Pathways to Planning

By Shure, Anne; Morocco, Catherine Cobb et al. | Teaching Exceptional Children, September/October 1999 | Go to article overview
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Pathways to Planning

Shure, Anne, Morocco, Catherine Cobb, DiGisi, Lori Lyman, Yenkin, Leslie, Teaching Exceptional Children

Improving Student Achievement in Inclusive Classrooms

The Challenge

Each school year, teachers across the United States find that it takes several months to get to know their students, academic capabilities and weaknesses and to identify which teaching strategies are helpful. This information gap results because teachers have few formal opportunities to meet with staff who have previously taught their students or currently work with them. Special education and classroom teachers rarely plan together, yet classroom teachers are still expected to provide optimal learning opportunities for all their students.

As schools include more students with disabilities in the general education classroom, teachers need to work more closely with each other and with parents to achieve the learning goals and standards adopted by their districts and states (Shriner, Ysseldyke, Thurlow, & Honetschlager, 1994). Increasingly, teams are designing individualized education programs (IEPs) around those academic standards, because the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that students with disabilities participate in district and state assessments. Classroom teachers need to connect with specialists and meet across grades to increase the continuity of instruction for all students and build a sense of shared responsibility among all teachers for the academic progress of students with disabilities in inclusive, standards-based classrooms.

One solution-Cross-Grade Teams

From October 1994 through September 1997, Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) worked in partnership with a socioeconomically and culturally diverse school district in the Boston area to support full inclusion of students with disabilities in two elementary schools, a smaller school with 260 students and a larger school with 630 students. The approach, Pathways for Learning (funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs), involved forming cross-grade teacher teams that met weekly to engage in collaborative planning, instruction, and assessment. The teams included classroom teachers from several grade levels, together with special education teachers, inclusion and behavioral specialists, guidance counselors, and music and physical education teachers.

Called the "Pathways Project," this partnership brought cross-grade teaming into both schools. As of 1999, both schools implemented cross-grade teaming schoolwide, including all teachers in the smaller school and most teachers in the larger school. During the 3-year project, each school had two crossgrade teams, with the teams in the smaller school including all of the classroom teachers in Grades 2-5. Figure 1 shows the composition of the four teams, including the classroom teachers and the varied specialists.

We provided three levels of support for cross-grade teaming:

At the district level, the superintendent and directors of special education and curriculum met with principals twice a year during the 3 years to verify that the project was focusing on standards-based outcomes valued by the district and to identify ways to support the work in each school.

At the school level, one teacher assumed the role of facilitator in each team, and these facilitators met monthly with the principal and with project staff from EDC.

At the team level, an EDC staff member provided coaching support to the facilitators and visited and advised each team.

A special education teacher described benefits of the approach to the city board of education in this way: "Pathways team members don't [have to] feel isolated because each team member acknowledges a shared responsibility to ensure that every student that has been identified as being part of the Pathways team receives appropriate educational services." This response is consistent with findings of school reform literature that collaborative work makes teachers less isolated (Fullan, 1990) and contributes to a sense of shared responsibility for student learning (Louis, Marks, & Kruse, 1996).

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