Though it’s easy to assume that the responsibility of addressing the educational and developmental needs of students with disabilities should be the responsibility of special education staff, the real starting points are the general education (gen-ed) curriculum and classroom. This is especially important to create truly inclusive educational experiences. To that end, collaboration among staff, general education and special education staff alike, is crucial. In order for this to work, a number of strategies should be considered for implementation.
One such collaborative strategy that has received significant attention in the literature is co-teaching (Fenty, McDuffie-Landrum, & Fisher, 2012; Zigmond & Magiera, 2001). Co-teaching is education delivery model in which a general educator and a special educator “share responsibility for planning, delivering, and evaluating instruction for a diverse group of students, some of whom are students with disabilities” (Zigmond & Magiera, 2001, p. 1). Co-teaching is best for students with “high-incidence disabilities – students with mild mental retardation, behavior disorders, or learning disabilities – whose Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) call for adapted instruction” to the gen-ed curriculum (Zigmond & Magiera, 2001, p. 1). This is done by integrating both the student with disabilities and their special education teacher in the gen-ed classroom; both the gen-ed teacher and the special education teacher are responsible for teaching (Zigmond & Magiera, 2001). The literature indicates that in order for co-teaching to be successful, both educators must play an active role in the process (Fenty, McDuffie-Landrum, & Fisher, 2012). The main benefit of co-teaching is that the skills and talents of both teachers are utilized, meaning that both aspects of a disabled student’s needs are met: their basic educational needs and their special needs.
There are different ways to employ co-teaching. Zigmond & Magiera (2001) offer several different co-teaching strategies: one teaching/one assisting; station teaching; parallel teaching; alternative teaching; and team teaching. The one teaching/one assisting method requires one teacher to take the lead in teaching while the other “simultaneously observes, monitors, or tutors individual students” (Zigmond & Magiera, 2001, p. 1). Station teaching is a way to change the physical setting of the room to reflect teaching practice; the course content AND the classroom are divided into three. One teacher teaches one lesson; the other teacher teaches the next lesson. The third stage is “a seatwork assignment that students will complete independently or with minimal supervision” (Zigmond & Magiera, 2001, p. 1). Parallel teaching involves splitting the class into two groups of equal size, both groups contained students with disabilities, and each teacher teaching a group. Both groups are taught the same content at the same time, though each teacher is free to design the lesson to suit their tastes. Parallel teaching seems a bit trickier, since it requires “that the two teachers pace their lessons” in such a way that both groups start and finish the lesson “at the same time with the same degree of mastery” (Zigmond & Magiera, 2001, p. 2).
Alternative teaching also divides the class into groups; however, one larger group focuses on review or extension, while the smaller group focuses on material that needs re-teaching, “a lesson previewed, or a particular skill re-emphasized” (Zigmond & Magiera, 2001, p. 2). It doesn’t matter which teacher teaches which group. Team-teaching is what it sounds like: both teachers are fully and equally engaged in teaching. Fenty, McDuffie-Landrum, & Fisher (2012) offer another strategy: question answer relationships (QAR). QAR is “a literacy strategy that provides students with a framework to guide their processing of comprehension questions” that can be used in co-teaching (Fenty, McDuffie-Landrum, & Fisher, 2012, p. 29). It is good for both gen-ed and special education.