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DeKalb High School, NIU to implement ‘co-teaching’ pre-service model this fall

July 19, 2010

Nine teachers from DeKalb High School and nine future teachers from NIU will launch a new era in District 428 this fall – a full year before the new high school opens on Dresser Road.

The 18 are participating in a pilot “co-teaching” program expected to transform the old student-teaching model into something more dynamic, engaging and beneficial for all involved.

NIU’s pre-service teachers will spend an entire year with their mentor teachers, serving not as one-semester spectators and occasional instructors but as full partners.

“We’re really excited about the prospect of what this can bring to DHS,” said Jennie Hueber, assistant principal at DHS. “The pre-service teachers will come out with a year of experience under their belts, and when they get hired for jobs, they really are second-year teachers.”

“This is not the usual model where the student-teacher sits in the back for a while and observes until the teacher says, ‘OK, I’m going to turn one class over to you,’ ” said Susan Callahan, a professor of English at NIU and co-chair of the professional development school’s design team.

“They will plan and deliver lessons together and, gradually, the NIU student takes over more and more responsibility for the planning and delivery,” she added. “The ones who emerge on the other side of this program are more confident and more able to work in collaborative relationships when they get into the public schools.”

Although the fall term mandates part-time hours only two or three days a week, their immersion is immediate: “The minute they walk in,” Callahan said.

“They’re not silent observers in the back but active participants. And they will be introduced as co-teachers, not student-teachers. When you say ‘student-teacher,’ the first word is ‘student.’ That immediately makes it more difficult for that teacher,” Callahan said.

“Our real goal is that on the first day the pre-service teachers walk in, they will have some kind of hands-on activity to do with DHS students. It’s nothing big to begin with, maybe just talking with one of the students, or taking attendance or passing out papers.”

Members of the design team, made up of top district administrators and teachers along with NIU faculty and staff, are developing a unique vision that expects students at the new DHS will demonstrate “globally competitive” academic success.

In addition to raising the quality of DHS student achievement and NIU teacher preparation programs, the partners are planning joint research and excellence in professional learning for both DHS and NIU faculty.

Based on a model developed at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, co-teaching is one component of the collaboration that teachers are eager to implement as soon as possible.

“Our thinking was that we would pilot it extremely small and work out any of the kinks or bugs before we begin it on a much larger and grander scale,” Hueber said.

High school teachers already have met and become acquainted with their interns – something that usually happens during the busy academic year, when time is a precious commodity – and have participated in a summer workshop about co-teaching.

The St. Cloud model identifies seven co-teaching strategies:

  • One Teach, One Observe. One teacher has primary instructional responsibility while the other gathers specific observational information on students or the (instructing) teacher. The teacher candidate or the cooperating teacher can take on either role.
  • One Teach, One Assist. One partner has primary instructional responsibility while the other partner assists students, monitors behavior or corrects assignments.
  • Station Teaching. The pair divides the instructional content into parts and the students into groups. Each teacher instructs one of the groups, which rotate.
  • Parallel Teaching. Each teacher instructs half of the students, presenting the same material and using the same teaching strategies.
  • Supplemental Teaching. One teacher works with students at their expected grade level while the other works with those students who need to catch up or who need enrichment.
  • Alternative or Differentiated Teaching. Teachers use two different approaches to present the same material with the same goal for learning outcomes.
  • Team Teaching. Partners present well-planned, team-taught lessons, exhibiting an invisible flow of instruction with no prescribed division of authority.

Benefits of the model are clear, the 428-NIU partners said.

“The classroom teacher at DHS will have another set of eyes and ears in the classroom, and we expect improved student performance academically and socially because of the relationships built with that other person,” Hueber said. “Special education has been doing this for years, and it works when it’s done right. And that’s what we’re really focusing on: doing it right.”

“High school students get more one-on-one instruction and more questions answered,” Callahan said.

“The high school teacher does not have to just turn his or her students over to a student teacher, but can remain more involved and bounce ideas off someone else,” she added. “It’s energizing. They get new ideas, and they’re forced to articulate the reasons why they do things they way they do and what makes those better activities or better policies.”

NIU’s eight pre-service teachers come from three colleges – Education, Liberal Arts and Sciences and Visual and Performing Arts – and will teach art, earth science, foreign language, humanities, math and special education.

Participants on both sides of the collaboration were able to approve their partners, Callahan said, and all of the new relationships earned dual blessings.

“Co-teaching is not a pre-service requirement. Our students were told it would be more work but also told what the benefits are,” she said. “All of these students are really interested in having as much hands-on experience as possible. They’re not at all concerned about doing a little extra work.”

Visit for more information about the NIU-DeKalb High School partnership.