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The Nuts and Bolts of Co-Teaching

Co-teaching is first and foremost a special education service delivery model, whereby students with disabilities receive the specially designed instruction needed to address specific skill deficits (Friend, 2014). Co-teaching involves a partnership between two licensed educators, usually a general education teacher and a special education teacher, sharing responsibility for one classroom of diverse students. These professionals share the planning and delivery of instruction as well as accountability for student learning. Such a partnership between professionals with different areas of expertise is necessary for some students with disabilities to access and make progress in the general education setting.

nutboard2The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (2004) requires that students with disabilities be served in the least restrictive environment and that a continuum of services is considered in determining this placement. Beginning with the general education classroom, this continuum provides more restrictive placements as necessary, including (a) special classes, (b) special education day school, (c) state special education program, (d) public residential facility, (e) private residential facility, (f) homebound, and (g) hospital.  Removal from the least restrictive environment (the general education setting) “occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily” (34 CFR 300.114).

Although the general education setting is the goal, some students need supports beyond supplementary aids and services to be successful in this environment. The co-taught classroom was designed to meet the needs of such students with disabilities when their needs could not be met in this setting with one teacher.  Co-teaching involves a partnership, whereby each professional contributes to the planning and delivery of instruction in such a way as to further support students in the general education classroom. “Specifically, the two professionals plan and use unique and high-involvement instructional strategies to engage all students in ways that are not possible when only one teacher is present” (Friend & Cook, 2013, p.165).  Co-teaching is one means through which specially designed instruction for students with disabilities is incorporated into the general education environment. Co-teaching has been found to support academic achievement for students with disabilities (Hang & Rabren, 2009; Huberman, Navo, & Parrish, 2012; Rigdon, 2010; Tremblay, 2013; Walsh, 2012).

Co-teaching is a service delivery model that supports students’ access to instruction in the general education classroom. While it provides a “significant amount of support” for students with disabilities (Murawski, 2009, p. 19), it is not a universal approach to instruction for all students with disabilities that replaces consideration of a student’s least restrictive environment, however (Murawski, 2009).  The decision to place students in co-taught classrooms is made during the development of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and is based upon the rich, comprehensive data collected within this process.

Thus, IEP teams consider students’ needs related to their disabilities and the impact of the disabilities on access and progress in each content area (Murawski, 2009).  The level of special education support needed depends upon students’ specific skill levels.  The delivery of specially designed instruction may be provided by the general educator unless the intensity of this instruction is such that the expertise of two teachers is required. When a student with a disability is not making progress in the general education environment, even with the use of supplementary aids and services, co-teaching may be the most appropriate service delivery model.  Arbitrary placement into co-taught classrooms without data to support this placement is inappropriate and denies students with disabilities access to a free, appropriate public education.  The goal is for students to receive the appropriate levels of support while increasing their autonomy and ensuring their placements in the least restrictive environment.

Related Link Lines articles from T/TAC at the College of William and Mary:


Friend, M., & Cook, L. (2013). Interactions: Collaborative skills for school personnel (7th ed.).  Boston, MA: Pearson.

Friend, M. (2014). Co-teach! Building and sustaining effective classroom partnerships in inclusive schools (2nd ed.). Greensboro, NC: Marilyn Friend.

Hang, Q., & Rabren, K. (2009). An examination of co-teaching: Perspectives and efficacy indicators. Remedial and Special Education, 20(5), 259-268.

Huberman, M., Navo, M., & Parrish, T. (2012). Effective practices in high performing districts serving students in special education. Journal of Special Education Leadership, 25(2), 59 – 71.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, 20 U.S.C. §300. (2004). Retrieved from

Murawksi, W. W. (2009).  Collaborative teaching in secondary schools: Making the co-teaching marriage work! Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Rigdon, M. B. (2010). The impact of co-teaching on regular education eighth grade student achievement on a basic skills algebra assessment (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest. (3403056)

Tremblay, P. (2013). Comparative outcomes of two instructional models for students with learning disabilities: Inclusion with co-teaching and solo-taught special education. Journal of Research in Special Education Needs, 13(4), 251-258. doi:10.1111/j.1471-3802.2012.01270.x

Walsh, J. M. (2012). Co-teaching as a school system strategy for continuous improvement. Preventing School Failure, 56(1), 29-36. doi:10.1080/1045988X.2011.555792

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