REFLECTIONS ON OUR TEAM TEACHING EXPERIENCE by ROBERT M. SPODEN & ÖZLEM BAYKAN
Believing in the fact that teaching is a learning process both for learners and teachers, we wanted to pool our skills, experience, and efforts to increase the effectiveness of the learning and teaching environment in our class. To this end, we used ‘team teaching’ as a strategy and tool with two purposes in mind: to help our learners achieve the learning goals successfully, and to provide ourselves with the opportunity to observe and learn from each other. Focusing on language, we planned and taught a grammar lesson to a group of 19 Prep students at a B1 level class which we share as partners, and we would like to share our experience with you, as well thinking that this could also contribute to our colleagues’ professional development at ScOLa.
Here are some highlights from our experience.
Teaming to teach;
– has a great contribution to the planning process because teachers can find the opportunity to brainstorm about the most suitable techniques, methodology, materials, and approaches to use in class based on learner needs. Although the planning takes quite a lot of time, it is undeniable that this has a great impact on the effectiveness of the lesson;
– helps learners achieve the learning outcomes more successfully as they could have the opportunity to benefit from the teaching experience and style of both instructors in one class;
– makes monitoring more effective in class as both instructors can guide learners, especially during pair/group work or when learners are expected to do more productive tasks;
– paves the way for providing structured feedback and identifying possible future learning opportunities for learners upon revising learners’ production together and discussing their readiness for new objectives.
Besides its positive effects on the teaching and learning environment, team teaching has also contributed to our professional development in various aspects. Below are the details of the process from our perspective.
Classrooms are the silos from which we deploy our knowledge and engage our students. While there are advantages to this silo model in that instructors are free to develop and hone their craft, there is also a sense of methodological isolation. As an instructor with some years of experience, I have admittedly become quite comfortable with my methods to the exclusion of other possibilities. This is the drawback of the siloed classroom, for the teacher can become narrowly focused on pedagogical outcomes yet miss opportunities to try other techniques which are unfamiliar but possibly more effective. It is in this experience of team teaching that I have gained cognizance of some of the limitations to my well-trodden methodological approach, but also have identified new possibilities, techniques, and approaches to use in the classroom. In essence, the horse blinders were removed as different ideas took root.
One way to overcome the siloed classroom is to consult theoretical texts. While there is a rich body of literature focused on methodology and learning theory, the opportunity to see other approaches modeled and put into practice is invaluable. There are certain concepts that cannot be adequately conveyed by theoretical texts such as physical presence, body language and movement, as well as intonation and facial expression. For example, while working with my partner, I noticed how she monitored the students and that her method was quite effective in ensuring that the students stayed on-task. I have since changed the way I monitor and have noticed similar positive results in my subsequent lessons.
The area of team teaching I’ve derived the most benefit from was the planning process. While it took a bit longer to plan a lesson than normal, the exchange of ideas led to the generation of novel ideas that as an individual, would have likely been far more difficult to come up with. In the end, Özlem and I produced a lesson plan which was quite engaging for the students. So much so that even though we ran out of time, the students weren’t bolting for the door at the start of the break. In fact, it was only Özlem and I who noticed the time as the students were busily collaborating with each other on finishing the task.
Should you decide to give team teaching a try, plan to set aside a couple hours for the planning process. It’s important not to feel rushed so that innate creativity has a chance to express itself and that ideas can be sufficiently culled and organized into a solid lesson plan. While spending a lot of time planning a single lesson may seem counter-productive, it wasn’t because the experience gained from the brainstorming and planning session we had has informed subsequent solo planning sessions, making them more fruitful and productive.
Becoming both an observee and an observer, I could have the chance to look at planning, teaching, and professional development from two different perspectives.
As an observee, I had the chance to receive feedback on my teaching skills from my colleague, Robert, and understood once again the importance of using classroom observations as a developmental tool. Although I have gained invaluable new skills through my online teaching experience in recent years, the hustle and bustle of the long pandemic period also made me rely on my existing knowledge to a great extent and stay in my comfort zone. But through this experience, I have once again realized that new pathways lead to beautiful gardens. Discussing which approach to use, how to present the materials in the classroom, and how to check learners’ understanding helped me reflect on new or different pathways towards a student-centered classroom. Also, receiving feedback from my colleague on how I monitor students and introduce the target language helped me see which comfort zone I need to or can stay in to ensure effectiveness.
With my other hat, as an observer, I could use this chance to support my team member by both trying to set a good example and by providing feedback, and I have realized how team teaching can be a useful alternative to traditional classroom observations as a developmental tool. I believe the support that a team leader offers is invaluable for well-being, motivation, and development, and among the endless options for support, a collaborative practice offers a meaningful opportunity where both parties work towards a shared goal and involve learners in the process, as well to achieve that goal successfully.
I appreciate Robert’s great collaboration and effort during the whole process.
We strongly recommend our colleagues try team teaching to maximize the benefits both for their learners and themselves.