The rite of passage known as student teaching traditionally involves a student observing silently from the back of a classroom as a cooperating teacher conducts business as usual. After a few weeks, the student then takes over instruction under the teacher’s watchful eye.
To better prepare teacher candidates – students pursuing an education degree – this model must evolve, according to researchers at Central Michigan University.
CMU is spurring the evolution by introducing a training model known as active co-teaching in place of the traditional method.
“Active co-teaching gives CMU students an opportunity to have a distinct learning advantage when they complete their required student teaching,” said Jennifer Quick, director of pre-student teaching clinical field experiences at CMU. “We are flipping the traditional student-teaching model.”
This novel program creates a team approach to instructing students. Student teachers are supported at all times by the classroom teacher as a mentor and partner. Together, they plan, implement and assess.
“It’s really a win-win for everyone,” Quick said. “Students in the classes are more successful; CMU teacher candidates are getting more intentional; guided mentoring and cooperating teachers are invigorated.”
Setting the model apart are specific strategies that can be used by the team of instructors and all utilize two teachers in the classroom equally but in different ways. CMU faculty member Libby Knepper-Muller is currently working in schools in west Michigan with a pilot cohort of 18 teacher candidates, making CMU’s program the most extensive of its kind in the state.
“The strategies offer a variety of ways to tackle introducing material to a class,” said Knepper-Muller, a teacher education professor. “No matter which strategy the teachers choose, co-teaching is very immersive for pre-K and K-12 students, and we are finding it to be very successful, particularly in reading and math.”
One of the cooperating teachers in Knepper-Muller’s pilot is an alumna of CMU’s teacher education program. Kristen Socha, a second-grade teacher at North Godwin Elementary School in Wyoming, says she and her teacher candidate, CMU senior Kassey Maldag, from Grand Rapids, provide a support system for one another.
“One of the greatest benefits to co-teaching is having two minds working together to meet the needs of diverse learners,” Socha said. “During our planning, we're able to share thoughts and ideas about how to best deliver the instruction and who might be more successful working with a certain group or student.”
The model, adapted from St. Cloud State University, focuses on intentional collaboration. SCSU research shows more than 93 percent of teacher candidates felt the co-teaching model increased their ability to reach more students, particularly those with high needs. Cooperating teachers can plan for specific student needs more easily and also model a scenario student teachers may face someday.
“The cooperating teachers we utilize are truly experts,” Knepper-Muller said. “They work very closely with candidates to organize, deliver and evaluate. That relationship is a key part of a successful program.”
The success of CMU’s pilot program is promising to Knepper-Muller, particularly as the research shows pre-K and K-12 students, teacher candidates and cooperating teachers are all benefiting from the model. She hopes to expand the co-teaching model to the wider teacher education program at CMU for all teacher candidates.