Through the innovative co-teaching design of the BASIS Independent Brooklyn primary classroom—the Learning Expert Teacher/Subject Expert Teacher (LET/SET) model—two teachers work together to serve students’ different needs in each class throughout the school day.
Improving upon the traditional co-teaching model of lead teacher and assistant teacher, the expert knowledge of each individual BASIS Curriculum Schools teacher serves a unique purpose. Both teachers are experienced professionals who possess deep understanding of their respective fields.
Learning Expert Teachers (LETs) are experienced in pedagogy—the methods and best practices of teaching—especially in regards to early-childhood education. LETs are responsible for two crucial elements of the BASIS Curriculum: performing interventions and providing differentiation. Interventions cover much more than just behavioral issues; LETs track and support students who are performing below grade level in any subject. They also provide differentiation within the classroom, working with individual students or groups of students to help them catch up or to enrich their learning experience.
Subject Expert Teachers (SETs) usually hold advanced degrees in their respective field and know what content their students need to master in order to succeed at a higher level. The SETs’ expertise also allows them to break down complex subject matter in a way that helps students understand it better.
LETs are assigned to one specific group of students for the entire school year. Throughout the day, they lead these students to different subject-specific classes taught by the SETs. In addition, LETs teach a Connections course, which weaves together various lessons and subject matter from other classes. In Connections, students explore how different concepts are connected in the real world. When working together in the classroom, LETs and SETs create an invaluable synergy that inspires a passion for learning and challenges intellectual boundaries.
Here are some thoughts from co-teaching duos on the LET/SET model:
Ms. Goodin (English SET) and Ms. Strom (grade 4 LET) are thankful to have one another to rely on because it allows them to focus on what they do best. “An LET/SET partnership allows for twice as much success in the classroom,” says Ms. Goodin. “While working in previous school settings, I remember how challenging it was to differentiate for the needs of twenty-five students as a sole classroom teacher. As an SET, I am able to primarily focus on unit planning, lesson delivery, and grading while the LET supports in numerous areas, including classroom management, social-emotional learning, family communications, assessment, and small group instruction. Both the LET and SET collaborate as a team to ensure that the individual needs of students are met."
"The passion that our Subject Expert Teachers have for their subject is inspiring," said Ms. Strom. "I can see how the authenticity of the joy our SETs have for what they teach is contagious in the classroom. This is a large part of classroom management: engaging students to think deeply about the subject they are learning. Then the LET's role is important in helping the SET when designing the curricula to help the students acquire the subject matter at hand."
"It is developmentally appropriate for there to be a wider range of student abilities in the younger grades," Mr. Sperrazza (SET for Humanities and History) commented. "Only by having two teachers in the room are we able to meet every kid where they are and then push them to new heights."
Ms. Parekh (LET for grade 2) stressed the mutual respect between teachers as a vital component of the LET/SET relationship. "As a team, we use our class time effectively and efficiently, working with any student who needs us. Not only do we focus on academics, but there are also many moments where a child's social and emotional well-being has to be addressed before they can attend to a lesson. My partner SETs have had an equal role in helping in these moments."
As a grade 4 LET, Ms. Premselaar enjoys customizing the instruction to best meet the needs of individual students. “The SET/LET model allows for a multitude of arrangements in the classroom to best cater to every child’s needs. The SET owns the expertise in the content area, while the LET is the pedagogy expert. The LET is with the class throughout the day and has the ability to see the child in a variety of environments. An LET may work with a small group while the SET is with the rest of the class, or vice versa. SETs and LETs work hand-in-hand to differentiate instruction and incorporate social-emotional learning into the curriculum to foster a love of learning.”
Ms. Strom added: “Having another teacher in the room not only allows for differentiation, which includes pulling small groups or 1:1 sidebars with specific students, but also allows for two different perspectives to approach the teaching of a topic. This leads to well-rounded instruction for each class.”
For Ms. Ortega (math/science SET) and Ms. Parekh (grade 2 LET), the camaraderie and teamwork that develops while instructing very energetic second graders who often need extra differentiation is a true highlight of working together. “We share roles of managing classroom behavior, teaching, and supporting students who need enrichment or extra help."
"For example," Ms. Ortega continued. "I teach the math content and Ms. Parekh pulls a small group of either students for enrichment or students who may be struggling with a particular concept. This is extremely helpful to me as an SET because I cannot always assist all 25 children—who have different strengths and weaknesses or different needs, be it behavioral or academic—at once. The LET/SET relationship provides double the amount of support for the students. Students know if one teacher is busy, they can still seek help or attention from the other. Students can feel supported from both teachers regarding social-emotional issues and academic endeavors.”
Ms. Parekh and Ms. Ortega are very confident in the system. "The primary benefit when two teachers can work together with such cohesiveness is ultimately that the student gets two sets of minds thinking in real time of how to help that student. We draw on one another's ideas and observations. We are also able to observe and learn from one another with a common aim of making the lesson the best it can be for the learners. We use one another's strengths and experiences to challenge and support each other."
In a fast-paced academic setting, like the one at BASIS Independent Brooklyn, Ms. Parekh believes LETs can help take the lead in encouraging parental involvement to encourage students to get sufficient practice time in at home. She tries to make herself available to parents as much as possible, and gives them frequent updates on their child’s progress.
It must be noted that LETs also collaborate across grade bands, as do SETs. Ms. Strom commented, "Working together as a grade band and with other LETs is very important. The collaborative nature of our roles allows us to consult with each other to meet the needs of our classroom. I have utilized ideas for team-building games, inspiring morning messages, helping students problem-solve, and parent meetings from our wonderful colleagues. Our varied strengths and experiences allows us to be a strong team of Learning Expert Teachers.”
All faculty interviewed agree that working together enables them to have a positive impact on the lives of their students in a way that would not be possible if they were teaching alone.
The LET/SET model enables our faculty to teach content ahead of grade level, and ensures that each student is able to master it before moving on. "It's the increased accountability that I love the most, both for the students and for us as educators," Mr. Sperrazza shared.