Co-Teaching:  A Great Opportunity to Maximize Students’ Executive Function Skills

Co-teaching is a powerful way to ensure that all students have access to standards-based curriculum in the least restrictive environment as well as the specialized instruction they may need to succeed.  Marilyn Friend has defined 6 co-teaching approaches where, within collaborative structures, general education and special education teachers work together to maximize student learning.  In a co-taught classroom, you will typically find a general educator who may have specific expertise in the areas of curriculum and instruction and classroom management.  The special educator in the same classroom may have expert knowledge of disabilities and their educational implications as well as additional expertise regarding research-based interventions to support struggling learners.

As we reconceptualize the role of the general educators and special educators in classrooms where all students benefit we need to ensure that all teachers, while focusing on academic content, recognize that many students in our classrooms will demonstrate executive functioning (EF) deficits as well as academic challenges.  Finding time to purposefully teach executive function skills amid rigorous academic content can be challenging.  Yet without competent EF skills– which include the ability to plan, organize, problem solve, manage emotions, control impulses, and be flexible when things don’t go as expected–students will find that mastering that academic content will not come easily.

There are a variety of strategies that teachers can employ in a co-taught classroom to strategically strengthen EF skills:

·        One presents information to the class; one is explicitly modeling note-taking or using a graphic organizer to illustrate key points

·        One teaches the large group; one provides visual cues to assist students in staying on task

·        One explains details regarding a long-term assignment; one works with a group of students to mentally walk through the planning process, directly guiding each one to envision the end point of the assignment, or visualize the end product

·        One teaches the large group; one gathers data to inform instruction or document progress for a student who has difficulty with impulse control

·        One supervises groups of students who are working independently or with a partner; one provides intensive instruction to a group of students who need specialized attention

·        One teaches the large group; one provides specialized supports for individual students who have difficulty self-regulating

These are just a few of the strategies that can be used to strengthen EF in a co-taught classroom.  If there are other strategies that you have used to help students build EF skills, we’d love to hear about it!

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