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Some classes at Carroll County High School are completing their first year with two teachers who share duties as part of the district’s effort to integrate special education students into regular classes.
The Carroll County Board of Education learned more about the district’s co-teaching model being used in math, biology, social studies and English at its meeting Thursday night.
Carroll County Superintendent Lisa James said this is the first year they have tried this teaching model with eight teachers at the high school level.
James said that Director of Special Education Sheila Anderson learned about co-teaching at a national conference and brought the concept back to Carroll County. She said Anderson and several others visited a school district in West Virginia that is using the teaching model to learn more about it.
“This year has been a training year for these guys — both regular ed and special ed teachers,” Anderson told the board of education. “They have done a great job this year.”
She said teachers have been attending training and going to monthly meetings to develop and implement co-teaching in the county.
Three sets of the co-teachers made presentations during the meeting.
Teachers Kathy Cook and Mandy Wilson co-teach biology.
Cook said the biggest challenge for them was when they “dissolved our self-contained unit.” This meant that some of the more challenging students, who in the past were kept out of regular classrooms, would be moving into them this school year.
Another challenge was scheduling between the teachers and getting the students in these classes, she said.
“Co-teaching is a way to provide special services,” Cook said. “There’s been a lot of different models over the years.” She said early on it was resource teaching with special education students in their own classes. That moved to collaboration where some special ed children moved into the classroom. It then became a consultant model “where we would just pop in and say ‘is everything OK.’” This grew to become more collaboration where the special education teachers were in the regular classroom to assist their students.
“Co-teaching is like collaboration; it’s just one more step up,” Cook said. “It’s two or more professionals with licenses. These are certified teachers that are in the classrooms.”
She said special ed teachers have training in the knowledge and strategies for specially designed instruction. Cook said this is better for students than working with para-professionals who might only be able to assist with an assignment or with taking notes.
“A certified teacher can help deliver the lesson,” she said.
Even though Cook co-teaches biology, she has no training in the subject matter.
She said she will discuss test questions and why it is important to look at something a certain way, while her co-teacher Wilson offers the instruction.
The co-teacher’s participation in a class depends on the knowledge and confidence that the teachers have, she said. In some cases, the co-teacher may have a degree in social studies, as well as special education.
“Next year, I hope to step in more because I’ve had biology now — high school biology,” she said.
Wilson said that Cook will come in and offer students good ideas on how to learn some of the content, because some of it is new to her.
“It’s been a really nice perspective to have her view on things,” Wilson said.
Wilson said this has changed mindsets because everyone realizes that “there are really two teachers in here.” The second teacher is no longer just someone “sitting in back” to help special education students.
Anyone in the class can be helped by both teachers, not just special education students.
It’s not about one teaching one day and the other the next. Wilson said it’s a constant “back and forth with the both of us.”
Teachers Mike Weedman and Brian Dorfshefski co-teach social studies.
Dorfshefski reviewed several methods for co-teaching that the pair use in their classroom.
They don’t use the one teach, one observe method often because it is not encouraged.
Instead, Dorfshefski said they frequently use station teaching, playing a video of it with small groups around their room. The goal of this is that someone walking into the room wouldn’t be able to tell who is the special ed teacher and who is the general ed teacher, he said.
Dorfshefski said parallel teaching is another method they use, showing a video of the class divided into even groups. He and Weedman both offer instruction to students at the same time.
He said they also use team teaching most frequently. “We call it tag-teaming,” Dorfshefski said. With this model the two take turns leading instruction. They played a video showing how they share the teaching duties.
Two other methods not frequently used are alternate teaching and one teach, one assist, he explained.
With alternate teaching, Dorfshefski said, there is large group instruction with small group instruction behind it. With alternate teaching, it is likely that special ed students will end up in the small group adding to the stigma that they are “pulling out the special ed kids again.”
One teach, one assist would involve the general education teacher taking the lead in teaching. It would leave the special ed teacher to go around and assist students who need help, which is not ideal for the co-teaching model.
Dorfshefski’s teaching partner praised this new teaching method.
“In my opinion, it’s the best strategy that I’ve used inmy seven years of teaching,” Weedman said.
Weedman said he believes one of the most important parts of this model is having someone qualified in the subject they are co-teaching. In addition to being a special ed teacher, Dorfshefski studied social studies in getting his degree to teach. With two teachers in the classroom, he said students get different perspectives on the lessons they are teaching.
Weedman said co-teaching provides the least restrictive atmosphere for some students because they feel more comfortable, opening them up to participating.
It’s important that one is not viewed as a regular ed teacher and one as a special ed teacher. “We’re both the same,” he said. In the beginning, Weedman said, students might have seen it that way, but now without a doubt they view both as their full teachers.
“It’s been great,” Weedman added, saying it has helped both him and the students.
Dan Mahoney and Stacy Tuttle co-teach two sections of 11th grade English.
“This co-teaching model has been very helpful for me,” Mahoney said. In the past, he said he has worked with collaborative teachers who would be sitting with special education students while he presented the curriculum.
Mahoney said this left collaborators not being used until their students needed to produce an assignment.
With co-teaching, he said, Tuttle is a lot more active.
In the third hour class, she is the primary facilitator. “I’m kind of in a secondary role in that class,” he said.
Tuttle said it is good to take turns in the classroom. For example, she said she is more familiar with “A Raisin in the Sun,” while Mahoney is familiar with “Death of a Salesman.”
The students respond well to co-teaching, Tuttle said. “We’ve seen through the course of the year”
At the beginning of the school year, Tuttle said there were more behavior problems in the class as students learned how co-teaching worked. Once it became clear that she has ownership in the class, she said it made it easier for her and these behavior problems decreased.
No one from the math co-teaching class could attend the board meeting to discuss the fourth area offered at CCHS.
Board Chairman Mona Kindoll wanted to know if special education students are not in a class by themselves, but always in regular classes.
Cook said that is the case, except for a study skills class they offer special ed students on math and reading. This one hour of the day is in addition to their regular classes, Anderson said.
“We’ve got to get you on the road,” James said. “People are begging for strategies to help high school meet the needs of special ed and you’ve done a tremendous job.”
After the meeting, James said the district has looked for a way to improve instruction and academics for special education students.
“When in high school, the special education population struggles more with the rigors of the content,” she said.
Looking ahead to next school year, James said the co-teaching model will continue at the high school level, giving the district a chance to see what type of impact it will have for special education students.
During the meeting, Cook said that one additional co-teacher will be added next year to include the arts as part of the co-teaching model.
James said that once data is in on co-teaching, the district might consider using this teaching model in the middle school.