New Models of Cooperative Teaching

By Walsh, James M.; Jones, Barbara | Teaching Exceptional Children, May/June 2004 | Go to article overview

New Models of Cooperative Teaching


Walsh, James M., Jones, Barbara, Teaching Exceptional Children


In a standards-reform era demanding increased access to general education classrooms by students with disabilities, how can less restrictive instructional alternatives like co-teaching be expanded in light of special education teacher shortages and tighter budgets?

This article describes the challenges and benefits of new models of co-teaching that work in schools today.

Although concern has been expressed in the special education literature regarding the need for more research on the instructional benefits of cooperative teaching (Zigmond, 2001), new laws and regulations call for full access to the general education curriculum for students with disabilities-with highly qualified teachers. In fact, this is a time to increase and not retreat from general education initiatives in our schools. Moreover, as school systems are significantly changing instructional programs in response to the standards-reform movement (Nolet & McLaughlin, 2000), and at the same time experiencing an increasing shortage of certified special education teachers (Kozleski, Mainzer, & Deschler, 2000), we need to develop alternative and additional means to support students with disabilities to successfully access general education classrooms.

After reviewing the benefits of cooperative teaching in the public schools of Anne Arundel County, Maryland, on the basis of parent, teacher, and student surveys; academic outcome data; and classroom observations, we propose four alternative models for co-taught classrooms that rely on flexible teacher schedules and the use of paraprofessionals. We describe the advantages and challenges of each model based on classroom teacher comments and experience.

Benefits of Cooperative Teaching

Since cooperative teaching was first suggested as a "mainstreaming strategy" (Bauwens & Hourcade, 1991, p. 19) and "a practical merger between general and special education integration" (Bauwens, Hourcade, & Friend, 1989, p. 17) that provides the direct and immediate support to students with disabilities accessing the general education classroom, many authors have written about best practices in co-teaching (Cook & Friend, 1995; Vaughn, Schumm, & Arguelles, 1997) and the "intuitive sense" co-teaching makes (Murawski & Swanson, 2001). Despite the dearth of experimental research in the area of co-teaching, the requirements for the least restrictive placement of students with disabilities is a foundational principle of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142) based on the long-standing lack of empirically derived research for more restrictive pullout models (Reynolds, Wang, & Walberg, 1987).

The most recent and complete analysis of the benefits of co-teaching as a less-restrictive instructional model for students with disabilities concluded, with some caution, that "co-teaching is a moderately effective procedure for influencing student outcomes" that "can have a positive impact on student achievement" (Murawski & Swanson, 2001, pp. 264-265). Included in this synthesis of quantitative data on the effectiveness of co-teaching were the results of earlier research conducted in the Anne Arundel County Public Schools finding that students in co-taught classrooms perform significantly better on state minimum competency tests as compared to students in similar general education classes without co-teaching (Walsh & Snyder, 1994). This research was conducted in response to early questioning regarding the efficacy of the "mainstreaming movement" and demonstrated that less-restrictive service options could result in positive outcomes for all students served by the collaborative efforts of a general and special education teacher in a co-taught classroom. Indeed, these academic outcome results complemented earlier survey research (Walsh, 1992) documenting that students with disabilities in Anne Arundel County Public Schools preferred co-taught classrooms to self-contained classroom placements, indicating that they enjoyed school more, learned more, and felt better about themselves in the general education classroom setting. …

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