Co- Teacher Talk


By Anne M. Beninghof, Educational Leadership author

Beninghof CoTeacher Talk 300x300During a recent observation in a co-taught class, I noticed several differences in the roles that the general education teacher and the special education specialist played. It was clear that their co-instruction had been co-planned, but when it came to their teacher talk–the unplanned comments they made to students throughout the lesson–I observed distinct differences. While watching, I jotted down the following list of statements made by the teachers. As you look through them, can you determine which statements the special educator made?

  1. “Our learning target for today is to describe the components of a paragraph.”
  2. “Let’s analyze the word ‘component.’ Turn to your partner and talk about what the prefix ‘com’ means.”
  3. “A topic sentence expresses the main idea of the paragraph.”
  4. “In other words, the topic sentence tells the reader what your paragraph is mainly about.”
  5. “Stand up when you have found the topic sentence in the sample paragraph.”
  6. “Get out your writer’s notebook and highlight a topic sentence in one of your own paragraphs.”
  7. “On the board are your directions. (1) Writer’s notebook. (2) Find a paragraph. (3) Find topic sentence. (4) Highlight topic sentence.”

Statements 2, 4, 5, and 7 were made by the specialist. She donned the eyes and ears of a student with a disability, so that she could adjust instruction as necessary. Meanwhile, the general education teacher focused on the key academic concepts and curriculum structure.

Contrary to the common belief that in the best co-taught classrooms “you can’t tell which is the general educator and which is the special educator,” I’ve found in my work that the most effective co-teaching occurs when partners celebrate and make the most of their differences. By applying their expertise to everything they do and say, co-teachers work in partnership to make learning attainable for all students.


Anne M. Beninghof is an education consultant and trainer. Her article in the December 2015/January 2016 issue of Educational Leadership,To Clone or Not to Clone?” describes how co-teachers can plan to deploy each partner’s knowledge and skills most effectively.