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Remove the Barriers of Time and Space:
Strategies for Effective Co-Planning

By Butler Knight, Ed.S., and Lee Anne Sulzberger, M.Ed.


November/December 2013

A search for the term “collaboration” in the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) database reveals nearly 25,000 articles – more than 5,000 of them were published since 2009. It is clear that professional collaboration is a major way in which schools strive to meet the needs of all students, including those with disabilities (Friend & Cook, 2010; Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010). 

Collaborative teaching (i.e., co-teaching) is an approach to teacher collaboration that is designed to meet student needs. Co-teaching consists of a partnership between two or more professionals who share instructional responsibility for a diverse group of students in a shared classroom space. As such, it is considered “a service delivery option for providing special education or related services to students with disabilities or other special needs while they remain in their general education classes” (Friend & Cook, 2010, p. 109).

Instructional collaboration requires comprehensive instructional planning that takes into consideration (a) standards, (b) assessment, (c) accommodations/modifications, (d) instructional strategies, and (e) logistics (Howard &. Potts, 2009).

Co-teachers can use the checklist in Table 1, adapted from Howard and Potts (2009), to reflect on the planning process. “Yes” answers to the questions indicate that a given planning component has been addressed.

Table 1

Checklist for Instructional Planning Components 

Planning Area

Guiding Questions




Did we use standards as the focus of   the lesson?



Did we relate to IEP goals?




Did   we start with the end in mind?



Did we include formative assessment?



Did we include summative assessment?



Will we assess in a variety of   formats?
 Paper and pencil



Did we agree on grading procedures?
 Person responsible
 Differentiating grading based on student needs
 Use of rubrics



Did we talk about homework?
 How much to assign
 How often to assign
 Procedures for submitting
 How to grade
 Accepting late work




Did we address any appropriate   content-related IEP goals?



Did we address any   non-content-related IEP goals?



Did we consider needs of individual   students for assignments?



Did we discuss how to provide   accommodations/modifications inclusively?



Instructional Strategies

Did we consider mnemonics?



Did we consider graphic organizers?



Did we consider cooperative learning   strategies?



Did we consider progress monitoring?



Did we consider peer-assisted   learning strategies?




Did we decide who will prepare   tests?



Did we decide who will prepare   materials?



Did we plan for roles and arrangements?
 Classroom movement patterns
 Student grouping
 Roles in instruction
 Roles in discipline



Adapted from Howard and Potts (2009).

Another co-planning process is BASE, a four-step process that consists of:

  1. Defining the big ideas,
  2. Analyzing areas of difficulty,
  3. Creating strategies and supports, and
  4. Evaluating the process (Hawbaker, Balong, Buckwalter, & Runyon, 2001).

The steps of BASE and corresponding actions to consider are presented in Table 2.

Table 2

 BASE Planning Process


Possible Actions

1.  Define the big ideas

Use curriculum resources aligned with state assessments to identify the essential concepts and skills every student needs to master.

2.  Analyze areas of difficulty

Discuss the areas students have previously found   difficult, the complexity of concepts, and the skills needed to access the content.   

3.  Create strategies and supports

Select strategies to improve instruction and assessment strategies that enable students to demonstrate their learning. Address individual student needs as outlined in IEPs or 504 plans.

4.  Evaluate the process

At the end of the unit, evaluate the selection of big ideas, the accuracy of predicted areas of difficulty, and the effectiveness of instructional strategies by answering the following questions:

  • Did we clearly identify the big ideas?
  • What areas of difficulty occurred for students? Did these areas match what we anticipated?
  • How well did the strategies work? Do we need to include others?

Both the checklist and the BASE steps for planning can help ensure that co-teachers are designing effective instruction. However, insufficient planning time is repeatedly cited as a barrier to effective co-teaching (Scruggs, Mastropieri, & McDuffie, 2007). One solution to this perennial obstacle is for co-teaching partners to use technology to collaborate and communicate when shared planning time is limited.

The free tools listed in Table 3 represent technology solutions that allow co-teaching partners to collaborate in real time or to create lesson plans and instructional materials at different times.

Table 3

Online Collaboration Tools



Dropbox and Google Drive

db    gd

Share files in the cloud so several people can access and work on the same document at different times.



This online site is for both teachers and students. It is a tool for that allows teachers to communicate with students, parents, and each other. Key features include posting digital resources and messaging.

Google Hangout


This tool uses video or chat in real time. Participants can also see a shared document via screen share.

PB Works

Co-teachers can share documents and post videos or images using this online collaboration site.



This no-cost recording site is in the field-testing stage. It allows users to send brief voice messages to others through the Internet.



Wikis allow people to contribute content to an online site that looks similar to a website.



A collection of online collaboration tools including chat, shared documents, and online meeting spaces.

Collaborative planning is essential if co-teachers are to “capture each other’s fund of collective intelligence” (Schmoker, 1999, p. 100) in order to support all students in a co-taught classroom. Using a structured planning process along with technology tools can help make co-planning and co-teaching more effective and less stressful. 

Additional Resources

For a comprehensive resource from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) on collaborating for student success, refer to Stepping Stones to Success II Collaboration: Working Together for All Students.

For an overview of collaboration between general and special educators, read General & Special Educators Collaborating: Essential for Student Success.

Additional information on co-planning may be found at

For more information on co-teaching, read Co-Teaching: An Effective Approach for Inclusive Education  or Co-Teaching: Tips for Enhancing Practice.


Charles, K. J., & Dickens, V. (2012). Closing the communication gap: Web 2.0 tools for enhanced planning and collaboration. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 45, 24-32.

Friend, M., & Cook, L. (2010). Interactions: Collaboration skills for school professionals (6th ed.).  Boston, MA: Pearson.

Hawbaker, B. W., Balong, M., Buckwalter, S., &. Runyon, S. (2001). Building a strong BASE of support for all students through co-planning. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 33, 24-30. Retrieved from

Howard, L., &. Potts, E. A. (2009). Using co-planning time: Strategies for a successful co-teaching marriage. TEACHING Exceptional Children Plus, 5. Retrieved from  

Mastropieri, M. A., & Scruggs, T. E. (2010). The inclusive classroom: Strategies for effective differentiated instruction (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Schmoker, M. (1999). Results: The key to continuous school improvement (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Scruggs, T. E., Mastropieri, M. A., & McDuffie, K. A. (2007). Co-teaching in inclusive classrooms: A metasynthesis of qualitative research. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 73, 392-416.