FUTURE PRACTICES IN INCLUSIVE SCHOOLING:A FOCUS ON CO-TEACHING
Prof. Dr. Nasir Sulman
Department of Special Education
University of Karachi
Co-Teaching is defined as two teachers (teacher candidate and cooperating teacher) working together with groups of students; sharing the planning, organization, delivery, and assessment of instruction, as well as the physical space.
Various initiatives have resulted in the emergence of numerous definitions and multiple interpretations of co-teaching. Most definitions have five common elements: general and special education teacher involvement, co-planning, co-instruction, heterogeneous groups, and shared physical space. For example, Cook and Friend (1995) defined co-teaching as “two or more professionals jointly deliver substantive instruction to a diverse or blended group of students in a single physical space”. While co-teaching definitions generally run along similar lines, lack of specificity for implementation of co-teaching elements leaves room for multiple interpretations and “what is out there in the name of co-teaching” suggests most models are in the early stages of development.
Traditional student teaching models often identify a designated period of time for the student teachers to “solo” while the new co-teaching model for student teaching uses the idea of becoming a “lead” teacher instead. Both ideas have merit for different reasons.
Co-Taught Classrooms: Teacher Roles
The rationale for co-teaching is based on the premise that the general educator and the special educator combine individual expertise to benefit all students. Ideally, skilled special and general educators bring not only an extra pair of hands, but also highly specialized instructional techniques to co-teaching relationships.
The special education teacher provides additional support in the classroom and supplements the content area knowledge of the general education teacher with knowledge and expertise related to teaching students with disabilities. This expertise includes an understanding of how disabilities impact academic performance as well as knowledge of specific instructional practices, accommodations and enhancements to increase access to the general education curriculum for students with disabilities.
Ideally, the special education teacher has expertise in learning styles, learning strategies, behavior modification, diagnostic/prescriptive teaching, and accommodations, and the general education teacher has expertise in content area, scope and sequence of curriculum, presentation of curriculum, large group management strategies, and an objective view of academic and social development. The delivery of coordinated and substantive instruction by both teachers is recognized as the hallmark of true co-teaching. Joint and simultaneous direct provision of instruction is the most distinctive feature of the cooperative teaching model.
Students with disabilities require increased student-teacher interaction, frequent feedback, close monitoring of skill acquisition, and additional planning for instruction. Co-teaching offers opportunities for these enhanced learning options. High involvement teaching strategies afford all students in co-taught classroom with increased opportunities for active participation and teacher interaction. The intention of co-teaching is that the presence of two teachers with individual expertise will lead to both qualitative and quantitative differences in instructional delivery as compared to what is possible in a classroom taught by a single general education teacher.
Variations in co-teaching arrangements are based on co-teaching definitions as well as internal and external factors. Bauwens et al. (1989) described three cooperative teaching options: complementary instruction (general educator is responsible for teaching subject matter) while special educator assists students with academic survival skills; team teaching (joint planning and delivery of instruction by special and general educator); and supportive learning activities (supplements designed by the special educator to enhance content delivery by the general educator). Cook and Friend (1995) further delineated these roles identifying five commonly implemented co-teaching structures: one teach, one assist, station teaching, parallel teaching, alternative teaching, and team teaching.
Several collaborative teaching approaches have proven to be successful to guide educators who work together in co-teaching partnerships to differentiate instruction. The approaches include:
- Supportive Co-teaching – where the one member of the team takes the lead role and the other member rotates among students to provide support
- Parallel Co-teaching – where support personnel and the classroom teacher instruct different heterogeneous groups of students
- Complementary Co-teaching – where a member of the co-teaching team does something to supplement or complement the instruction provided by the other member of the team (e.g., models note taking on a transparency, paraphrases the other co-teacher’s statements)
- Team Teaching – where the members of the team co-teach alongside one another and share responsibility for planning, teaching, and assessing the progress of all students in the class.
Some co-teaching approaches (e.g., complementary and team teaching) require greater commitment to, comfort with, and skill in collaborative planning and role release (i.e., transferring one’s specialized instructional responsibilities over to someone else). It is recommended that collaborative teams select among the co-teaching approaches, as needed, based up the curriculum demands of a unit or lesson and student learning characteristics, needs, and interests.
When deciding which approach to use in a given lesson, the goal always is to improve the educational outcomes of students through the selected co-teaching strategies. Many beginning co-teachers start with supportive teaching and parallel teaching because these approaches involve less structured coordination among the co-teaching team members. As co-teaching skills and relationships strengthen, co-teachers then venture into the complementary teaching and team teaching approaches that require more time, coordination, and knowledge of and trust in one another’s skills.
Challenges and Obstacles to Co-teaching
Co-teaching places multiple demands on teachers, and requires thorough preparation in collaborative strategies and techniques. Potential problems cited by co-teachers include lack of professional development opportunities in the area of co-teaching and limited classroom support in the early stages of implementation. Teachers report difficulties with the compatibility and flexibility of team members, finding planning time, curricular development, ethical and professional issues, classroom management, assessment issues, and efficient communication.
