Symbiotic Classroom

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Unlike the traditional self-contained classroom led by one teacher, or one teacher and an aide, BASIS Independent McLean students in grades 1–4 benefit from the expertise of multiple full-time teachers, one of whom follows the students as they move between classrooms throughout the day1. Students thus have two full-time, qualified teachers in each class, resulting in a uniquely pedagogically-robust classroom environment.

Co-Teaching Versus the BASIS Symbiotic Classroom

It is easy to mistake this classroom environment as “co-teaching.” However, the BASIS Symbiotic Classroom is quite different from the following two commonly used co-teaching models:

Co-Teaching Models BASIS Symbiotic Classroom
Lead Teachers mentors and coaches a student teacher. Typcially, lead and student teacher alternate leading the class and planning lessons. Both are qualified teachers who work together throughout the lesson, rather than mentor and student who alternate instruction.
Regular Education and Special Education teachers ensure differentiation for mainstream Special Education students. The teachers work together to provide an equally strong focus on content and effective delivery of that content for all students.

When Subject Expertise and Learning Expertise Meet

In a BASIS Symbiotic Classroom, all students experience the benefit of being taught by two specialists: the Learning Expert Teacher (LET), who possesses a deep knowledge of effective pedagogical techniques; and the Subject Expert Teacher (SET), who possesses a deep knowledge of the content being delivered to students. Additionally, the daily schedule, which requires LETs to accompany their students from classroom to classroom and SET to SET, provides students with consistency and continuity in support and expectations while also modeling flexibility in acquisition of knowledge.

The LET/SET relationship is not acomplete departure from all of the benefits afforded by commonly used co-teaching models. For example, LETs and SETs take advantage of having two teachers in the classroom to pull students aside and work individually with them in areas where they may need differentiated instruction. Unlike the typical differentiated classroom, though, the BASIS Symbiotic Classroom provides individualized support, both for students who need extra attention to master the curriculum and also for those students who master the curriculum easily and need further challenges. This multi-level differentiation is only one of the hallmarks of the BASIS Symbiotic Classroom.

Most notably, SETs and LETs at BASIS Curriculum schools work together to plan lessons that are both rich in content and effective in delivery of that content. In doing so, they lean on and learn from each other’s areas of expertise.

 

The LET as the Connector & Strategist

The LET is uniquely positioned within this model, in that he/she works with the various SETs as they move with students from classroom to classroom. Thus, the LET not only works with each SET to ensure that each lesson plan is both deep and accessible, but also that the student is making connections between subjects throughout the day and the week. It is the LET who is uniquely positioned to prompt students, for example, to recall their lesson in basic anatomy in Math & Science while learning about the ancient Egyptian custom of mummification in Humanities. To reinforce and formalize such cross-disciplinary thinking, the LET is the lead instructor in a weekly class called Connections, in which students participate in scenario-based lessons that explicitly pull from their core curriculum in Humanities and Math & Science.

The BASIS Symbiotic Classroom allows students to develop into independent actors and thinkers while providing them emotional, social, and psychological support to do so with confidence. LETs have the unique opportunity to observe and identify the variety of learning styles demonstrated by their students and to help students understand the strengths of their individual learning styles and turn them into strategies for success. Accompanying students throughout the day, the LET is able to prompt them to use both the common tools that will foster independence (to write in their communication journals; to keep track of class materials; to complete homework), and the unique strategies that allow them to better access what is being taught. At the same time, the LET delivers positive reinforcement and helps students manage their abilities to express themselves appropriately.

 

The SET as the Enricher

The origin of the SET concept dates back to one of the very principles on which BASIS Curriculum Schools were founded: educators with degrees in the subject(s) they teach and/or real world experience in the field are the key to sparking deep, enriched learning in the classroom. When we developed our primary program, we knew it was important to extend this hallmark of the 5–12 program down to our youngest learners with the LET as a symbiotic partner.

Because they receive students (and their LET) in their own classroom setting, SETs are able to focus on readying the instructional environment and quickly transition to student learning when the class period begins. Unlike the “generalist” teacher common in many primary schools, where he or she is tasked with teaching science with as much exuberance and competence as grammar, the SET is solely responsible for teaching one discipline. For students, this means having teachers skilled enough in the discipline to create an enriched, advanced learning environment. Additionally, it means that the SET is able to competently speak to their questions, unafraid of complicated answers, knowing that they have the support of the LET to check in on comprehension and address students’ varying learning styles.

The partnership with the LET means maximizing instructional time and an enriched learning environment in both breadth and depth of the material covered.

The BASIS Symbiotic Classroom In Action

A common science activity in elementary school classrooms is the demonstration of static electricity with the use of an inflated balloon. Rubbing the balloon on a child’s head produces static electricity in a way that is visible and engaging for students. 

In the BASIS Symbiotic classroom, the SET provides students with background information about atomic structure, calling upon his or her deep understanding of the subject materials, but relies on the support of the LET to effectively teach this challenging concept. The LET understands that the lesson must be scaffolded over a few days, and that the use of manipulatives will make the concept more accessible for 3rd graders. When students finally

participate in the balloon activity, both teachers are able to circulate and prompt students to tie the demonstration to the lesson on atomic structure, ensuring that the spectacle of the activity does not eclipse the learning it is meant to facilitate.

Understanding the Primary School Teaching Model from BASIS Independent Schools on Vimeo.

1 Typically, the BASIS Symbiotic Classroom is present in grades 1-3. In the BASIS Symbiotic classroom, a student will typically benefit from eight full-time teachers.