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Cooperative Teaching Project: A
Model for Students at Risk
Minneapolis Public Schools
ABSTRACT: This article describes all innovative teaching model designed to impact students at
risk with the cooperative efforts (II" regular and special education ill Grades K·3. Evaluation
outcomes are presented that show the model has a positive effect on individual student performance,
total building. progresses measuredbvcurriculum based measurement. special education referrals.
and attitudes ojpanicipating teachers.
Over the past few years, many educators have
sought more integration and cooperation between regular and special education in meeting
the needs of at-risk students. In 1986, Madelei ne
Will discussed learning opportunities for educationally disadvantaged students and those with
mild learning disabilities. She called for a system
that would bring programs to students rather than
bring students to programs. Educational responsibility would be shared between regular and special education. The goal of this cooperation
would be to lessen our dependence on pull-out
programs. Other educators believe that we have
built a dual system by using pull-out programs
that limit the incentive for cooperation between
regular and special education (Allington & Johnson, 1986; Wang, Reynolds, & Walberg, 1986).
The wide variety of traditional school programs created to provide special, compensatory,
and remedial education services have been referred to as "second systems of education" by
Reynolds, Wang, and Walberg (1987). These researchers imply that the second system impedes
identification of the real source of many learning
problems: the quality of instruction or learning
environment in the regular education program.
Implementing more effective programs to meet
the needs of at-risk students is in the forefront of
educational reform, In the most recent U.S. Department of Education Chapter I reauthorization plan
(1989), the U.S. Congress provides some tlexibil26
ity in federal regulations. This tlexibility will
allow educators the opportunity to work cooperatively in addressing the educational needs of
low-achieving students. Such an approach is also
supported by several professional groups at the
national level (Advocacy Center for the Elderly
and the Disabled, 1986; Position Statement,
In 1987 an innovative teaching model with cooperation between regular and special education
was implemented at Hiawatha Elementary
School in Minneapolis. A major purpose of this
initiative was to bring previously separate resources together to work toward a common purpose-shifting the focus from remediation and
failure of students to one of prevention and support for student success. This new model was
named the Cooperative Teaching Project (CTP).
The CTP began in January 1987 in the first
grade and was extended to Grades K-3 in September 1987. This model provided the opportunity for special education, compensatory education, and regular education teachers to work together on addressing the educational problems of
low-achieving students without the fragmentation that usually occurs in these delivery systems.
It allowed the staff to concentrate on prereferral
instructional strategies and to fashion these stratSeptember 1991
egies into a comprehensive, building-wide approach.
The major goals of the project are twofold:
first, to reduce the discrepancy in reading and
readiness skills of high-risk students and their
grade-level peers; second, to increase classroom
teachers' repertoire of instructional strategies to
use with low-achieving students.
In the CTP, regular education teachers have
primary responsibility for meeting the academic
needs of high-risk students. Special education,
Chapter I, and compensatory education teachers
provide supplemental instruction within the
classroom. The progress of all students is monitored weekly using curriculum-based measures
(Deno, Mirkin, & Chiang, 1982); and monitoring
data is used to make decisions regarding instructional strategies, motivational techniques, and
placement in reading groups.
The purpose of this article is to provide a case
study of the project and examine its impact on
Hiawatha School. Project implementation is reviewed and available data sources are analyzed.
Descriptive data related to individual student perforrnance, total building progress, special education referrals, and teacher attitudes are reported.
Subjects and Setting
Hiawatha Elementary School, a Minneapolis
Public School, has 470 students in Grades K-3.
The students come from an urban environment;
44% are minority, 59% are eligible for free or reduced-cost meals, 95% are bused to school, and
there is a 42% student turnover rate in the academic year. Primary staff involved in the Cooperative Teaching Project include 14 regular classroom teachers, two compensatory education
teachers, two special education teachers, two
Chapter I tutors, and one speech/language clinician. The CTP serves approximately 170 Hiawatha
students in Grades K-3 each year.
