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I'm interested in getting feedback from both special ed and general ed teachers on how inclusion and/or co-teaching work in your experience. What have you found that works well and what hasn't? From your perspective what would the ideal situation be?
Thank you for your honest feedback.
I've listed some things that have worked for me. Hopefully they will work for you! I tend to forget about the things that don't work and only focus on the things that DO work but here is a short list also of things that didn't work in the past;
- Having a co-teacher that does not fully understand the teaching goals and lesson content
- Having a co-teacher with emotional or ego issues ( most teachers in my experience including me have this to some extent but when we are in the classroom with another teacher we must let our ego take a back seat and remember that the students' future is the goal to focus on )
- inclusion with a group with a hostile class dynamic ( i.e. bullying etc. ) changing a class dynamic is possible depending on group size and pre-existing relationship between bullies. Also the teacher's resolve ( consistency and tenacity ), understanding of psychology and ability to "get under the skin" ( empathize and communicate with ) of the bullies plays a major role.
I have taught both special and general education and have found that encouraging the "brighter" students to teach and co-teach the "slower" students helps in the following ways;
- The brighter students learn important humanitarian social skills.
- The brighter students that are teaching what they've just learned have longer retention and deeper understanding.
- The brighter students have boosted confidence levels and a new paradigm when acting as teacher.
- The "slower" students no longer feel so isolated when they get peer instruction.
- Slower students have less negative pressure to perform and are encouraged more when classmates are helping them rather than making fun of them.
- Slower students find that they too have potential for genius in their own way, and others recognize that fact too.
We had a super bright student named Sam together in a class with a brain damaged boy named Pat. Sam liked to be the class clown and get into trouble. Since I used to be a Sam myself I appointed him as Pat's helper. They developed a friendship in the class which helped both of them to succeed. Of course Pat never caught up to Sam's level, but Pat started to really love learning and Sam felt a new sense of duty to help his friend Pat.
Another case was with our Autistic student Emily ( highly functioning ) and our star students Vivi and Ricky. Emily had intense emotional experiences where she would hit herself and other students. We used our system of classical conditioning to persuade Emily that she could achieve goals just like Ricky and Vivi and that her parents would be so very happy with her even just for trying. Keep in mind though that we brought about a huge change in Emily also because we had consistent communication and cooperation with her parents. Without them we would have gone nowhere because the impact they as her parents have on her psyche is so much greater than what we have as educators.
Though 90% or more of our lessons are "co-taught" many of them are inclusive either with kids of lower levels or with physical or emotional development disorders. Some of the parents of the "normal" kids have complained that the "slower" kids are holding their own kids back... We have explained to them that the value of helping others with less advantages is a more important life skill than any subject taught in the school. The majority of parents agree and let us continue. Only a few have taken their kids out due to this.
Some tools for co-teaching ( with another teacher, or a very high level student-teacher ) are as follows;
- Teacher A takes the "stage" engages the students as a group and Teacher B "sings the chorus" keeping wandering eyes etc. focused on Teacher A in a gentle and warm encouraging way.
- Teacher A and B then switch roles
- Teachers A and B split the group in various ways; boys and girls, left side / right side, older / younger, etc. depending on the specific activity.
- This might sound crazy but it works wonders. Teachers A and B have pre-rehearsed the course content so well that they can easily finish eachother's sentences and regularly trade off in intervals much like "Run DMC" or "Beastie Boys" sans the rap music. By chorusing eachother and finishing eachother's sentences and speaking in rhyme and rhythm even brain damaged students can reap great benefits. ( Check out the Dr. Oliver Sachs' work on brain plasticity )
Some techniques for inclusion are below;
- Before even getting into the semester, grab the bull by the horns. Let the kids know that we have a special student in class and that he is just like us but has more challenges than us and that it is our duty and our joy to help him. Let them get to know him and he them. ...I remember when I was in third grade we had another kid in our class that nobody talked to because he had wires coming out of his hat and to his backpack where he had some kind of monitoring device and we all thought he was weird. If I was his teacher now I would get as much info from his doctors and parents about his condition ( as sensitively as possible ) and then give the students a real education on what it means to walk in his shoes, to know him as a human being, to know his feelings, know also his strengths. I would then draw on some famous and remarkable disadvantaged / disabled people like Stephen Hawking, Beethoven, etc.
- use a points system in class that encourages good behavior and which dimensions also fall within the strong points of the disadvantaged kid(s);
* points for great attitude
* points for great effort
* points for helping others
* points for politeness
* points for admitting guilt and apologizing on one's own ( not an easy pill for anyone to swallow really )
* points for paying attention
* points for encouraging others
* points for being a good teammate
* you can think of many more i'm sure
- behavior posters; ask kids what behaviors are good and then ask them to help design the posters that list the expected behaviors in class.
