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    • Co-Teaching in Language Arts: Supporting Students with Learning DisabilitiesAuthor(s): Ruthanne TobinSource: Canadian Journal of Education / Revue canadienne de léducation, Vol. 28, No. 4 (2005),pp. 784-801Published by: Canadian Society for the Study of EducationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4126455 .Accessed: 18/06/2013 12:39Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org..Canadian Society for the Study of Education is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extendaccess to Canadian Journal of Education / Revue canadienne de léducation.http://www.jstor.orgThis content downloaded from on Tue, 18 Jun 2013 12:39:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
    • Co-Teachingin LanguageArts:SupportingStudentswith LearningDisabilitiesRuthanneTobinIn this case study, I have examined teachers use of co-teaching models to supportstudents with learning disabilities in an inclusive elementary classroom. Co-teachersprogressed from the developmental stage of collegial growth to the compromisingstage (Gately&Gately, 2001),but struggled to achieve the thirdstage of collaboration.Teachersused several methods to support students literacy: explicit prompt sheets,scaffolded mini-lessons, and interactional inclusion. Classroom structures andhelping routines played key roles in maintaining teachers availability to exceptionallearners. The students with learning disabilities protected their social status in theclassroom, a key factorin theirdecision to acceptteachershelp.Key words: collaborative practices, literacy learning, interactional inclusion,struggling learners.Dans cette etude de cas, Iauteureexamine les modeles de coenseignement utilises envue de venir en aide a des eleves du primaire ayant des difficultis dapprentissagedans une classe inclusive. Les coenseignants ont progresse du stade initial de lacollegialite au stade des compromis (Gately et Gately, 2001), mais ont eu de ladifficulteatteindrele troisieme stade, celui de la collaboration. Les enseignants ontemploye plusieurs methodes pour soutenir les eleves dans leur apprentissage de lalitteratie: feuilles de messages-guides explicites, mini-legons avec soutien alapprentissage et inclusion faisant appel a des interactions. Cest principalementgrace aux structures des classes et aux methodes de soutien mises en place que lesenseignants ont pu demeurer disponibles pour les 1Plves en difficultd. Ces eleves ontprotege leur statut social en classe, ce qui a joue pour beaucoup dans leur decisiondaccepterlaide des enseignants.Mots cles: methodes de collaboration, apprentissage de la litteratie, inclusion parlinteraction,apprenantsen difficulte.CANADIANJOURNALOFEDUCATION28, 4 (2005): 784-801This content downloaded from on Tue, 18 Jun 2013 12:39:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
    • CO-TEACHINGINLANGUAGEARTS 785In a recent overview of the research on teaching students with learningdisabilities (LD), McLeskey, Hoppey, Williamson, and Rentz (2004)concluded that most students should spend much of the school day inregular classrooms. As a result of this policy of inclusion of studentswith diverse learning needs, classroom teachers have adopted inclusivemodels of instruction that emphasize collaborative structures such as co-teaching. Bauwens and Hourcade (1995) described a co-teachingapproach as a "restructuring of teaching procedures in which two ormore educators possessing distinct sets of skills work in a co-active andcoordinated fashion to jointly teach academically and behaviourallyheterogeneous groups of students in integrated educational settings" (p.46). For example, both a classroom teacher and a special educationteacher would provide all students with instruction, discipline, andsupport. This collaborative approach helps co-teachers avoidunintentionally stigmatizing students with identified needs by meetingthe needs of all students in a regular classroom.To find out more about co-teaching in an inclusive language artsclass, I considered how two teachers, the classroom teacher and me,where I played dual roles as resource teacher and researcher,incorporated students with special needs. The following questionsframed the research: In what ways did we, as co-teachers, supportstudents with learning disabilities in an inclusive grade-6 language artsclassroom? How did three students identified with LD access help in aninclusive setting?THEORETICALFRAMEWORKModelsofCo-teachingVaughn, Schumm, and Arguelles (1997) describe five basic models of co-teaching. The first, "one teach-one assist," requires both teachers to bepresent with one teacher taking the lead in delivering instruction; theother teacher monitors or assists students individually. In the secondmodel, "station teaching," each teacher takes responsibility for teachingpart of the content to small groups of students who move amongstations. Teachers divide students into three groups, two working withteachers and one group working independently. Students rotate amongthe three stations over a pre-determined block of time. With the thirdThis content downloaded from on Tue, 18 Jun 2013 12:39:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
