ERIC Identifier: ED409317 Publication Date: 1997-07-00
Author: Ripley, Suzanne Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Teaching and Teacher Education Washington DC.
Collaboration between General and Special Education Teachers.
Historically, teachers have worked in isolation--one teacher to a classroom.
As children with disabilities entered the public schools in the 1970s, they were
taught in separate classrooms with their own teachers. Over the past 25 years,
these students have slowly moved into the flow of the regular classroom, thus
the use of the term "mainstreaming." However, students were mainstreamed for
selected subjects or parts of the day; they were not considered part of the
typical class. Now the philosophy is to include all students in the same class,
which has brought about teams of general education and special education
teachers working collaboratively or cooperatively to combine their professional
knowledge, perspectives, and skills.
The biggest change for educators is in deciding to share the role that has
traditionally been individual: to share the goals, decisions, classroom
instruction, responsibility for students, assessment of student learning,
problem solving, and classroom management. The teachers must begin to think of
it as "our" class. This Digest explores the facets of this new collaboration
between general and special education teachers.
WHAT IS COOPERATIVE TEACHING?
Cooperative teaching was
described in the late 1980s as "an educational approach in which general and
special educators work in co-active and coordinated fashion to jointly teach
heterogeneous groups of students in educationally integrated settings....In
cooperative teaching both general and special educators are simultaneously
present in the general classroom, maintaining joint responsibilities for
specified education instruction that is to occur within that setting" (Bauwens,
Hourcade, & Friend, 1989, p. 36).
The distinctive feature of cooperative teaching, which differs from earlier
approaches, is that it is direct collaboration with the general education and
special education teachers working together in the same classroom most of the
An effective team of teachers will work together as equal partners in
interactive relationships, with both involved in all aspects of planning,
teaching, and assessment. Areas for this collaboration will include curricula
and instruction, assessment and evaluation, and classroom management and
behavior. As one team teacher says, "the key to making co-teaching work is joint
planning. You must both know all the curriculum so that you can switch back and
forth and support each others efforts. If you don't know the curriculum you are
not a co-teacher, you are just an assistant" (Crutchfield, M. in press).
"In developing and implementing cooperative teaching, school professionals
experience great changes in the way they go about their daily work. To overcome
the inevitable fears and stresses associated with change, the educators involved
must feel that they are responsible for the change and that its success or
failure lies directly with them" (Bauwens & Hourcade, 1995, p. 189).
WHAT ROLE DOES EACH TEACHER PLAY?
In a collaborative model
the general education and special education teachers each bring their skills,
training, and perspectives to the team. Resources are combined to strengthen
teaching and learning opportunities, methods, and effectiveness. "The one point
that clearly developed from this relationship was that both of us had expertise
in many areas, and combining these skills made both teachers more effective in
meeting the needs of all students" (Dieker & Barnett, 1996, p. 7).
Typically the primary responsibility of general education teachers is to use
their skills to instruct students in curricula dictated by the school system.
Typically the primary responsibility of special education teachers is to provide
instruction by adapting and developing materials to match the learning styles,
strengths, and special needs of each of their students. In special education
situations, individual learners' needs often dictate the curricula.
General educators bring content specialization, special education teachers
bring assessment and adaptation specializations. Both bring training and
experience in teaching techniques and learning processes. Their collaborative
goal is that all students in their class are provided with appropriate classroom
and homework assignments so that each is learning, is challenged, and is
participating in the classroom process.
PLANNING FOR EFFECTIVE COLLABORATION
commitment by the teachers who will be working together, by their school
administrators, by the school system, and by the community. It involves time,
support, resources, monitoring, and, above all, persistence. However, the
biggest issue is time--time for planning, time for development, and time for
evaluating. Planning should take place at the district and the building levels,
as well as at the classroom level.
District planning helps ensure that all resources will be available,
including time, money, and professional assistance. District-level planning will
take into consideration the effect change in one place will have on other
settings. Building-level planning will assist the teams in being sure adequate
support is in place to sustain new initiatives. Principals play an extremely
important leadership role in facilitating collaborative efforts by instructional
Both district- and building-level planning should provide staff development
opportunities to encourage teachers and administrators to participate in
classes, workshops, seminars, and/or professional conferences on cooperative
teaching. Motivation is an important ingredient for success, but additional
skills will be needed to realize the goals teachers set for themselves and their
Planning also is a factor in selecting the students who will be part of the
collaborative process. It is important to keep natural proportions of typical
students, students identified as being at risk, and students who have been found
to have disabilities. Achieving a balanced classroom is easier at the elementary
and middle school levels than at the secondary level, where a certain amount of
grouping takes place with course selection.
