During the next few months, most educators will try remote learning to meet the needs of their students. While virtual co-teaching might be new to you, with a bit of practice and creativity, you can reap many of the same benefits you have already found from co-teaching. Here are a few tips that might help you on your journey. 

Planning is more important than ever before!

Begin by setting up a shared lesson planning document online (for teacher eyes only) so that you can both add to the creation or revision of plans. Your plan format should include a column or space to be very specific about what each teacher is doing throughout the scheduled time. Be sure to decide who will lead a portion of the lesson so that talk is not overwhelming, but still addresses student needs. Also, include a column to record the accommodations and specially designed instruction that will be occurring.

Schedule and hold a weekly planning meeting using your phones or an online tool like FaceTime, Skype or Zoom.

Your creative energy will be better if you are hearing or seeing each other, even if for short periods of time. Please make sure your tools have been approved by your district so that they meet confidentiality standards.

Most of the online platforms allow for multiple hosts or a host and panelist so that both of you can have some control over the screen sharing, video feed, etc.

You should be able to split the screen so that both teachers can be visible at times. Be sure to configure your account settings to make this happen. For general education teachers who are not co-teaching all day, you may need to leave your settings this way for the whole day, even if you only need host sharing for parts of the day. 

Flipped instruction (recorded lessons watched at asynchronous times) can be a very effective support for students.

Some students may watch these as a pre-teaching experience, while others may watch them once or more after instruction as a review. Parents will also benefit from recorded lessons as a way to help their child with learning. Popular tools include FlipGrid, Screencastify, Doceri, and Educreations, just to name a few. 

Here are fifteen suggestions to use if both teachers are teaching “whole group” together.

While one teacher is leading in the virtual co-taught classroom their partner could be:

  1. Writing color-coded notes on the virtual whiteboard
  2. Gathering data on student participation and responses
  3. Verbally clarifying or restating with different terms
  4. Echoing keywords from Teacher A and asking students echo
  5. Restating the learning target three times during the lesson
  6. Asking students to stand, snap, stomp, etc.  in response 
  7. Preparing breakout room assignments based on student need
  8. Finding websites and adding links for student access 
  9. Sending private messages to individual students
  10. Typing chat stems, sentence starters, direction steps
  11. Asking students to pause and summarize in one sentence
  12. Directing all students to generate and submit one question
  13. Creating a no-stakes quiz – 2 or 3 questions for student recall
  14. Adding tips on how to maintain attention in a virtual lesson
  15. Modeling annotation on documents so students have an example 

Remember: The Specialist can be Teacher A, too!

Many of the interactive activities that you have used in a co-taught classroom can still be used online. Think creatively about how to turn those fun, engaging ideas into slides and tasks for students. Here are a few examples from Anne’s website on training for adults (but still applicable ideas for children.)

Measure Virtual Audience Participation with an Oxytocin Meter

Summarize Learning with the Inverted Pyramid Strategy

Summarization Strategy to Increase Engagement and Learning

Get students moving!

Even if they are signed in on a screen with you, they can still be asked to stand up in response to a question, to pat themselves on the back, stomp their feet, snap their fingers, etc. You may not be able to see them do it, but by asking them to, you are providing the opportunity and suggestion. Movement improves memory and attention, both critical during online instruction. For example, try a scavenger hunt. Ask students to move around their home and snap photos of objects related to your topic, then submit them. If students don’t have access to a phone, they can describe the object in the chatbox.

Manipulatives and hands-on materials can still be used to augment your instruction if you add a touch of flexibility.

For example, if you want students to have connecting cubes for a math lesson, develop a list of alternative materials they might find around their homes such as Legos, plastic cups, pennies, etc. Another example – if in school you might have had students sort vocabulary index cards, you can still ask them to use sticky notes or rip the paper into scraps, write down the words and then sort or categorize them on a tabletop. This will be most successful if you can think of this in advance and post the list before class begins so that students/parents can gather materials.

If possible, consider any slides or visuals you are using from the student’s perspective.

Are they overwhelming? Causing cognitive overload? Don’t overload the screen with items. More is not necessarily better. Stick to images with just a bit of text. Are they easy to perceive? For example, bulleted items that alternate in colors will be easier for students to perceive and process accurately. Use simple fonts such as Arial rather than trying to get fancy. (You may already be realizing that these are just good practices, whether you are in a brick and mortar school or in the virtual classroom.)

Collaborate on Adaptations

If your grade level teams are pushing out the same lessons, consider a way that your special education team can collaborate on adaptations. Perhaps set up an online repository to collect resources and ideas. Consider dividing responsibilities – one special educator creates first-grade ideas for the district, another second grade, etc. 

Small group instruction

Small group practices will continue to yield better results than whole group practices. Many platforms will allow you to assign specific students to breakout rooms. If yours does not, you might consider setting up separate meeting rooms with different links, emailing one link to students who will work with Teacher A and a different one for those that will work with Teacher B. Flip-flop group instruction is a great option for virtual co-teaching. Each group can be customized to meet the skill or curriculum needs of the individuals. 

Individual Conferencing

Individual conferencing and feedback may become a bigger part of your instruction while in the virtual environment. As partners, decide which teacher is best suited to conference with which students. In school, this might be more fluid, but at this time it may be best for the students to have one predictable contact. This will also allow the specialist to be sure that individual goals are being addressed and monitored. 

Documentation of Specially Designed Instruction

Keep documentation of how you are accommodating instruction for students with disabilities, as well as how you are providing specially designed instruction (SDI). The collection of evidence replaces traditional progress monitoring methods. Consider how you are going to collect evidence of student progress, for example, student video of answering a question, photos of documents, recording of a conversation between child and parent, etc.

Remember that SDI means adapting the content, methodology or delivery of instruction to meet student needs. Because general education instruction has changed dramatically, SDI you were doing a month ago may not translate to the virtual world. Luckily, the process for generating SDI does! Here is a link to Anne’s 7 steps for SDI planning.

Supporting Parents

Parents may be much more aware of the instructional practices you are using than ever before. If you can proactively communicate with parents about your specially designed instruction plans, their stress and questions will be reduced. Parents may worry after a lesson that their child did not fully meet the learning target. Explaining that you will be reteaching and revisiting the strategy or content multiple times in the future may reduce their concern. Consider setting up specific office hours during which you can connect with parents to clarify any questions they have. The more fully informed parents are, the more they can support instruction and help their child be successful. 

Here’s a link to a collection of federal documents that speak to the COVID-19 response regarding special education. State guidance may vary.  

Your dedication to student success is inspiring to us both! Please be sure to take care of yourselves so that you can continue to do this important work. Best of luck!

Anne Beninghof has developed several virtual PD hours on co-teaching, specially designed instruction, virtual engagement strategies, and related topics. Feel free to email her at anne@ideasforeducators.com if you are interested in purchasing information either live virtual sessions or access to recorded sessions.

Sonya Kunkel is a Special Education Administrator, working collaboratively with administrators and teachers in a local school district to develop, support and coordinate special education services. Sonya focuses on practices that support a continuum of services to provide education benefit to students with IEPs.

Both Anne and Sonya have books on co-teaching, available through Amazon.

Co-Teaching That Works: Structures and Strategies for Maximizing Student Learning by Anne M. Beninghof

Advancing Co-Teaching Practices: Strategies for Success by Sonya Heineman Kunkel

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