    • 786 RUTHANNETOBINmodel, "parallelteaching,"teachersplan instructiontogether but splitthe class and deliver the same instructionto smallergroups within thesame classroom. With the fourth model, "alternativeteaching," oneteacherworks with a smallergroup of students to reteach,preteach,orsupplement the instruction received by the larger group. Finally, in"teamteaching,"the fifth model, both teachersshare the instructionofall studentsatthe sametimeSands, Kozleski, and French(2000) describe the same models butbreak co-teachinginto four types: tag team (one teaches a part of thelesson and the other follows), speak and add (one teaches, one addsinformation),speak and chart (one teaches, one records on overhead,easel, etc.), and duet (teacherswork in unison, finishing each otherssentences and ideas). Although the impact of co-teaching on studentoutcomes is still unclear (Magiera & Zigmond, 2005; Murawski &Swanson, 2001; Weiss, 2004), proponents argue that co-teachingeffectively utilizes the specific and unique skills of each professional(Jitendra,Edwards,Choutka&Treadway,2002).SupportingstudentswithLDintheLanguageArtsClassroomOne area in which teachersare most likely to co-teachis language artsbecause most students with LD (90%)have significantdifficultieswithreading and writing (Vaughn, Linan-Thompson& Hickman, 2003).Although learning strategiesas they play out in the classroom contextare complex and dynamic,researchersare increasinglyawarehow boththe scaffoldedactivitiesand student-teacherdiscourseplay key roles inhelping students with LD emulate the performanceof expert learners(Baker,Gersten,& Scanlon,2002;Butler& Cartier,2005). At the sametime, cognitive strategies help students develop awareness of theirrelevantbackgroundknowledge, enhancingtheirabilityto monitortheirlearning as they complete instructional tasks and solve problems(Tierney& Readence,2000).The most recent researchon self-regulatedlearning indicates that the learning process is highly modifiable andshaped by individual student characteristicsin interactionwith context(Butler&Cartier,2005).Tobridgethe gap between oraland writtenlanguageand to developrelationshipsbetween them, teachersalso use elaborateddialogues andThis content downloaded from on Tue, 18 Jun 2013 12:39:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
    • CO-TEACHINGINLANGUAGEARTS 787think alouds (Abadiano & Turner, 2004; Angelis, 2003), building onstudents currentlevels of understanding,and their ability to articulatetheir ideas. Thekey conceptin teachingstudents with LDis to immersethem in an environment,rich in discussions that are explicit, clear,andfull of relevant examples so that students can increasingly makeconnectionson their own (Swanson,2000).At the same time, studentswith LD need support to become self-regulatedlearners;that is, theyneed to be engaged in a recursive cycle of cognitive activities as theyworkthrougha given task(Butler,2002).For this study, I investigated co-teachingin a grade-six classroom.My intent was to explore what happens when two teachers shareteaching duties. I specifically chose a language arts classroombecausemany students with learning disabilities have problems with readingand writing.METHODFor this case study, I used qualitativeresearchtechniques,appropriatefor exploring and interpreting educational phenomena in a real-lifesettingin which "how"and "why"questionswere the focus of the study(Denzin & Lincoln,1994). I collecteddata from multiple sources: tape-recordingsof participantobservations(40hours);field notes on planningmeetings (8 hours); taped semi-structuredindividual interviews withstudents (3hours); interviewswith the classroomteacher(2 hours);andinterviewswith the teacherassistant(2hours).1As a researcher,I served as a full participantobserver (Bogdan &Biklen, 2002), co-teaching with the classroom teacher three times perweek during 50-minute blocks (2.5 hours per week for 16 weeks). Torecordthe interactions,I wore a micro-cassetterecorderwith a tie clip.Full participantobservationpre-emptedmy taking notes of non-verbalbehaviour and contextual information. For this reason, after eachparticipant observation/co-teachingblock, I made a taped record ofparticipantsattendance,seatingarrangements,andfield notes. Withthewhole class, I introduced co-teaching models consistent with thoserecommended in the literaturecommencing with a structuredmodel(one teach-one assist). Within the co-teaching framework I collectedThis content downloaded from on Tue, 18 Jun 2013 12:39:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
    • 788 RUTHANNETOBINfieldnotesand taperecordedinteractionswith the threestudentswithlearningdisabilities.ResearchSiteIn responseto the increaseddiversityof class compositionand mycommitment to inclusive practices, I elected (in consultation with schooladministratorsand school staff) to use a co-teachingmodel to supportstudents with learning disabilities who were enrolled in a grade-sixclassroom. This initiative was part of a larger school district movementtoward more inclusive practices for students with exceptionalities.Aberdeen Middle School (pseudonym) is a large, mostly middle-classschool (grades 6 to 8) located in a small city in British Columbia. Theschool enrolled 850 students in three distinct programs: Englishprogram, French immersion program, and First nations program. Of thetwenty-nine students enrolled in the grade-6 class, five students hadindividual educational plans: three with learning disabilities, onestudent with a hearing impairment, and one gifted