Blending Inclusion & the Common Core

A MiddleWeb Blog

2-teachers-nobord-210I think the only way to really meet the Common Core Standards in inclusion classrooms is through a varied application of co-teaching models.

We must stay aware of the way that we are presenting the content and assessing our students’ progress. We must stay focused and determined to make the instructional process one that guides all students to connect and construct meaning toward reaching personal and academic goals.

Now that my colleagues and I are well into the groove of the school year, I figured it was prime time to begin discussing and implementing methods to blend our Common Core instruction with various co-teaching models. I decided to start small (great advice to myself, don’t you think?).

I approached my English co-teacher to take on the Common Core inclusion challenge. I presented her with the possibility of shaking up our instruction just enough to excite, to engage, to motivate, and to deepen the learning process for each student in our class.

In the past, this co-teacher has admitted to uneasiness at the thought of shifting away from a traditional approach to teaching. In fact, she still admits to wanting to teach each day, each period, the same way.

My colleague likes to be the one who speaks to the class, while the students sit in their seats, in rows, listening (perhaps) as she shares her wisdom. So when I came along and said, “Hey, it’s OK, in fact it’s necessary to teach our inclusion class with a variety of approaches,” I knew she was shuddering at the thought of this change. And so I eased my way in—keeping her comfort level very much in mind.

We’re Making Progress

Since she and I have had a bit more time to get to know one another, she is opening up to more co-planning. We are finding time where we can, and she is more comfortable sharing, listening and brainstorming ideas for lessons.

Following a recent traditional grammar lesson, I said, “How about next time we try another model of co-teaching, so that we can engage each student to take an active role in the learning?” Her response to my inquiry, you ask? She said, “I am open to anything.”

Now that’s what I wanted to hear! And it is with this thought in mind that I am now picking up speed to make the most of meeting the Common Core Standards with a variety of co-teaching models. Here are a few ideas I’d like to try with some consistency over the next few months:

❖ Parallel Teaching

We will plan lessons with a focus on the same skill, but we would have flexibility to:

  • Differentiate the complexity of text and questioning techniques to suit the needs of students;
  • Differentiate the method or representation through slightly different methods (graphic organizers, guided notes, additional visual, auditory, or hands-on learning as appropriate);
  • I would love to try parallel teaching as one of us teaches the grammar mini-lesson and the other reviews close reading strategies. After 10 or 15 minutes, my co-teacher and I would switch to meet with the other group.

❖ Station Teaching

I am really excited to give this one a try when my co-teacher and I plan for two separate learning targets that must be taught separately. For example, we could set up a grammar/writing station and a vocabulary/comprehension station. We could have the students rotate after fifteen or twenty minutes.

This model of co-teaching would also work wonders when we want to focus just on writing. We could set up a planning and drafting station and a proofreading and revision station, as well as an independent writing station for those who are ready to fly on their own.

puzzle-pieces-elizS❖ Then there’s Team Teaching

This model of co-teaching requires co-planning to make it effective. Many co-teachers do not have this luxury (myself included). I work hard to get creative, try to read minds, squeeze in moments or seconds of collaboration wherever I can find them. And yet, it comes down to my co-teachers saying to me, “just jump in….”

Since our class periods are forty-one minutes, every minute counts toward precious learning time. I think the only way team teaching works is if there is a good amount of co-planning going on prior to the lesson. Without co-planning, I feel like my “jumping in” on the fly may lead to tangential learning that may steer the lesson away from my co-teacher’s plan—and this is not always OK.

As I strive to find the balance with this model, I am zooming my focus in on our English class. With careful planning, I know she and I can find the productive balance to finish each other’s sentences, to extend the thinking of students, and to hopefully push one another’s thinking along so that we create optimal learning experiences in our classroom. I know this will be a challenge because my co-teacher has told me and shown me through her daily teaching behaviors that she loves to be the sage on the stage. And yet I know that her mind is opening to new ways of doing things. I am excited to meet this challenge head on!