- pride posters; ask kids what kinds of attitudes and actions make themselves and their parents proud of them, then again design it and post it
Here are some links that might prove useful;
Hope that helps! Feel free to ask me anything! I may or may not have the answer!
Thank you for your lengthy and well thought out reply. I'm a special educator and have co-taught with a few different teachers. I agree knowing the content and developing trust with the gen ed teacher is imperative to making inclusion and co-teaching work. It took years for a true co-teaching model to work between myself and an ELA and Math teacher. Unfortunately there has been a major shake-up in my school and I will be working with all new teachers (now 4 instead of 2). One of which will be a new hire so I wanted to get the perspective from others. I know I'll need to rein myself in and not overwhelm the new hire (math) but I don't want to be relegated to observing and hovering.
I agree that egos have to be shone the door. After all we are modeling cooperative behavior for the students.
Another important point in the co-teaching model I feel is that all the students belong to both teachers. They are not mine and yours. Yes as a special educator I have to make sure the students on IEP's are having their needs met but I've found so often that the strategies I teach them can benefit everyone. It also helps the student on an IEP to see the value of what he/she is learning in my skills class when they see others using it. Great carry over to generalization. If I want to be valued as a co-teacher then I also need to be responsible for some of the planning and evaluating.
I loved reading about your successes. Isn't it a wonderful feeling when two students with issues can learn from and support each other? How large are your caseloads? Next year I will have two sections of math and ELA 8 students in each (16 total) in inclusion along with 2 or 3 skills and strategies classes each day. Our class sizes will be approx 24. So 1/3 of the class will be on IEP's.
Thank you for the links. I could see using the first one with parents who have questions. It is concise and clear.
This is my first online PLN. Have you found others that relate to special education?
Again thank you for your thoughtful response.
Glad it helped!
Luckily I am able to control the class size an we generally have no more than 8 students in one group. For 2 year olds and under we have usually no more than four or five students per class. However we are currently exploring a 12 student model that has 3 teachers for students 5 years and up.
We are not a special needs school but we don't turn any student away either. Alot of the challenging kids we work with actually have no physical or even physiological developmental issues. Most of them are "little emperors" that just need some good Super Nanny family training. Basically we just work to replace their families' ineffective communication models with positive discipline / positive reinforcement conditioning. It is so important to get the whole family to understand that teachers, kids and family are all on the same team and integral parts of the "learning trinity".
Most of our student body is pretty easy going and special needs cases are the minority still. We really respect you guys that you can take on such a large number at a time! I've taught 60 student classes before ( without any special needs students in them ) and getting them to really learn effectively is quite a challenge indeed!
Are you in a senior position in relation to the new teachers? I have had more successes with students than I've had with teachers! I have found that immediate and consistent teaching quality feedback has helped to keep everyone's ego in check. For most teachers that come on board that have been teaching longer than me I always have had to prove to them my teaching worthiness it seemed before they could set their egos aside... Luckily I am in China and speak Chinese as well so they at least feel somewhat out of their element and are more open to suggestion.
I have found that likening co-teaching ( when used as teacher training ) as a pilot / co-pilot experience teachers seem to get it better when I let them know that it is nothing personal about their teaching style, etc. it's just that I pulled the nose up so we didn't hit a mountain. Another thing we use is rather than calling it co-teaching, we call it "tandem teaching". Kind of like tandem sky diving; One person maybe has more experience than the other, but we're both in it for the adventure and have fun with it.
I agree with you 100% about modeling behavior. We must practice what we preach. Who we are as people teaches others much much more than what we say... Especially parents and guardians. Mom is baby's first teacher and probably most influential one for their whole lifetime.
I don't know of any special ED PLN so far but maybe Thomas Whitby can recommend one? There is a small group on this site though; http://edupln.ning.com/group/special-education We can pool information there and upload more useful content!
You said "If I want to be valued as a co-teacher then I also need to be responsible for some of the planning and evaluating."
That is so very true. If you really want the students to reap the best possible benefit from the lessons then it is very important for the teachers to really sit down together and brainstorm for each class and each student. Not only is evaluating the students important, but also evaluating each other and ourselves. If possible it is really great to bring parents and guardians into this process too. Though they may not be educational experts, their opinions are truly invaluable as they know their kids better than anyone and care for their future more than anyone.
Seeing kids helping each other is really great. Seeing a family relationship go from parents blaming kids for bad grades to kids teaching their parents at home and the dark cloud over the whole family turning to sunshine really makes all of the headaches worth it. We can't help them all, but the ones we can help really get a new lease on life. For me the really special thing is seeing when parents and grandparents really learn how to empathize with and therefore better communicate with their kids and achieve their dreams without so much pressure to succeed.
Just wanted to do a quick followup. How are things going for you now?