Co-teaching for Literacy Access

“…the 21st-century notion of co-teaching places it within the context of some of the most innovative practices in education” (Villa, et al., 2013).


One of the unique elements of the secondary literacy model we currently implement in my district is the co-teaching piece.  We are in year four with an intervention model specifically used for students in grades six through nine. We’ve experienced a great deal of student success.  However, we are still growing, learning, and adjusting.

Over the last three years, many challenges arose in our work, and many of those were addressed by professional learning, collaboration and innovation from literacy teachers in our professional learning community. However, the co-teaching element needs more support and clearer direction over all.  With that in mind, I drafted a set of guidelines and expectations for literacy intervention teachers. This is not only intended to help literacy teachers gain a clearer vision of the plan and purpose of co-teaching, but it is also meant to be an additional data point for conversations with content teachers and building leaders.

Beyond the guidelines, I offer a few other resources to support initial thinking. To connect to our district’s work with Rigorous Unit Planning (Marzano), I developed a scale to help educators think about the progression of learning needed for this process.   I provide Dr. Richard Villa’s definitions and comparisons of four co-teaching approaches.  Lastly, I drafted a few ideas to troubleshoot common concerns.  I don’t presume these will be the solutions to all problems, but it is a place to start.  Additional support will be offered through collaboration, modeling and coaching.

Note: Literacy teachers in our secondary system teach two classes of  reading intervention (intended as a type of case load).  They also co-teach with two content teachers per semester in the same grade level as the students in their interventions classes. The hope is that they will also be an “indispensable resource” in the literacy initiatives of their buildings. We seek to contribute to a positive culture of literacy and to simply help teens read and write for learning.

The hope is always that the administrators and instructional leaders in each secondary building will be intentional about assigning co-teaching relationships with the students literacy development as the foremost priority in mind.   This is two fold.  First, both the content teacher and the literacy interventionist are clear on and committed to the ultimate purpose of providing students with research-based, strategies for processing text across disciplines.  Additionally,  there must be intentional time for planning.  Dr. Villa, among other scholars on this process, would say that where there is no intentional planning there is no effective co-teaching.

I welcome you to read through the attached document and offer feedback.  It is a fluid document meant solely to help teachers and building leaders deepen this valuable piece of our model.

2016-2017 Targeted Literacy Co-teaching Guidelines and Expectations

What Works for Me: Reciprocal Teaching

unspecified-4Reciprocal teaching is a collaborative structure used to help students engage in essential proficient reader actions with the support of a peer group.  Many years ago, before my reading specialist education,  the desire that fueled my summer research reading was to find a method to support non-readers, reluctant readers, and struggling readers in my content classes (ELA & Social Studies), or according the NAEP, about 64% of 8th graders and 63% of 12th graders in 2013.  I started reading anything about best practices that would help adolescents read strategically in my class.  The data around reciprocal teaching grabbed my attention and has held it for most of my career.  My education since those days has only reinforced my desire to find the most effective method for implementing reciprocal teaching in content classes, as well as in my intervention classes.   I have used many variations to structure reciprocal teaching over the years.  Most recently the process below is bringing the strongest results to-date. I embed re-telling into the process, at the risk of complicating the collaborative structure, but the results have been positive.  Below you will find the general process I currently use, although please note that I adjust and tweak as needed based the struggles and strengths I observed as I monitored student progress.

Sample framework for reciprocal teaching session (with retelling embedded):

  1. Activate prior knowledge on the topic.  The topic should be chosen to engage and challenge the readers.  A variety of options exist, including but not limited to: KWL, Connect-Extend-Challenge, Question Formulation Technique.
  2. Groups can all meet at once or meet in a rotation as part of a station structure.   The READER will read until he/she reaches a “STOP”  break in the document.  I keep text to a manageable length and add 3-4  “STOP” breaks in the text.
  3. The RETELLER, who has annotated for essential vocabulary, will use those essential terms to retell the main ideas.  Other students are encouraged to help adjust the retelling if they feel the author’s meaning is altered or main ideas were excluded.
  4. The CLARIFIER, who has been annotating for words and concepts that were confusing, will offer those to the group for discussion and clarification.  If background knowledge of the group is not sufficient, a discussion on and application of fix-up strategies should ensue.
  5. The QUESTIONER, who has annotated for important ideas and inferences, asks explicit and implicit questions to check for understanding.   This is how I use the questioning element.  It is an extension of the Question Answer Relationship strategy and encourages students to focus on what is important in the text.  This is not the only way to use this questioning element.
  6. This process will be repeated at each of the 3-4 stops in the text.
  7. The READER, who is also the SUMMARIZER, will develop a summary independently or with the collaboration of the group.  If completing the summary independently is the option, the final summary is shared with the group to discuss if anything should be added or subtracted.  Another options requires all members of the group to prepare a summary independently and share out for similar feedback.

NOTE:  This process will develop over time.  Add each strategy to the process as you provide direct instruction, modeling and practice.   You can start with reading, retelling, and prediction/purpose setting, and then add the other strategies as they are introduced. Students can complete one strategy for the whole article or switch after each stop.  Be intentional about assigning roles to encourage practice and growth where needed.


If you would like more comprehensive guidance on how to implement reciprocal teaching in an intervention class or a content class, I recommend the thorough support that comes from Reciprocal Teaching at Work: Powerful Strategies and Lessons for Improving Reading Comprehension by Lori D. Oczkus (2nd Edition, 2010).  In this text, Oczkus includes the research that supports the validity and long-term effectiveness of this instructional practice (also see Palincsar & Brown, 1984).  Additionally, in Visible Learning for Literacy, Grades K-12, Implementing the Practices that Work Best to Accelerate Student Learning (Fisher, Frey, & Hattie, 2016) reciprocal teaching is identified with an effect size of 0.74.  The authors note that the evidence supporting the effectiveness of reciprocal teaching is broad and that “researchers have found it to be effective with students with disabilities, English learners, and bilingual students.”   It is especially useful as an intervention strategy when used with fidelity.  

When I say this comprehension strategy should be used with fidelity, I do not mean that there is one classroom room process that works for all in every situation.  As noted earlier, organizing the use of the skills collaboratively and authentically can happen in a variety of ways.  However, there are some common mutations that alter success:

  • Focusing on engagement versus monitoring comprehension as a primary goal/objective.  
  • Altering the use of the strategies in unison. Strategies should be explicitly introduced and modeled individually, but the long-term development is built on using the strategies in unison, as they would authentically be used by a proficient reader.
  • Lack of specificity around the processes of questioning and clarifying strategies.
  • Not holding students to fidelity of each strategy as students collaborate to make meaning in reciprocal teaching groups.
  • Too much scaffolding (lack of gradual release by teacher or ownership by students) that prevents students from working towards independence.  
  • No scaffolding.  This involves not having a clear instructional process proven to support learning strategy development.

If you are using a structure for reciprocal teaching that is encouraging authentic student conversations and building natural application of comprehension strategies,  please comment about how your process works in your classroom.   I enjoy hearing how teachers at all levels and in every content areas are helping students make meaning from challenging text.