A major consideration is in arranging planning times for co-teachers.
Co-planning must take place at least once a week, according to studies.
"Planning sessions were viewed as priorities by both teachers; they refused to
let other competing responsibilities interfere with their planning sessions"
(Walther-Thomas, Bryant, & Land, 1996, p. 260). The planning must be ongoing
to allow teachers to review progress on a regular basis, make adjustments,
evaluate students, and develop strategies to address problems either in
discipline or learning.
Walther-Thomas and her colleagues (1996) found that five planning themes were
identified by co-teachers who considered themselves to be effective co-planners:
*confidence in partner's skills;
*design of learning environments for both the educators and students that
require active involvement;
*creation of learning and teaching environments in which each person's
contributions are valued;
*development of effective routines to facilitate in-depth planning; and
*increased productivity, creativity, and collaboration over time.
Participants in collaborative programs agreed that the time required for
planning does not decrease during the year, but the quality of instruction
continues to improve.
TEACHER EDUCATION AND PROFESSIONAL
Collaboration should also be part of teacher preparation
programs. This begins with the understanding that all teachers will be working
with both typical and special needs students. Every teacher needs to study
teaching techniques, subject area(s), disability, individualization,
accommodation, and skills for collaboration in the classroom.
Time away from the classroom for consultation, professional conferences, and
additional training is vital to the success of any program. Teachers, related
service providers, and administrators will benefit from research findings on
collaborative teaching, inclusion, and related subjects.
Research findings on schools where collaborative
teaching has been practiced indicate student benefits for both special education
students and their typical peers. Walther-Thomas and others conducted a study of
inclusion and teaming in 1996 to assess collaboration between general education
and special education staff. Improvements were attributed to more teacher time
and attention, reduced pupil-teacher ratios generally, and more opportunities
for individual assistance.
Students with disabilities developed better self images, became less critical
and more motivated, and recognized their own academic and social strengths.
Their social skills improved and positive peer relationships developed.
Low-achieving students showed academic and social skills improvements. All
students gained a greater understanding of differences and acceptance of others.
All developed a stronger sense of self, a new appreciation of their own skills
and accomplishments, and all learned to value themselves and others as unique
Staff reported professional growth, personal support, and enhanced teaching
motivation. Collaboration brought complementary professional skills to planning,
preparation, and delivery of classroom instruction.
The concepts of individualized instruction,
multiple learning styles, team teaching, weekly evaluation, and detailed
planning are all of direct benefit to students. The purpose of the collaboration
is to combine expertise and meet the needs of all learners.
It is important that teachers receive preparation and classroom support. It
is also important that planning time continues to be available throughout the
school year. "Most important, all students win by being challenged by
collaborating teachers who believe that they are responsible for all children in
the classroom" (Angle, 1996, p.10).
References identified with an EJ or ED number
have been abstracted and are in the ERIC database. Journal articles (EJ) should
be available at most research libraries; most documents (ED) are available in
microfiche collections at more than 900 locations. Documents can also be ordered
through the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (800-443-ERIC).
Angle, B. (1996). Five steps to collaborative teaching and enrichment
remediation. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 29(1), 8-10. EJ 529 434
Bauwens, J., & Hourcade, J. J. (1995). Cooperative teaching: Rebuilding
the schoolhouse for all students. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed. ED 383 130
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. EJ 390 640
Crutchfield, M. (in press). Who's teaching our children? NICHCY News Digest.
Dieker, L. A., & Barnett, C. A. (1996). Effective co-teaching. TEACHING
Exceptional Children, 29(1), 5-7. EJ 529 433 Friend, M. & Cook, L. (1996).
Interactions. White Plains, NY: Longman.
Walther-Thomas, C. S., Bryant, M., & Land, S. (1996). Planning for
effective co-teaching: The key to successful inclusion. Remedial and Special
Education, 17(4), 255-264. EJ 527 660