Students are identified for supplemental instruction by a team of teachers reviewing curriculumbased measures in reading and readiness (Marston & Magnusson, 1988), district-designed
tests, curriculum placement tests (Weiss, Steuer,
& Cruikshank, 1983), individual language samples, and school records. A student is placed in
Exceptional Children
supplemental groups if his or her reading/readiness screening score is below the 25th percentile,
the district-designed grade-level test score is
below the 25th percentile, progress is below expectation, and teachers/parents express a concern. Students are exited from supplemental
groups if progress is above expectation and pertormance indexes show strong growth (e.g.,
group participation, end of unit tests, and progress chart), All screening measures are administered in the fall. Students new to Hiawatha are
screened by the Cooperative Teaching Team as
they enter the school. Screening information is
used to determine eligibility for Cooperative
Teaching reading and language groups and classroom reading-group placement. Students may be
moved in or out of instructional groups throughout the year, depending on individual progress
and documented response to interventions.
Students are placed in groups by skill level,
and special education teachers work with students at highest risk for academic failure. Student
progress is reviewed throughout the school year,
and instructional changes are made as progress
falls below individual progress goals for four
consecutive weeks. A referral is made to the
building special education review committee if
progress continues below expectation after two
interventions have been tried.
Figure I illustrates the process used to place
students in CTP groups. All students are screened
in readiness or reading. If students are at risk for
academic failure, they are placed in a supplemental group. Ongoing placement decisions are made
based on students' responses to interventions as
shown by weekly progress monitoring.
Special education, Chapter I, and compensatory
education teachers provide 25 minutes (min) of
supplemental reading/readiness instruction in
small groups S days per week to students at greatest risk for academic failure. Speech/language
clinicians provide 2S min of small-group supplemental instruction 3 days per week to students
with the most limited language skills. Curriculum
materials and methods are chosen to support
daily reading instruction provided by classroom
teachers and to enhance student performance as
measured by weekly progress monitoring, teacher
reports of progress, and district-scheduled testing.
All teachers work to maximize student time on
task, correct student responses, and generaliza27
Cooperative Teaching Model with Curriculum-Based Measurement (CBM)
All students are screened
with CBM procedures
Instructed by classroom
teacher in regular reading
program with CBM
progress monitoring
Instructed by classroom
teacher plus supplemental
service in Cooperative
Teaching group, progress
monitored with CBM
CBM progress above
expectation, Teacher
information supports
return to regular education
service only
CBM progress below
expectation, Teacher
information supports
continued supplemental
modify instruction and
continue progress monitoring
CBM progress below
expectation, Teacher
information supports
referral to special
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _----.J
September 1991
tion of taught skills. Training is available in use
of specialized learning materials and Elements of
Effective Instruction (Berliner, 1984; Rosenshine, 1983).
All supplemental groups meet in regular classrooms during scheduled reading periods to minimize disruptions and increase engaged learning
time. Students no longer lose instructional time
passing in the halls during defined reading
blocks. Behavior problems that might occur outside of a student's classroom are eliminated. Students are viewed as full participants in their classroom because they remain with classmates
throughout their school day. Some independent
reading activity time is replaced with small-group
instruction for students who have difficulty working independently. Teachers learn strategies from
one another as they teach in classrooms together.
Classroom teams including all teachers working
on reading, readiness, and language attend scheduled meetings once a month to review individual
student progress and coordinate instructional
plans based on changing student needs. Within
classrooms, teachers review instructional plans
on an informal basis weekly. All supplemental
teachers meet twice each month for ongoing
planning, problem solving around specific students, and sharing instructional strategies. Classroom teachers and supplemental teachers exchange formal lesson plans weekly; these plans
reflect a shared focus on specific reading/readiness objecti ves. Lesson plans me also collected
and monitored by the principal. Instructional
goals for the CTP match regular district curriculum goals and are measured by criterion-referenced tests used throughout the district.
Data Collection
All Hiawatha students are evaluated using curriculum-based measures (CBM) three times a year.
These data are compared to district-developed
normative information. In addition, reading progress of all students in the school is monitored
weekly with formative evaluation procedures
(Marston & Magnusson, 1988). Students read
from grade level passages once weekly for I min
while the teacher counts the number of words
read correctly (Deno, Mirkin, & Chiang, 1982).
Performance is charted on equal-interval graph
paper using the moving median approach. In this
Exceptional Children
system, the median of the last three data points is
plotted on the graph. Student progress before and
during cooperative teaching can be compared.
Hiawatha staff are trained to monitor, chart, and
interpret individual reading and readiness progress using trend lines and individual progress
goals. Interjudge reliability coefficients for
teachers measuring reading and readiness exceeded .90. An actual example of student progress being monitored is shown in Figure 2, in
which one student's ("Jim's") words read correctly are graphed weekly.
