Meeting the Needs of Students in a Collaborative
Class through Collaborative Lesson Planning
Jason J. Ellington
University of Mary Washington
EDUC351: Instructional Design and Assessment
Professor Janine S. Davis, Ph.D.
December 10, 2013
In the last few decades there has been an increased emphasis on including students with special needs in the general education classrooms. From the outset, this emphasis on inclusion has placed more pressure on general education teachers to meet the needs of all of their students. This pressure was met with the growth of the special education teacher specialty within school districts across the U.S. Initially these “specialized” teachers were references for the general education teachers to use, but more and more special education teachers are placed in the general education classroom in a co-teaching role. Given this inertia, the relationship between the general education teacher and the special education teacher is crucial to an effective classroom environment. One area where this relationship should be grounded and fostered is during lesson planning. Given that the general education teacher is the subject matter expert on curriculum and the special education teacher is the subject matter expert in the instruction of and the accommodations required of students with special needs, it only seems logical that they work as a team to map out the lessons for the class.
Key words: co-teaching, inclusion, lesson planning
Meeting the Needs of Students in a Collaborative Class through Collaborative Lesson Planning
Since the passage of Public Law 94-142, the Education of All Handicapped Children Act, schools have struggled with how to conform to the dictates of the law. More than abiding by the law, schools want to know how best to serve their students with special needs. The initial response by the states was to structure separate classrooms for those students with special needs in order to more readily meet those special needs. Historically, people with special needs, i.e., blind, severe cognitive or emotional disabilities, and the deaf, were placed in separate facilities all together. These people were seen as “defective” by society and were separated from the mainstream because of this defect. These individuals with special needs were not seen as being able to function in and contribute to society. The idea was not to educate the special needs population for life in society, but was more focused on providing humane care (Mungai & Kogan, 2005).
With the passage of Public Law 94-142, children with special needs were provided an education in a public school, not in a separate facility providing “humane care”. The idea of students with special needs being afforded the least restrictive environment (LRE) arose. It was that language that began the road to the inclusion we see today. The LRE is at the heart of why students with special needs are in general education classrooms. However, placing them in the general education class presents many problems, especially for the general education teacher, particularly if they have not received any specialized training as it relates to students with special needs (Mungai & Kogan, 2005).
Today, the problems associated with inclusion for the teacher is being answered by: 1) having the general education teacher receive specialized training in special education (typically a university survey course) , 2) increasing the number of special education teachers in the schools, and 3) placing those special education teachers in the general education classroom in a co-teaching situation. It is on this third solution that I want to focus. Who is responsible for what? What is the role of the general education teacher? The special education teacher? Specifically, what are the roles of each of these teachers as it relates to lesson planning?
Effective lesson planning is crucial to effective teaching. Teachers are taught how to construct objectives from the overarching standards that are required to be taught. Teachers are also taught to implement research-based models of instruction to effectively deliver lessons to students. What teachers aren’t taught is how to develop objectives and plan for instruction as a teammate in a co-teaching situation. Both teachers are educated in much the same way; knowing how to develop objectives, align assessments and lessons to those objectives, and how to appropriately deliver that lesson. In a co-teaching, inclusion classroom, what the general education teacher’s and the special education teacher’s responsibilities are as they relate to lesson planning is of paramount importance to effectively educating the children in the class. According to Mungai & Kogan (2005), “…an effective collaboration model involves a team of teachers working together as equal partners in interactive relationships, and all involved in all aspects of planning, teaching, and assessment” (p. 31). While this generalization is true, a lack of specialization in the areas of planning, teaching, and assessing will result in duplication of work and frustration on the part of the general and special education teacher.
Collaborative classroom situations vary from one school to another. In some schools a special education teacher with a degree in history may be co-teaching in a calculus class, while in other schools the special education teacher may have the background and skills in the requisite area. Given a lack of standardization of assignment, there should be established a minimum level of responsibility for both the general and special education teacher, especially in the area of lesson planning. The different knowledge and skills that the individual teachers bring to the classroom would be most useful during the planning process. The general education teacher’s knowledge of the subject matter and how it fits into the curriculum and the special education teacher’s knowledge of required accommodations of students with special needs within that classroom are examples of the background knowledge and skills that are unique and consistent to each teacher throughout their respective disciplines.
A collaboration model should be developed that, as its basis, accounts for the minimum individual responsibilities that each teacher in a collaborative classroom could follow. Limiting it to a minimum level would allow autonomy of the teaching team to develop a professional relationship on their terms. One model of instructional collaboration that could be used as the basis of the general educator-special educator team is the “one teaches, one supports” model. In the “one teaches, one supports” model “one teacher leads the lesson while the other assists in providing individual assistance and child monitoring” (Loreman, Deppeler, and Harvey, 2005, p. 86). This is an apt description of the basic collaborative teaching situation and could easily be modified whereas the special education teacher is teaching classes, grading assignments, etc., but no matter what the individual situation for the collaborative team, defining lesson planning responsibilities is paramount to capitalizing on the skills and expertise of both parties involved.
Given the uniqueness of each teacher’s skills and knowledge, the general education teacher, it should be said, is overall responsible for lesson planning, with the special education teacher having the ability to dictate accommodations and procedure for the students with special needs as delineated in the students’ Individual Education Plan (IEP) (Howard & Potts, 2009). From the perspective that the general education teacher is the subject matter expert for the curriculum being taught and the special education teacher is the subject matter expert for accommodations as outlined by the IEP, it should not be difficult to define their basic roles along those lines and allow them to grow as a team from there. The beginnings of any new collaborative team would have as its foundation this concept of the general-special educator team. The mismanagement of talent may result in special educators teaching content that they are not familiar with, while also neglecting to attend to the very students that they are trained to serve, those with special needs. This type of situation should be left to the collaborative team.
Howard, L., & Potts E. A. (2009) Using co-planning time: Strategies for a successful co-teaching marriage. TEACHING Exceptional Children Plus, 5(4), 2-12.
Loreman, T., Deppeler, J., & Harvey, D. (2005). Inclusive education: A practical guide to supporting diversity in the classroom. London: RoutledgeFalmer.
Mangai A., & Kogan, E. (2005). Pathway to inclusion: Voices from the field. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc.