Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Unlocking Expertise among Classroom Teachers through Structured Dialogue: Extending Research on Peer Collaboration

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Unlocking Expertise among Classroom Teachers through Structured Dialogue: Extending Research on Peer Collaboration

Article excerpt

One of the foremost challenges facing educators as they continue to strive for reform in education is how to enhance the capability of classroom teachers to meet the needs of students who are difficult to teach. Included in this broad category are not only students labeled with various categories of disabilities, but the ever-increasing number who are at risk for failure in school. The increase in the population of students experiencing difficulty in school reflects both the changing demographic nature of the population and the limitations of conventional approaches to curriculum and instruction, necessitating a fundamental reconceptualization of the way students who are not achieving are served and the way teachers deal with the diverse populations they teach.

In the current climate of school reform, many people have suggested effective structures for educating a diverse population of students. Within the general education community and among the ranks of classroom teachers, school-based decision making is influencing the way people are meeting these educational challenges. As more decisions are made at the building level, one potential outcome is that local staff members will take greater responsibility for instructing students in their schools and will rethink the allocation of human and fiscal resources to meet the diverse needs of those students. Coordinating services now administered separately through programs like Chapter 1, bilingual education, and special education (Allington & Johnson, 1989) is another way of acknowledging the magnitude of the problem and the need for schoolwide responsibility. A third approach is the intensive use of one-to-one reading tutors and an emphasis on full-time staff for family support (Madden, Slavin, Karweit, & Livermon, 1989).

Specifically within special education, people continually debate the reconceptualization of service delivery in light of the changing nature of the school population. Although educators disagree about the specific way such restructuring should proceed (see, e.g., Kauffman, Gerber, & Semmel, 1988; Reynolds, Wang & Walberg, 1987), special educators seem to agree that many more students than ever before are having problems in school and that the current organizational structure of special education is simply not equipped to meet the need. One clear trend is an attempt to extend special education to greater numbers of students who are experiencing difficulties in school through various interpretations of consultation between special educators or school psychologists and classroom teachers (Zins, Curtis, Graden, & Ponti, 1988) and informal teaming for problem-solving (Chalfant, Pysh, & Moultrie, 1979). The purpose of these expanded roles is to provide support to classroom teachers for any child with school problems, not just children labeled as having disabilities.

Most people agree that special educators face challenges in implementing these supportive functions. One persistent challenge is creating positive working relationships based on mutual respect and parity, rather than relying on a hierarchy in which classroom teachers receive prescriptions for interventions from an exclusive group of specialists (Friend & Cook, 1990; Johnson, Pugach, & Hammitte, 1988). Indeed, given the great numbers of students in need of assistance and the increasingly diverse students in schools, it seems naive to expect that special education need always play a major role in the development of alternative classroom interventions.

To address both of these concerns, we conducted a series of studies to examine the effectiveness of highly-structured, strategic dialogue between teachers as a way to develop specific classroom interventions for students who are not succeeding (Johnson & Pugach, 1991; Pugach & Johnson, 1990a). This dialogic process, known as peer collaboration, is based on the assumption that problems students exhibit in either behavior or learning are not driven totally by student "deficits" nor by teacher "deficits," but often represent an interaction of the two. …

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