A Common Core/Co-Teaching Blend

These are a few of my next steps in maximizing the co-teaching experience for the students in our class as well as for my co-teacher and me. We have so much to learn from one another. It’s just a matter of opening minds at a pace and comfort level that keeps the needs of colleagues and students in mind.

I will share more specific lessons as they unravel. I am really jazzed about this shift to blend the Common Core with a variety of co-teaching models. It’s all about teaching deeply—teaching with learner variability in mind—and creating learners who know HOW to learn. Such an exciting time to be a teacher! Don’t you think?

What co-teaching models are you already incorporating? What models would you like to give a go? Here’s your challenge…think about one model you haven’t used yet—and come tell us about it!

Elizabeth Stein

Elizabeth Stein has more than 20 years teaching experience spanning grades K-8, specializing in universal design for learning and special education. She’s currently a special education/UDL instructional coach and new-teacher mentor in Long Island NY’s Smithtown Central School District. Elizabeth is National Board Certified in Literacy, and a contributor to Education Week and other publications. Her books include Comprehension Lessons for RTI (Grades 3-5) (Scholastic, 2013), Elevating Co-Teaching Through UDL (CAST, 2016) and Two Teachers in the Room: Strategies for Co-Teaching Success (Routledge, 2017). Follow her on Twitter @elizabethlstein and #coteachat

15 Responses

  1. Dana says:

    Dear Elizabeth,

    I really appreciated reading about your experiences and look forward to learning about how to construct/co-construct specific lessons. This information is valuable not only to educators in the field but also to teacher candidates learning how to apply theory to practice.

  2. Ms. Stein – I’m actually working on a book connecting Co-teaching and the common core so I was delighted to see your article. It’s exciting to see your goals and I look forward to hearing how it goes for you. I completely concur that co-teaching is a perfect service delivery option for not only differentiating to meet the needs of all learners, but also to bring in new curriculum, instructional methodologies, and even standards! If you do not already have a copy, I would be delighted to send you a copy of my book “Collaborative Teaching in Secondary Schools.” Let me know if you are interested. Thank you again for your focus and positive reflection on co-teaching. Wendy Murawski

  3. Ellen says:

    Give credit to Cook and Friend, the scholars who designed this model. I used these formats when I was teaching collaboratively at the high school level.

  4. Elizabeth Stein says:

    Dana, great to hear! I love how you added “co-construct.” It is all about collaborating! What is your connection to teaching and specifically co-teaching? Thanks for adding your voice!


  5. Renee Hale says:

    I’m all for co-teaching. However, I was hired this year just before school started. I’m certified in the special ed areas plus English. I’m highly qualified (under NCLB) for social studies, biology, physical science and earth science. I’m co-teaching in Alg., geometry and pre-alg. I avoided math as much as possible in college. I haven’t had alg. since 9th grade (using my limited math skills that was about 1971) and I’ve never had a geometry class. I’m being told that knowing the content isn’t important and I should use my evenings to study the math content. I’m 56 years old and I don’t want to do math homework for 4 classes. I’m getting more comfortable but I’m just biding my time until the end of the year.

  6. JoEllen Potchen-Webb says:

    Renee, one of the ways I deal with that is to focus on one thing that I know applies across all subject areas: study skills. I am now known as the Study Skills teacher at my small alternative high school. When I push in (we have very little to no common planning time) I look for opportunities to inject study skills into the lesson. It helps all the students. My wonderful co-teachers are really good about this: I say, “Study Skills Moment” and show a “trick” or a “hint” that may clarify a point in the lesson, may be a reminder of how to take notes in a particular circumstance, or may simply be a reminder for students to write the homework assignment in the planners. Since I co-teach in at least four different subject areas plus teach seven resource sections both Study Skills and Learning Strategies, this trick helps all of us. When we do get to plan together I am able to infuse strategies for learning into the lessons, discuss strategies and structures for differentiating instruction for our very diverse group of learners, and collaborate to devise ways to provide supports for many of our students with emotional/psychological needs in our classes.