This graph shows that Jim is not in a CTP
group at the start of the year, Phase A. Though
there is a slight increase in words read correctly at
this time, his improvement was not viewed as educationally significant by staff. During the academic
year, Jim was placed in a CTP group. This change
in instruction appears to have had a significant effect on his reading progress, as seen in Phase B of
Figure 2. Jim now reads approximately 60 words
correctly in I min. In addition, Jim's errors have
been reduced from 15 per minute to less than 5.
Instructional changes are made based on individual student progress and response to specific
instruction. Instructional changes might include
time allocated to instructional activities, motivational strategies, specific materials, parent contact, teaching style, and attendance contracts. All
instructional changes are documented on individual progress-monitoring charts, as shown in Figure 2. Student progress is shared with students,
staff, and families to improve student performance. At the end of each school year, Hiawatha
staff are asked to rate the effectiveness of the
project and list suggestions for future years.
The evaluation results of the Hiawatha CTP are
divided into four major categories. The first type
of results relate to the effectiveness of erp. The
second category examines the overall impact of
CTP on the school. A third analysis is directed at
how CTP affected referrals to special education.
Finally, teacher attitudes concerning the implementation of cooperative teaching are reviewed.
Effectiveness of Cooperative Teaching
Several approaches to evaluating the effectiveness of the CTP were considered. One approach
contrasted the learning rate of CTP pupils versus
non-CTP students. At first glance, this might
Weekly Monitoring of a Student's Reading Progress
Phase A Reading Instruction:
Regular Education Only
Phase B Reading Instruction:
Regular Education and
Cooperative Teaching Help
Words Correct
_______________________________________ J
seem to be an appropriate design; but it was
flawed in that the initial performances of CTP
and non-C'I'P children were extremely different. Thus, non-C'I'P students were an inadequate control group. A second design called
for a matched set of students that were either
CTP or non-C'l'P, but equivalent in initial performance. Low sample sizes for this analysis
obviated such a design. The third design, a single-subject ti me series analysis of pupil learning rate whi Ie students were taught in both a
CTP and non-CTP condition during an academic year, was selected as most appropriate.
In the single-subject design, the slope of learning in reading is calculated for the student
while being serviced in regular education.
Once a child is placed in CTP, a new learning
rate is calculated. To compare CTP to non-C'I'P,
the learning rates for these students are aggregated for each phase and anal yzed using a paired
During Year 2 this analysis was conducted for
9 students. The average rate of improvement for
these students without CTP was .83 words per
week (SD == 1.06). However, during CTP, these
students averaged 2.89 correct word gains per
week (SD == 2.78). When the two instructional
phases are compared with a paired z-test analysis, the r-value equals 2.19, with a probability
level of .060.
During Year 3 the learning rate of 28 students (9 first graders, 14 second graders, and 5
third graders) was analyzed. The average gain
per week for all students was .58 correct words
without CTP and 1.78 words correct with CTP.
Paired r-test analysis provided a I -value of 3.25
and was statistically significant at the .003 level.
A breakdown of the learning slopes by grade
level was revealing. At the first grade, the average slope of improvement was. 94 during the
non-CTP condition and 3.11 during CTP. The
second graders had an average gain per week
of .40 correct words in non-C'I'P and. 73 duri ng
CTP. In the third grade, the average gain was
.40 during non-C'I'P and 2.30 correct words per
week during CTP (see Figure 3).
Impact of Cooperative Teaching
One approach to examining the impact of cooperative teaching on Hiawatha Elementary School
is to look at the average performance of each
grade level during the fall, winter, and spring.
Table I lists the school averages for words read
correctly at each grade level in 1988-89. As can
September 1991
Comparison of Pupil Progress with and With out Cooperative Teach ing
No Coop. Tchg.
COOp. Tchg.
Grade Levels
Reading Performance (Number of Words Read Cor rectly in 1 Minute)
of Hia watha Students in 1988-89
be seen . pupil performance increased significantly from fall to winter and winter to spring at
eac h grade level.
Th e medi an slope of improve ment for
Hiawatha students in Grades K-3 for 1988-89
school year follo ws: Grade K, 1.00 letter; Grade
1, 2.00 words; Grade 2, 1.75 words; Grade 3, 1.50
words. For kindergarten, the slope is reported in
median gain for letters correctly identified each
week. For Grades 1,2, and 3, the slope represents
the weekly median gain in words read correctly.
