been liberating. The chance to work with another person who shares a passion for not only a learning area but learning itself has been validating. The prospect of enhancing both content and pedagogy, and ultimately strengthening pedagogical content knowledge through listening, observing and entering into discussions with a knowledgeable colleague has been a marvellous learning opportunity.
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|Please cite as: Day, L. & Hurrell, D. (2012). A teaching team: More than the sum of its parts. In Creating an inclusive learning environment: Engagement, equity, and retention. Proceedings of the 21st Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-3 February 2012. Perth: Murdoch University. http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2012/refereed/day.html|
Copyright 2011 Lorraine Day and Derek Hurrell. The authors assign to the TL Forum and not for profit educational institutions a non-exclusive licence to reproduce this article for personal use or for institutional teaching and learning purposes, in any format, provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.