Negative attitudes toward inclusion have been identified as barriers to successful implementation of co-teaching models. Loveland, McLeskey, Swanson, & Waldron (2001) found teachers with experience in positive, successful inclusive school programs showed significantly more positive perspectives regarding inclusion than teachers who had not been in inclusive programs. Non-inclusion teachers expressed concerns about the preparation of their school for inclusion, their possible roles and functions in an inclusive program and the influence on students without disabilities.
While educators are generally positive about co-teaching, there are some areas about which they express concerns. These tend to be related to:
- Lack of administrative support
- Lack of co-planning time
- Issues of shared control
- Differences in teaching style or management philosophy
Class schedules pose a major challenge to co-teachers particularly at the secondary level.
Efforts to balance classrooms rosters with natural proportions of students with disabilities can place unreasonable demands on special education teachers.
The limited role of the special educator is most frequently cited as a concern with the model. Co-teaching takes many forms ranging from true partnership to differentiations and subservience. Evidence suggests the general education co-teacher does the most in the inclusive classroom. Factors impacting the role of the special educators include the amount of time available for shared planning, the content area knowledge of the special educator, the level of trust between co-teaching partners, and the level of academic need of the students with disabilities in the co-taught classroom.
Teachers face multiple challenges in the implementation of co-teaching includes, identifying a lack of sufficient, deliberately scheduled planning time, scheduling of students into co-taught classes, excessive caseloads for special educators, varying levels of administrative support, and absence of staff development as primary impediments. Gately and Gately (2001) identified three developmental stages in co-teaching relationships: the beginning stage, the compromise stage, and the collaborative stage. Ideally, co-teachers will move through these stages as the teaching relationship develops. One of the primary components of successful co-teaching understands of the process and the willingness to be flexible as the process develops.
Efficacy of Co-Teaching Models
Teacher centered evaluations have been the primary focus of co-teaching research. Researchers have studied how teachers develop collaborative relationships, restructure and adapt curriculum and instruction, and share responsibilities for planning, instruction, and evaluation for the benefit of all students, both with and without disabilities. The findings of various researches highlight the need for more student centered evaluations and in particular investigations of learning outcomes to provide empirical support for co-teaching as a service delivery model for students with disabilities.
Teacher perceptions of co-teaching efficacy have provided insight into benefits of the model. A comprehensive evaluation of the literature revealed, in general, that what is known about co-teaching is that teacher attitudes toward shared responsibility in the inclusion of students with disabilities are improving and attitudes and satisfaction with various forms of teaming are favorable. Identified teacher benefits include increased professional satisfaction and opportunities for professional growth, personal support, and increased opportunities for collaboration. Generally, teachers perceived instructional adaptations desirable, but practical only in the context of a skilled, compatible co-teaching team.
The Benefits of Co-Teaching for Students with Special Needs
According to Walther-Thomas (1997), benefits of co-teaching for students with disabilities reported by teachers and principals included positive feelings about themselves as capable learners, enhanced academic performance, improved social skills, and stronger peer relationships. In addition, co-teaching benefits reported for students without disabilities included improved academic performance, more time and attention from teachers, increased emphasis on cognitive strategies and study skills, increased emphasis on social skills, and improved classroom communities.
Research studies have shown that co-teaching can be very effective for students with special needs, especially those with milder disabilities such as learning disabilities. When implemented correctly, co-teaching can be a very successful way to teach all students in a classroom setting. On the other hand, uninformed teachers can poorly implement this model which will not yield positive results for students. Some of the benefits are listed below:
- Students with disabilities are provided access to the general education curriculum and general education setting
- Students with disabilities will still receive specialized instruction
- Students will have the opportunity to be taught in an intense, individualized manner
- Greater instructional intensity and differentiated instruction
- Teachers will learn from each other’s expertise and expand the scope of their teaching capacity
- Reduces negative stigma associated with pull-out programs
- Students with disabilities may feel more connected with their peer group
Limitations of the Research on Co-Teaching
Many researchers withhold judgment on co-teaching based on observations of the often-limited role of special education teacher and the predominance of traditional whole class instruction. Findings demonstrate “the full capacities of the co-teaching model are not being realized”
(Zigmond et al., 2003).
Researchers must differentiate between models representing little more than “co-assignment” and those meeting defined co-teaching criteria. This distinction calls into question conclusions on co-teaching and student achievement based on models that may not have been fully realized. At the very least, such conclusions should be characterized as premature.
Bauwens, J., Hourcade, J. J., & Friend, M. (1989). Cooperative teaching: A model for general and special education integration. Remedial and Special Education, 10(2), 17-22.
Cook, L., & Friend, M. (1995). Co-teaching: Guidelines for creating effective practices. Focus on Exceptional Children, 28(3), 1-16.
Gately, S. E., & Gately, F. J. (2001). Understanding co-teaching components. Teaching Exceptional Children, 33(4), 40-47.
Loveland, T., McLeskey, J., So, T. H., Swanson, K., & Waldron, L. (2001). Perspectives of teachers toward inclusive school programs. Teacher Education and Special Education, 24(2), 108-127.
Walther-Thomas, C. S. (1997). Co-teaching experiences: The benefits and problems that teachers and principals report over time. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 30(4), 395-408.
Zigmond, N., Magiera, K., & Matta, D. (2003). Co-teaching in secondary schools: Is the instructional experience enhanced for students with disabilities? Paper presented at the Council for Exceptional Children Annual Convention and Expo, Seattle, WA.