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The Single Most Contributing Factor to the Success of Special Needs' Students

April 28, 2013 posted by jaliveto

     So do I have your attention?  I remember almost 7 years ago reading in the Journal of Special Education that the single most contributing factor to success for special needs students is…………the success of their non-disabled peers.  The author suggested a “school-wide” effect on the performance of special needs’ students.  It almost seems like a no-brainer.  Have you ever analyzed the special education subgroup data in your district?  While it may not meet the mark on every case, the data in my county does reflect this statement.  Simply put, in schools where most students are meeting with success, so are special education students.  What is so profound about this statement is that students qualify for special education using the same criteria across states and districts.  Now being in 4 different middle schools in my county, I’ve often said that while ALL students are individuals, students who qualify for a learning disability at one school may have similar needs  to students who qualify for a learning disability at another school.  They are no more or less able to be educated with success.


     As I’ve reflected on this statement, I have seen it come to life in a number of different schools, but what “school-wide effects” are we talking about here.  While I would never claim to be an expert on school improvement, my first hand experiences would cause me to suggest that school leaders may wish to consider the following: 

 

  1. Does your staff (special and general education) believe that all students can learn and meet with success with the right program and instruction?
  2. Does your culture allow for a focus on learning?  (Are behaviors appropriately managed so that a teacher’s primary focus can be on teaching and learning?)
  3. Do teachers use data to break into flexible groups allowing for differentiated instruction? AND Do teachers have opportunities to work with students who require individual or small group support?  (Are their school-wide procedures for tutoring or re-teaching?)
  4. Has your school reviewed the research on grading, with specific attention given to the negative effects of the zero? (Check out Rick Wormelli’s work if you are interested in exploring this further)
  5. Has staff received training on various disabilities and instructional strategies to help students meet with success?  Do they embrace the Universal Design for Learning Guidelines and apply them regularly in their lesson planning?
  6. Is your culture collaborative?  Do teachers work together in professional learning communities to analyze student data against a common standard to determine what instructional actions or interventions must occur?
  7. Do you have a true Response to Intervention Model in place at your school for both academics and behavior?  What do the various levels of intervention look like?  Do all of the staff know when a Tier 2 or Tier 3 intervention are appropriate?

     The seven questions above may serve as a starting point as you begin to consider what “school-wide effects” may impact all of your students, including students with disabilities.  Whether it is school culture, professional learning communities, or keeping students motivated, I’d love to hear your thoughts on school-wide endeavors that support all students.

Collaborative Planning for Successful Co-Teaching-Part 2

June 19, 2012 posted by jaliveto

So you’ve been assigned to co-teach this school year, you’re paired up with a teacher who you are excited to work with and you have a group of students with disabilities mixed in with their non-disabled peers…now what? Collaborative planning must occur for successful or “effective” co-teaching to take place.

What are some keys to collaborative planning that you should consider?

  • Have my co-teacher and I gone through some important initial exercises to prepare us for a successful year of teaching together?

  • Do both my co-teacher and I understand the models of co-teaching?

  • Do my co-teacher and I have time reserved each week to plan collaboratively?

  • Do we have a lesson planning tool that will assist us as we work together?

By considering your responses to the questions above, you can begin to evaluate if you have what you need or are on the right track to meet the needs of the students in your classroom. This entry will address the second two questions.
 

Do my co-teacher and I have time reserved each week for us to plan collaboratively?
Each co-teaching situation may be slightly different. In some cases a general educator may potentially have only one or two sections of co-teaching assigned with the same special education partner or a special educator potentially having more than one teacher and content area they are responsible for co-teaching. While each situation may present different pros and cons, protected time to plan collaboratively for each co-teaching class must be scheduled each week for effective co-teaching to occur. For some teachers, this takes place during shared planning time on the same day each week. For others, this occurs before or after school with school or special education support funds. However it is accomplished for you and your co-teacher; ensure that it is protected time so that the students in your classroom will benefit from the arrangement of having two human resources in the classroom to meet their needs.


Without protected collaborative planning time, instruction may lean towards a one teach/one assist model of co-teaching in which one teacher leads, while the other teacher circulates to support individual students. This can be done with the support of a paraprofessional and while this may be needed for some learning episodes in a co-taught classroom, if this is what your classroom looks like the majority of the time, you may not be seeing the results you could see for your students. This may also be that classroom that administrators visit and walk away feeling that talented human resources are being wasted and that co-teaching may be ineffective.


Do we have a lesson planning tool that will assist us as we work together?
While many lesson planning templates may be out there for your use, consider your partnership and your class to determine the best tool that will work for you. Lesson planning templates are available in books on co-teaching as well as online, but don’t be afraid to adapt one that will work best to meet the needs of you and your co-teacher. What are some essentials to include? Well, obviously you must consider the basic essential questions for lesson planning:

  • What is it we want students to learn?

