Recently, my co-teacher, Christine Southard, and I found out that all of our AIS reading students tested out of reading for next year. Each one of them! I have been teaching for 23 years and have never had that happen. In addition, 2 classified students improved reading scores so much that comprehension skills are no longer a part of their IEPs. When we tested the class ourselves with IRIs, using the Fountas and Pinnell levels, we found each child made at least a year's progress but most made much more. And 17 out of 24 students leveled out of the test, achieving an equivalent comprehension score of grade 6 or higher (level X or higher).
So this, of course, begs the question - How did this happen? What was it about our program that enabled these students to improve to such a large extent?
First, I need to tell you that I have been an inclusion teacher for many years. Although I teach regulary education, I do have my Masters' in Special Ed and have always believed in differentiating instruction to help all students succeed. I truly believe that a perfect classroom is one in which two teachers work toward a common goal. So I have had many co-teaching situations. Two have been quite successful, most have been very unsuccessful.
In examining the successful ones, I realize it all has to do with philosophy. And certain rules need to be followed.
Some co-teachers (both regular and special ed) believe that "you have your students and I have mine." I have worked with a teacher like this. She would come to the room and say, "Ok, my students come with me." I would then watch as the children, with mortified looks in their eyes, would slink out of the room.
Rule #1: Do not separate the children. They should not stand out for being classified. Remember: inclusion means to be included, not separated.
There's also that belief that we should be so private as to not speak about the needs of the children. Don't embarrass Johnny by telling him to put on his glasses, hearing aids, etc. Don't make Susie feel bad by handing her a fidget toy to play with so she can pay attention. In our classroom, fidget toys are in a box for all the children, glasses are mentioned frequently, students are encouraged to move to the front of the room, grab a spell checker, use the computer or alphasmart, pull out the E.Z.C. Readers, etc. The difference? These tools are demonstrated to and available for everyone. (Well, not glasses or hearing aids but you get the point.) So when a lesson begins, up jumps the classified student along with the gifted student. They both gather tools they need to be successful. So..
Rule #2: Don't hide special needs. Point out that we all need assistance at times. Make it available to everyone.
Then there's the idea that a special educator is only there to work with the special ed children. This leaves a lot of other children behind and makes the classified children really stand out. We believe that we both are there to teach all of the students. We group children for various subjects and rotate who teaches the groups. When class tests are given, volunteers leave the room with one of us to go to a more quiet setting or to have tests read to them. Amazingly, the children, all of them, really do choose what they need. Some leave the room for the novelty but most choose the setting in which they work best.
Rule #3: Mix the teachers up and allow students to choose their style of learning.
This year, we also eliminated reading pull-outs. Students remained in class during reading and ended up receiving much more reading service time than they would have in the pull-out program. And keeping students in the classroom as much as possible is helpful for having them not miss content. Next year, we are going to do the same for math pull-outs. Note: This was not an easy goal to achieve. Reading and resource room teachers may feel it threatens their jobs. If necessary, try to make your pull-outs push-ins instead.
Rule #4: Keep students in the classroom as much as possible. Eliminate as many pull-outs as you can.
Of course, other aspects of our program have not been mentioned here. Christine and I spend a great deal of time reading and writing in all subjects. With blogging as a large part of our program, it was inevitable that progress would be made. We also believe in a project-based learning program. This method of differentiating instruction allows all of our students to find success. But I really believe it was a combination of the technology and the philosophy that made it all work. I can't wait for next year!