Benefits of Co-Teaching in Secondary Mathematics Classes

By Magiera, Kathleen; Smith, Cynthia et al. | Teaching Exceptional Children, January/February 2005 | Go to article overview

Benefits of Co-Teaching in Secondary Mathematics Classes


Magiera, Kathleen, Smith, Cynthia, Zigmond, Naomi, Gebauer, Kelli, Teaching Exceptional Children


What can secondary special education teachers do to provide access to the general curriculum, especially in math? How are they to prepare their students for high-stakes testing programs, with new accountability requirements? How can special and general education teachers work together for the benefit of their students in secondary schools?

Here we examined a familiar topic, co-teaching, in a new light and in view of recent mandates and required measures (see box, " What Does CoTeaching Mean?"). The article is based on observations of real-life co-teaching programs, and includes recommendations from practitioners and researchers for what co-teaching could bring to many students.

Why Co-Teach in MaHiemalies?

The mathematics curriculum at the high school level is more content specific than at the lower grades, often with high-stakes assessments attached to the courses. secondary mathematics teachers have highly specialized training in mathematics content, with a limited number of courses focused on how to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

Special education teachers, on the other hand, have in-depth knowledge of individual student learning but limited knowledge of mathematics content. secondary special educators are skilled at accommodating the general education curriculum to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

Co-teachers in mathematics are expected to blend their expertise in the mathematics classroom, and provide instruction to all of the students, including students with disabilities. The secondary mathematics teacher brings content knowledge to the classroom while the special education teacher brings knowledge of student learning to the classroom. This "marriage" should improve instruction for students with disabilities placed in general education classrooms.

Let's examine what co-teaching looks like in secondary mathematics classes and what it could look like when team members have the right supports.

What Do secondary Co-Taught Mathematics Classes Really Look Like?

As part of a larger study of secondary co-teaching, we sent observers out to eight typical high schools to observe and take notes in co-taught mathematics classes. In these classes, students with disabilities were included and two teachers (a special and general educator) were scheduled to be in the classroom for the same period. Specifically, we wanted to know what special education teachers were doing in secondary classrooms during mathematics instruction.

Trained observers conducted 49 observations of secondary co-taught mathematics classes. The high schools were located in two mid-Atlantic states and included urban, suburban, and rural districts. There were 10 pairs of co-teachers whose classes were observed.

The observers hand-wrote narrative notes to document the roles of mathematics teachers and special education teachers. Every 5 minutes for an entire class period (40-50 minutes), the observers described the instructional roles of the teachers. We conducted three of the observations in the beginning of the second semester and up to three more observations later in the semester.

What Did the Observers Note?

The most common role assumed by both teachers in the mathematics classrooms we observed was monitoring of independent practice. Both teachers would check student progress in completing an assignment, which would often be done as homework if not finished in class. The other role most common to the special education teacher was assisting students in the classroom as the mathematics teacher maintained the role of primary instructor. Cook and Friend (1996) described this as an appropriate role in the beginning stages of co-teaching when the partners are developing a relationship with each other. Teachers participating in our study, however, had co-taught for 3 to 5 years but had not gone beyond this initial stage of co-teaching.

In 33 of the 49 mathematics observations, both teachers monitored students as they completed independent assignmerits. …

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