  • How will we know that they’ve learned it?

  • What learning episodes will occur to ensure that they’ve learned it?

  • How will we respond if students “do” or “do not” learn?

With collaborative planning, teachers must go a bit further within a basic lesson planning structure. Teachers must consider, as a team, the models of co-teaching that will be used with each of the learning episodes. Teachers will choose the best model by either analyzing student data, considering learning styles of students, or considering skills and abilities of each student. Sometimes consideration will be given to all three and most days teachers will use more than one model of co-teaching throughout the lesson. Our teachers organized the middle section of their lesson planning template to allow them to clarify:

  • Models of co-teaching for each learning episode

  • Responsibilities of each teacher for each model used

  • Special student needs that would require the delivery of supplementary aides or accommodations that would need to be considered with each learning episode

This minor adjustment to their lesson planning allowed our co-teachers to be highly responsive to the learners in their classroom, which ultimately increased achievement for students and increased staff morale around co-teaching. What planning tools have you found work the best for you and your co-teacher/s?
 

Collaborative Planning for Successful Co-Teaching-Part 1

February 9, 2012 posted by jaliveto

So you’ve been assigned to co-teach this school year, you’re paired with a teacher who you are excited to work with and you have a group of students with disabilities mixed in with their non-disabled peers…now what? Collaborative planning must occur for successful or “effective” co-teaching to take place. What are some keys to collaborative planning that you should consider?

  • Have my co-teacher and I gone through some important initial exercises to prepare us for a successful year of teaching together?

  • Do both my co-teacher and I understand the models of co-teaching?

  • Do my co-teacher and I have time reserved each week for us to plan collaboratively?

  • Do we have a lesson planning tool that will assist us as we work together?

By considering your responses to the above questions, you can begin to evaluate if you have what you need or are on the right track to meet the needs of the students in your classroom. This entry will address the first two questions.
 

Have my co-teacher and I gone through some important initial exercises to prepare us for a successful year of teaching together?

Before getting started with collaborative planning, some preparatory items must be addressed. Both teachers must have an understanding of the curriculum to be taught. Both teachers must have a common understanding of students with disabilities and how the various disabilities in their classroom may impact learning of the content. Once you feel as though the partnership is a good match based on the above two items, you must take some time to go over some basic management questions.

  • Who will be responsible for creating student materials?

  • Who will be responsible for grading student work?

  • Who will make parent contacts when it is necessary?

  • Finally, what are our styles or belief systems when it comes to student discipline and classroom routines?

In many good co-teaching partnerships the answer to the first three questions relating to “who” will be responsible for “what” is simply “we both will” or that one teacher may create materials and enter grades for let’s say word study and reading, while the other is responsible for primarily writing. Once you’ve set the tone for shared responsibility, it is important to consider teaching styles and personality. Is one of you very structured (students remain in seats, raise hands for questions, etc.) and is one of you more laid back (students move about the room as needed, may call out if it relates to the lesson)? There is no one “right” way to respond, but not discussing the above questions can lead to turmoil in the classroom and may cause stress and anxiety for the students. Take the time to discuss some of the above questions, so that your collaborative planning sessions are focused on objectives, assessment, and effective instructional strategies.

 

Do both my co-teacher and I understand the models of co-teaching?
Depending on what resource you use, you may find some slight variations to the models of co-teaching, but some common ones I’ve seen across various resources and in the classrooms in my building include the following:

  • Complimentary Teaching: When I think of Complimentary Teaching, I think of what each person contributes to the instruction that compliments or supports what the other person is doing. For example, if one teacher is leading the class in a reading exercise, while the students are responding to reading questions, the second teacher may be recording notes under the document camera or on a word document projected to the screen. While the first teacher is providing solid support for auditory student learners, the second teacher is providing support for visual learners.

  • Station Teaching: When using Station Teaching, teachers often plan for students to rotate through each area to either attend to various learning objectives or to gather information from a variety of resources all with the focus on one objective. Either way, with station teaching, all students often rotate through each station working in smaller and more manageable groups of students. This can help with classroom dynamics and allow the teachers to spend time facilitating learning in one or more key areas, while students may work more independently in others.

  • Flexible Grouping: While there can be many variations of this model, our teachers have found that in its most simple form, flexible grouping can be the most responsive to student needs. Our co-teachers take the approach with almost any indicator -- they should plan how they will respond when students “do” or “do not” learn the information based on their assessment. Once this information is gathered, they break into groups with an activity that will allow for extension of the learning objective and an activity that will allow for re-teaching of the objective, perhaps using different resources or targeting a different learning modality.

