Student-led co-teaching program at Feeser

In two sixth grade classrooms at Mary Feeser, the lessons run much deeper than what they appear on the surface. In a unique classroom set-up, sixth grade teachers Courtney Bean and Amy Reglein Petersen, along with the partnership and support of Special Education teacher Jacque Moore, ESL teacher Elena Huys, and paraprofessional Rachel Campagnoli, work with 52 students in a hybrid co-teaching program where students choose the best learning environment for themselves.

In terms of instruction, this might mean that students could read a passage through the creative delivery of a dramatic scene, listen to a recording of the audio, through discussion in a small group setting, or through silent reading.

“Our material is common across the board – common curriculum, common lesson planning, common data, and a common goal,” says Reglein Petersen. “We work with each other, recognizing that not all students think and learn the same. We’re able to gather students in smaller groups of students who might be on the same pace. We also have students who prefer to work alone – standing up, sitting on the floor, spreading their materials out. It’s all about getting to know students and creating their best learning environment.”

Much of the students’ work is driven by their own thoughts and input. Teachers encourage students to self-reflect on what type of student they are and what type of student they want to be, as well as what they do well and how they work best. Early in the year, the students were asked what kind of teacher they wanted. Their responses have helped drive behaviors across the classroom.

These exercises in self-reflection help drive curriculum and behavior, but they also prepare students for middle school – teaching students how and when to ask an adult for help, demonstrating how to be respectful in changing environments, and showing empathy toward one another.

Students also have a keen eye on technology and its’ growing importance in the classroom and the world around them.

“Technology has been a real game changer for our classroom,” says Bean. “We have students creating Google slideshows based on their interests outside of classroom work – they research and compile information and photos, then present to the class. They are working on them in the evenings, and they love seeing our teacher feedback show up in real time at night. We recently had a student in Florida who documented the hurricane damage, and presented it to our class. Technology gives our students a new way to communicate – all based on their interests. It’s so empowering to see them using technology in positive, productive ways.”

One of the most important aspects they hope to teach is the importance of struggle and hard work. “I want our students to see us struggle, to see that we’re still learning, that we don’t have all the answers,” says Reglein Petersen. “Kids see us working hard and making mistakes; they see that it’s not the end of the road to make a mistake. On my tombstone, I hope it doesn’t say that I taught students to fill in a bubble – I hope it’s that I helped create great learners and great thinkers. I hope our students go on to do great things.”

Both teachers vocalize a strong emphasis on data – using it to help their students grow academically and using it to show success in the model of their classroom. “We saw great growth on the NWEA,” says Reglein Peterson. “We continue to use several pieces of data to triangulate the information that guides our learning environment. There is a combination of formative and summative assessment we use consistently.”

The teachers expect their unique classroom set-up will help students transition to middle school, both in terms of instructional delivery, as well as emotional readiness.