Class within a Class: A Systematic Approach to Teaching High School Mathematics Students with Special Needs

Article excerpt

Abstract

A general education teacher completed an action research project in order to serve his students with special needs better by truly incorporating a special education teacher in co-teaching. By doing so with a set routine each day, the students were able to gain more mathematics understanding and experience a more positive learning experience in mathematics class. The class time was split into four distinct segments each day, and a template was provided to each student in order to make taking notes and understanding concepts easier. Both teachers taught important concepts reaching all students. The data is supportive of increased student achievement after t-tests were completed on student test scores from the first year of co-teaching (with little structure and little teaching by the special education teacher) to the second year of co-teaching where the class structure and effective co-teaching guidelines were used.

Background

This study is based on an action research project that focused on using data to improve teaching students with special needs. The instructor who engaged in action research was in his first few years of teaching, and had only experience teaching general education mathematics classes. In his second year of teaching, he was given the opportunity to teach a "class within a class." The instructor was informed that this type of class had a specific balance of students diagnoses with learning disabilities versus students with no diagnosis, as well as a teacher from the Special School District present in class to help co-teach the class.

In a typical "class within a class" (CWC) structure, a group of students, some with disabilities and some without, are taught together with a general education teacher and a special education teacher in one classroom. Traditionally co-taught classrooms involve the general education teacher teaching the lesson with the special education teacher assisting by helping keep students on task and answering individual questions as needed (Magiera, Smith, Zigmond, & Gebauer, 2005; Friend & Reising, 1993). In general, the special education teacher often is more supportive while the general education teacher often leads the class. In many instances, the first year of co-teaching is exactly what is listed above: the mathematics teacher leading the class while the special education teacher is the support. However, for co-teaching to be effective, teachers must move beyond this kind of arrangement. There are, in fact, a variety of methods for co-teaching, and the description below explains only two models (see Friend & Reising, 1993, for descriptions of various methods).

The first year the instructor taught the "class within a class," he taught it the same "traditional" way he always taught his Algebra IB classes. For example, he provided examples on the board, engaged students to work problems at their desks and answer questions, and encouraged students to take notes and write down examples. The only difference was that a CWC teacher helped students one-on-one during lectures, made copies of notes for students who were absent, helped keep students on task, and occasionally made a comment to support what the general education teacher taught. At the end of the year, there was not a noticeable difference in the performance of the students in the CWC classes compared to the previous year (classes with few documented students with disabilities). The discipline was better, but student understanding did not seem affected. The instructor realized that having a second adult in the room did not really impact student achievement. Therefore, the mathematics instructor and special education teacher began to examine the classroom environment with the following questions:

1. How could student understanding and retention improve?

2. How could the CWC teacher's skills be utilized the best?

3. How could both teachers sustain the attention of more students for a greater period during class? …