Collaborating in the classroom

Washburn teacher wins grant for co-teaching, an approach that’s catching on in Minneapolis

Washburn High School teacher Ashley Karlsson works with students during a world history class. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

A Washburn High School teacher has been awarded a $15,000 to promote co-teaching at the school.

English-language teacher Ashley Karlsson was awarded the grant this summer from ASCD, a Virginia-based organization that provides professional development, capacity building and leadership training to educators.

Karlsson was one of 17 awardees out of 580 applications. The grant helped Washburn teachers attend the Minnesota English Learner Education Conference in October and has allowed the school to purchase books on co-teaching and collaboration.

Co-teaching is when two teachers share in the teaching, planning and assessment of students in one classroom. Both teachers share responsibility for educating all students in the class, with each taking equal responsibility in instruction and leadership.

“It’s just amazing when it’s done well,” said Teresa Washut Heck, co-director of St. Cloud State University’s Academy for Co-Teaching & Collaboration. “It brings out the strengths of both teachers, and it creates an environment (that) I think meets students needs.”

She said co-teaching developed as a practice about 20 years ago, when special-education teachers were mandated to work alongside regular-education teachers. Effective co-teaching requires teachers to plan out lessons together, she said.

Karlsson has co-taught at Washburn for the past three years, including the past 2 1/2 alongside social studies teacher Matt Pronley. She said co-teaching allows English-language learners to integrate into mainstream classes, benefitting them and their peers. The students also benefit from having two teachers who collaborate on lessons, she said.

“The end result is the lesson we end up with is much better than what either one of us could have put together on our own,” she said.

Washburn has employed co-teaching for the past seven years, Assistant Principal Michelle Terpening said. The school utilizes the model for special-education students and English-language learners.

Terpening said test scores and graduation rates have increased for English-language learners since the school began using the model. In addition, Washburn has been able to retain more of those students, and more are speaking up in class.

“The end result really kind of shows the benefits of two teachers working together,” she said.

Washburn was the first school in the district to implement a co-teaching model, Terpening said. The school maintains class sizes of around 32 to 33 students despite the extra teacher, she said, adding that administration tries to put about six or seven English-language learners in a section.

The model requires an extra commitment from teachers, who have additional meetings and professional development, Principal Rhonda Dean said.

Washburn has 25 co-taught sections of social studies this year, Terpening said, with Karlsson and Pronley collaborating on five of them. The duo teaches world history as well as an Advanced Placement U.S. History section.

Karlsson visited the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C. as part of receiving the grant, meeting with other grant recipients and Education Secretary John King.

ASCD began the grant program to help teachers lead from the classroom, Cameron Brenchley, the organization’s managing director of communications and public affairs, wrote in an email. He said the organization hopes to expand the program in coming years.