  • Parallel Teaching: Parallel teaching is often utilized when all students need to participate in a learning episode, but when breaking into smaller groups can allow for greater informal assessment of the content and attention to individual needs. This can reduce distractions for students and allow for greater support in delivering accommodations. Depending on the needs in the classroom, the groupings may change based on the objective to be learned.

Many folks use the common name of “team teaching” but by using the above descriptors, teachers can sometimes get a better feel for the distinctions from one to the other. After all, in all of the above, you are working as a team to support student needs, but the delivery looks slightly different as noted in the descriptions above. Most counties have a professional development staff that delivers PD sessions on the models of co-teaching and the Maryland Learning Links website has resources available on the topic as well. Regardless of what source you use, make sure you and your co-teacher have a common understanding of the models so that you can incorporate them successfully into your daily instruction.
 

Is scheduling a collaborative process at your school?

December 28, 2011 posted by jaliveto

Who is involved in scheduling students with special needs at your school?  What process is followed?

So You Say You Have Got the Right Teachers for a Co-Teaching Partnership, but Do You Have the Right Students?

December 7, 2011 posted by jaliveto

Selecting the right teachers to instruct in a co-taught classroom may seem like the easy task, a given, a first priority even, but have you ever considered who are the students that you’ve scheduled into your co-teaching sections? I’ll never forget going into a school for my first year as an Assistant Principal and spending much of the first year learning the ropes of the job and getting to know the staff. Admittedly as a former special educator and co-teacher myself, I gravitate towards this part of my job as an instructional leader. Rather quickly, I got to know the staff working in our co-taught sections, as well as the students. It didn’t take me long to notice that the class sizes were very small. Could they be too small? As I got to know the students and attend their IEP meetings, I started to identify the “problem” in my mind. However, I am a data person, so I went to our registrar and asked her to run the class lists including our special education identification code on the report. In no time at all, the facts were right there in front of me on the report…..our co-taught classes were not an inclusive environment at all, but rather a “self-contained” setting in which two teachers - a general educator and special educator - were assigned.


Now as passionate as I am about inclusive education and educating special needs students in the least restrictive environment, this was like discovering that you had inaccurately scheduled an 8th grade student into a 6th grade class. Who does this? Now I must acknowledge that this was not the case in each section at each grade level, but in sections that did have some general education students, it was disproportionate to the extreme. Needless to say, I began working on this with our administrative team, scheduling committee and co-teachers in the months that followed so that the next school year, we were at the very least ensured that we had an inclusive setting in our co-taught classes and we were teaching the grade level curriculum.


So what is the right grouping of students? Everyone seems to have an opinion - and there may be no magic formula - but supervisors should consider a class size that will successfully allow the co-teachers to work in flexible groups and nicely implement the models of co-teaching. The supplementary aides and services required based on each student’s I.E.P. should be considered, and may require the class size to be slightly smaller than the norm to ensure that student needs are met. While again there is no magic number, I’ve witnessed successful co-teaching in classes ranging from 15-22, depending on the needs of the students. Because the teachers are charged with teaching the grade level curriculum and making adaptations or modifications based on individual need, it is critical that students who can succeed in the general curriculum are included in the classes.


While administrators can consider class size and balance of general and special education students, final consideration must be the individual student needs and class dynamics. One critical piece to selecting the “right” students for each section is communication and collaboration with the special education staff. A clear vision must be developed from input shared on each student by multiple stakeholders and a review of multiple data points. This collaborative process at my current school took from January through June. The staff knew that we were going to consider the greatest level of challenge and independence for each student; that our goal was to educate in the least restrictive environment; that we would review multiple data points, and that we would consider input from special educators, general educators, counselors, specialists, parents and administrators. It was an amazing process, and it allowed us to go into the school year with confidence and a strong spirit of collaboration and shared accountability.
 

Some special educators - even administrators - somehow believe that simply because students have an I.E.P., they should automatically be placed in a co-taught setting to receive their services. Hopefully we are moving beyond this misconception; however, at times I have seen that it still seems to stump some educators. Remember that other specialists, interventionists and teachers can and must deliver services to students. We must challenge our students at their highest level of potential, which is why a continuum of services is so critical. Many come across students who have special needs in one area and special gifts in another. For that math student who needs an above grade level course, but requires support with reading and writing, we must have a schedule that will allow for this. This student must NOT be placed in a section that will require him to have a co-taught math classroom, but should be in an above grade section for math AND able to receive support in his or her LA class with another “level” or “layer” of support. I’m certain we can all think of some special needs students who because of their high intellectual functioning may not be appropriately serviced in a co-taught classroom. Is there a collaborative process to schedule students at your school? Are your co-taught classes an inclusive environment? What has worked or not worked for you?