Exceptional Child ren
Sp ring
Effect of Cooperative Teaching on Special
To analyze the effect of CTP on special education, we examined the number of referrals made
to special education over a 3-yea r period. During
the first year, emphasis was placed on a large
gro up of high-risk first graders. After a reading
screening in January, it was determined that 108
of 128 pupils (79%) were eligible for further assessment for special educati on services. Since
normally about half of these students would qual31
Hiawatha Teacher Attitudes Toward Cooperative
Teaching May 1989
Hiawatha teachers completed a Cooperative
Teaching Questionnaire in the spring of 1989. At
that time the majority of teachers responded positively when asked if Cooperative Teaching
Teams coordinated the planning and instruction
of high-risk students. All classroom teachers
agreed that students of concern received appropriate service in reading and readiness that year
(see Table 2). Hiawatha staff reported that they
use progress monitoring charts primarily to identify at-risk students. Weekly monitoring charts
are also used for instructional planning, for motivation, and for sharing progress. Teachers expressed interest in more specific instructional
strategy training and more scheduled time to
team around individual students.
Ag reement
Cooperative Classroom Teams Were:
I. Effective for sharing student
2. Effective for making placement
3. Effective for instructional
Weekly exchange of lesson plans
coordinated instruction between
Instructional pacing and content were
coordinated between team members
Progress Monitoring Charts Were Used:
I. To identify and place at-risk
2. To document services provided
3. For instructional planning
4. To motivate students
5. For family conferences
Students at risk were placed in
appropriate cooperative teaching
ify for service, Hiawatha had the potential of adding over 50 first-grade students to its special education caseloads. As a result, CTP was initiated
in an attempt to provide more service to these
high-risk children.
Similarly, at the start of Years 2 and 3, a large
number of students at Grades K-3 would qualify
for special education assessment based on entry
CBM screening in readiness and reading. Each
year, as students were placed in small CTP
groups, the number of students qualifying for
special education assessment decreased dramatically. At the start of Year 3, for example, 96
Hiawatha at-risk students were eligible for special education assessment. All 96 were placed in
CTP groups. By spring 1989, 24 students had
moved. Of the remaining 72 students who had
been placed in CTP groups, only 8 students were
considered eligible for special education assessment. Following assessment, only I student was
found to be eligible for special education.
Teacher Attitudes Toward Cooperative
Implementation of the Cooperati ve Teachi ng
Project over the past 3 years at Hiawatha Elementary School indicates that this project has been
beneficial in several respects. First, the data show
that students taught with this model made significant gains. Low student performance increased
appreciably from non-C'I'P to CTP placement.
Second, there appeared to be an overall posiri ve
effect on the progress of all Hiawatha students
when we compared growth from fall, winter, and
spring. Third, the project had a definite impact on
special education; the majority of students receiving CTP service were able to progress at or
above district expectations without being labeled or
pulled out for special education. Fourth, teacher attitudes toward CTP were positive; and regular education teachers assumed the primary responsibility
for instructing at-risk students. Fifth, there was a
significant increase in cooperative planning between regular and special education staff.
The Hiawatha staff continue to problem solve
around particular issues that hamper effecti ve implementation of a cooperati ve model. Fi rst, it
proved difficult to meet all the regulatory requirements for Chapter I and special education in
using staff for these services in the regular classroom. Second, some staff were not willing to try
new strategies to meet the needs of high-risk students; and as a result, the principal made some unilateral decisions. Third, turnover in staff due to nontenure and bidding rights have hindered the establishment of long-term goals for staff development.
September 1991
Cooperative planning and inservice training time
is essential to improving communication, increasing instructional skills, and ensuring the
commitment of all involved staff. Approximately
$3,000 was spent each year for staff development. Much time and effort are spent training
new staff. A high level of resources must be committed to facilitate implementation of a successful model.
At the end of the 1988-89 school year, the Cooperative Teaching Team reviewed teacher attitudes and student performance in an effort to
evaluate areas for future improvement. Teacher
training in alternative instructional strategies will
continue, with a specific focus on strategies for
second grade, where student gain was not as great
as at other grades. Team meetings will include
reviews of student progress and instructional
strategies with more time scheduled if possible.