  7. Cheryl says:

    I would like to know what your ratio of special needs students was to general education students in your classroom.

    • Kerry says:

      Hey Cheryl , isn’t that a loaded question ? Every child is a special needs learner. Differentiating instruction is no less robust just because labels aren’t present.

  8. Renee,
    I am in a very similar situation. With the new common core 8th grade curriculum as well as common core Algebra, I am struggling to stay abreast of the lessons. I have been teaching over 20 years in a model of resource room and inclusion in the four content areas. However, my new role is as consultant teacher for math and English in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. We, also, just added Singapore Math to the 6th and 7th grades. So there is a lot of new content to study. I work with great teachers, but I feel very inadequate teaching math lessons. I do work with study skills and organizational skills, but my students need help with the math, also. I think it is unfair to our students to have a model that does not draw on the expertise of the teacher. However, I am open to any suggestions and will continue to do my best to be a supportive and creative special educator.

  9. Elizabeth Stein says:

    Hi, Wendy, Thank you for sharing your viewpoint–I enjoyed browsing through your site:, and I encourage our readers to check it out!
    I will make sure to pick up your new book–and I am looking forward to reading it. I would love to continue connecting and collaborating with you. If you are on Twitter–please find me: @elizabethlstein

  10. Elizabeth Stein says:

    Ellen, thank you for adding your valuable comment. Here’s one site where folks can get the direct resource link for the work of Marilyn Friend and Lynne Cook:

    Renee, thanks for sharing your real-world frustrations of the life of a special education co-teacher! We learn to use our varied strengths in any given teaching situation we are placed in–yet some situations are easier than others. JoEllen provides such great advice and support (thank you, JoEllen!). In addition to the studying time that you are putting into preparing yourself to help your students, zooming in on a focused strength is a great idea. A study skill or mneumonic as JoEllen suggests. In addition, you could focus on vocabulary. Find a common thread between your strengths and prior experiences to what you are doing now. Come back and check in with you–we’d love to hear how you are doing!
    JoEllen, it sounds like you are doing such great work as well. Thanks for adding your voice!


  11. Elizabeth Stein says:

    Typically, students with special needs are 1/3 of the total students in the class.

  12. Elizabeth Stein says:

    Ah, Kerry, I like the way you think…you are speaking about learner variability–and the fact that all students possess individual abilities to perceive, understand, and express their understanding.
    Have you checked out and the Universal Design for Learning framework? It sounds like you have…

  13. Elizabeth Stein says:

    Madeline, thanks for adding your story. It sounds like you, too, are studying and preparing for each class and subject to the best of your human abilities. I think you and Renee describe yet another perfect reason for teachers to collaborate. We must converse with our colleagues as well as connect on forums such as this one. It’s good to know we’re not alone. Have you talked with your co-teachers? You have to keep your purpose in clear focus. You are there to support and to teach–and your math co-teacher is there to guide and drive the content along with you–use one another’s strengths to reach the students. Keep the lines of communication open so that you do not feel inadequate–those feelings will not help anyone.
    It is a tough time for everyone as we tackle with the changing of teaching roles and expectations–we must be patient with ourselves. Focus on what you are doing…what you are learning…and what you have to offer–keep a growth mindset in clear view.

    Come back and tell us how you are doing!

  14. Vicki says:

    I am a special needs teacher highly qualified in math and I co-teach in Algebra/Geometry classes as well as having some Algebra/Geometry classes of my own in a learning center environment. I find that many of our students are really struggling with the application of their math knowledge and bringing it forward; specifically with translating word problems into algebraic expressions.

    This is where colleagues who have an English background can really help out in math classes. I have developed several graphic organizers and symbols that seem to work with translating these word problems. Little things like having students draw two lines under the word


    lets them know that word means equals and they can find the total easier to set up an equation. Giving our special needs students these tools really helps them get the start they need to set-up and solve algebraic problems.

    I know this is a simplified tool, but my co-teachers really seem to appreciate the strategies that I have brought forward and in essence it helps all of the students.

    Best of luck to everyone!

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