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NYC Helpline: How To: Divide and Conquer

Divide and Conquer: How to use any extra help you can get  Sarah Picard

A unique relationship exists in collaborative teaching classrooms, and I am fortunate to work in one at P.S. 126 in Manhattan. My colleague Sandra Weisel, a certified special education teacher, and I share a second grade inclusion classroom. We share the teaching of short whole class lessons and then break into small groups for workshop periods in reading, writing and math each day. Sandra and I also work with two paraprofessionals, and often have a student teacher in our classroom. We are the living, breathing example of Senator Clinton's book, It Takes a Village.  

I'm writing this how-to for all the collaborative team teachers who can't seem to organize and use all the adults in their classrooms to their full potential. I hope that I can share a few tips to help you stay organized and ultimately see rapid and steady growth in your students' achievement. 

1. Get to know each of the students in your classroom. Understand their strengths in reading, writing and math. Chart them and group them according to needs. You can find further information on this subject in my two previous articles:

Talk the Talk: How to look at and learn from student writing work and 

Walk the Walk: How to look at and learn from student writing work

Another resource is Lisa Peterson's articles on assessment,

Knowing Your Students as Learners.

2. Get to know the adults in your classroom. Whether it is reading aloud to struggling readers, organizing the grade level book closet, calming down a distressed student, or tutoring one on one, you need to know each person's unique strengths as well as situations in which s/he does not feel comfortable. For example, if one of your teaching assistants speaks a second language, s/he might be able to assist a small group of students who are learning English. S/he may also want to help translate parent newsletters or conferences. 

3. After you make small groups for reading, writing and/or math, match up each group's strengths and weaknesses with the adult that best suits the children's needs. Although there will be some initial shifting based on group dynamics, try to keep the groups and teaching assignments consistent. The teachers and the children appreciate this kind of stability. 

4. Arrange a common planning time where everyone who works in the classroom can get together to go over a weekly plan. This communication is key to the success of your classroom. Spending some time in advance will save you time later. The more you communicate and explain during the planning meeting, the less you will be interrupted to explain during the class period. 

5. Schedule a set time every two weeks or so to meet with your teaching assistants individually and ask them how they feel about their current role in the classroom. Check in to make sure they feel like they have enough responsibility, or if they feel like they cannot do something that you have planned. I have found these check-in sessions to be extremely effective in our classroom. If we are all on the same page, that confidence and consistency has a positive affect on the children. 

Please feel free to e-mail with any additional questions!


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