Supplemental instruction will be scheduled in
grade-level blocks to minimize disruption. All
CTP instruction will occur in the regular education classrooms. Classroom CTP teams will set a
team agenda before classroom team meetings,
take notes at each meeting, and distribute meeting notes to all team members. All Hiawatha students will be screened using CBM in readiness or
reading during the first week of school. Progress
monitoring will begin the second week of school.
Language/reading/readiness instructional models wi\! be defined during the week teachers return to school. Supplemental instruction will
begin during the third week of school.
Several limitations to this case study should be
noted. First, the data presented here are of a descriptive rather than experimental nature. School-based
research is rarely experimental because of the difficulty in conducting a random selection of subjects
or assignment to groups. Nonetheless, group differences were measured in this study; the descriptive
information gathered indicates that students do benefit from the alternative instructional model described. A second problem is that these data are restricted to one school and a limited range of grades,
K-3. Obviously, replication in other settings and
across grade levels is necessary.
The project findings indicate that cooperative
teaching is one effective intervention for providing service to high-risk students in the regular classroom. Because there is a rapid increase in the number of students referred and placed in special education-an increase of 119% since 1976, as repotted by Edgar and Hayden (1984-85)-this
model appears promising. As an integral compoExceptional Children
nent, curriculum-based measures are effective in
providing data to evaluate individual response to
interventions, as well as large group progress.
Further study should be initiated to test the effects
of similar cooperative efforts between regular
and special education teachers in meeting the
needs of high-risk students. Such study might delineate the components of a successful model that
would assist school districts, colleges, and universities in designing innovative teaching models
and training future educators to implement these
Advocacy Center for the Elderly and Disabled. (1986).
Rights without lahels. New Orleans: Author.
Allington, R.L., & Johnson, P. (1986). The coordination
among regular classroom reading programs and targetcd support programs. Albany: State University of
New York.
Berliner, D. C (1984). The half~full glass: A review of
research on teaching. In P.L. Hosford (Ed.), Ul'ing what
we know about teaching (pp. 51-77), Alexandria, VA:
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Deno, S. L., Mirkcn, P. K., & Chiang, B. (1982). Identifying valid measures of reading. Exceptional Children,
Edgar, E., & Hayden, A. H. (1984-85). Who are the children special education should serve and how many children are there') The Journal 0/ Special Education. 18,
Marston, D., & Magnusson, D. (1988). Curriculum based
measurement: District level implementation. In 1.
Graden, 1. Zins, & M. Curtis (Eds.), Alternotive educetional deliver)' systems: Enhancing instructional optionsfor ali students (pp. 137-172). Washington, DC:
National Association of School Psychologists.
Position statement: Advocacy [or appropriate educationa! ,I ervicesfor all children (1986). Boston, MA: Na-
tional Coalition of Advocates for Students and the
National Association of School Psychologists.
Reynolds, M. C, Wang, M. c. & Walberg, H. J (1987)
The necessary restructuring of special and regular education. Exceptional Children, 53, 391-398.
Roscnshine, B. (1983). Teaching functions in instructional programs. Elementary School Journal, 85,
U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.
(1989, Monday, 23 October). Chapter I state operated
or supported programs for handicapped children. Federal Register, 54 (178).
Wang, M. C; Reynolds, M. C, & Walberg, H. J. (1986).
Rethinking special education. Educational Leadership,
Weiss, B. 1., Steuer, L. 0., & Cruikshank, S. B. (1983).
Holt reading series. New York: Holt, Rinehart and
Will, M. C. (1986). Educating children with learning
problems: A shared responsibility. Exceptional Children, 52, 411-416.
AGED 10 - 17
HERTICENA SELF is the Principal of Hiawatha
Elementary School, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
ANNE BENNING (CEC Chapter #298) is a
Special Education Resource Teacher; DOUG
MARSTON (CEC Chapter #298) is a School
Psychologist in the Department of Special
Education; and DEANNE MAGNUSSON is the
Coordinator of the K-6 School Based Resource
Program in the Department of Special Education
of the Minneapolis Public Schools, Minnesota.
Social Skills Training
Manuscript received July 1989; revision accepted December, 1989.
Exceptional Children, Vol. 58, No.1, pp. 26-34.
© 1991 The Council for Exceptional Children.
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