Team time

26th September 1997 at 01:00
When John Mapperley and Phillippa Ling were asked to teach two classes in one room they decided to make a virtue out of necessity and set up a single 'super class'. They believe that working as a team has been a giant step forward for them and their pupils

Two years ago, when we returned to our school in West Bridgford, Nottingham, to prepare for the autumn term, we discovered that during the summer a new school hall had been built and our two Year 5 classrooms had relocated to the old hall. We were alarmed to see that all that stood between our new classes was a two-metre-high wall which only extended about a third of the way across the room. As the room was nine metres high, every word spoken by one teacher could be heard by both classes during quiet periods, and very little could be heard by anyone unless both classes were quiet. We soon realised that it made sense for one of us to explain a task to both classes rather than waste our breath battling against one another. Thus was born our version of team teaching.

The essence of this system is that the two classes are organised as one class supported by two teachers. So any whole-class activity will be introduced or led by one of us and taught to both classes.

The "other half" of the partnership is then able to observe, clarifying and reinforcing aspects of the lesson for the children, and encouraging those with wavering attention. We always finish any form of address to the classes with a nod to our partner which means, "is that okay?" Invariably the listener comes up with a useful analogy, a new angle on the main points which may benefit certain children, or some other way of enriching the lesson. In this way our children get twice the "teaching experience", while we are able to research and prepare more thoroughly because we have fewer lessons to initiate. Occasionally we put together a double act when we feel a change of voice or direction can be effective.

If it seems appropriate we split our classes. For example, we have found it helpful in handwriting lessons to group together all those with fluent handwriting to tackle an appropriate task while a smaller group works on joining and correct letter formation. Thus we give special attention to certain groups without leaving the remainder of the class unsupervised. This proved particularly useful with last year's mixed-age classes of nine, 10 and 11-year-olds in Years 5 and 6.

The next stage was to apply the "two teachers: one class" principle to smaller group working. Most primary teachers split their classes into groups at some point during the week for reasons of space or availability of resources. We split our two classes into four groups for which we plan four activities. We prepare two each, therefore halving the normal workload and allowing us more time to focus on providing differentiated, quality activities. A further spin-off is that, as the children rotate, we get to teach each lesson four times, adjusting and refining as we go. As we each have only two activities to teach we avoid the trap of becoming classroom managers rather than teachers.

Teachers are, even in an open-plan school, isolated for much of the time. It is wonderfully reassuring to have another qualified person on hand for support of so many kinds. Someone to learn from; to share ideas with; to receive feedback from; to be praised by; to lean on in times of illness or stress; to have on hand to look after your class in an emergency.

One of us remembers attending a middle school with the facility to turn two rooms into one large one, but it was never used. It was with this in mind that we set out to write this article - to persuade those with the potential to team-teach to give it a try. We are recent converts to team teaching. Until it was forced upon us we had no wish to give up our autonomy. For those similarly reluctant, give it a go! With a little co-operation, careful planning and an open mind, the benefits are significant, many and various for you, your colleague, and especially your class.

John Mapperley and Phillippa Ling teach at Greythorn Primary School, West Bridgford, Nottingham


* Increase your effectiveness as a teacher

* Make the most of your abilities and develop skills in areas of weakness

* Make maximum use of classroom space and resources

* Devote more time to individuals or children with special needs

* Significantly reduce your lesson preparation time

* Know that classwork will continue seamlessly when you are off sick or on a course

* Go to the toilet during lessons

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