student. Among theremaining students, five were reluctant readers and writers.ResearcherContextSandelowski (1999) highlights the importance and complexity ofresearcher identity in contexts where the researcher is a full participantand a researcher; hence I provide my background as researcher. Prior tothe study I had taught students with learning disabilities for ten years inboth pull-out and in-class models of support and had also worked foreight years as a regular classroom teacher. I relied on in-depth exposureto the site, data from multiple sources, and member checking with theteacher to offer a balanced perspective. Nonetheless what is offered is aninsiders understanding of the scene - what Lawrence-Lightfoot andHoffman Davis (1997) describe as a methodology of portraiture.ParticipantsThe grade-6 teacher, Tina, volunteered to try co-teaching as analternative to the traditional pull-out support model. She was introducedto the co-teaching model based on Friend and Cooks principles (2000)through a school district workshop. Tina had eight years experienceteaching grade 6.This content downloaded from on Tue, 18 Jun 2013 12:39:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
    • CO-TEACHINGINLANGUAGEARTS 789The focus of my study was both the inclusive grade-6 classroom andthe three students with learning disabilitiesin this context.I chose thethree student participants using two criteria:designation under theBritish Columbia Ministry of Education guidelines as students withsevereLD,2and impendingtransitionto middle school. All ten studentswho were classified as LD and who were entering grade 6 had anopportunity to participate in the study. Six opted to do so. The sixstudents were assigned in clusters of three to two grade-6 classrooms,one of which was Tinasclassroom.Tinawas selected because she wasparticularlymotivated to be involved in the study and because of herinterestin both co-teachingand in professionaldevelopment relatedtoexceptionalstudents.I gathered information on the three student participants,Noah,Katelyn,and Sam3from theirschool records,conductedtwo interviewswith each student during visits to their elementary schools, andinterviewed theirgrade-5teachersand the studentsparents.I obtainedinformedconsentfromtheparentsandassentfromthe threestudents.Noah had well-developed oral skills and a sense of humour thatteachers and students affectionately described as "warped." Hepresented as introverted,with a passion for comic-booksand computergames, and difficultymakingfriends. His academicrecordsplacedhimapproximatelythreeyearsbelow his peers in readingand threeand halfyearsin writing. Noah enteredgrade6 with a historyof extremeapathytowardsreadingand writing. Ourmainemphasis,to engage him so thathe would respondduringlanguageartslessons, involved gettinghim toread materialsin additionto comicbooks, to respondto texts presentedin class,andto writeshortpassagesof two to threeparagraphs.Extroverted,Katelynloved to workin groups,andwas often thefirstto raise her hand in class. Her academic records placed herapproximately18monthsbelow herpeersin readingandone yearbelowin writing.She liked to write storiesand her grade-5portfoliocontainedtwo cohesive narrativesa page and a half to two pages in length. Ourgoal was to have Katelyn challenge herself with advanced readingmaterialsthatwere moreappropriateto herreadingability.Sam, a confident, imaginativeindividual with exceptionallystrongverbal skills, had a strong sense of humour. His reading and writingThis content downloaded from on Tue, 18 Jun 2013 12:39:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
    • 790 RUTHANNETOBINassessment placed him two years behind his peers. Although he was areluctantwriter with a pen, he was motivated using a keyboard.Ourgoal for Samwas to have him write longerfirstdraftsby Christmasandto encouragehim to use his laptop.DataAnalysisTo determine preliminary themes, I entered into the QSR NUDISTsystem transcribed recordings, field notes, and researcher memosgenerated throughoutthe researchperiod. I then coded and comparedthese data.Whenconflictingdataemerged,Iused themto refineexistingthemesorcreatenew ones. OnceI drew preliminaryconclusions,Ibeganmemberchecks with the classroomteacherand the teacherassistanttoverifyand extendmy understanding.Theclassroomteacherreadthe fulltranscriptof her interview and commentedon the transcriptionsof theclassroom observations. I also conducted semi-structured,individualinterviews with the three students selected for in-depth study. I askedthemto bringartefactssuch as theirlanguageartsnotebooksand sampleprojectsto the interviewto elaboratetheiranswers.FINDINGSWaysofSupportingStudentswithLDina Grade-6ClassroomIn response to the firstresearchquestionconcerningthe ways in whichstudents were supported in the classroom, three themes emerged:learning support within the co-teaching structures, explicit teacher-instigated literacysupport,and interactionalinclusion. In the followingsection,Iexpandon thesethreethemes.ReflectionsonCo-teachingDuring the four-month semester when I conducted the co-teachingproject,the co-teachingmodels that we carriedout reflectedthe extantliteraturein two ways: first, we initially supported students with themost familiar and more traditional format of "one teach-one assist"(Vaughnet al., 1997).As trustand willingness to compromisegrew, weused more interactivemodels, stopping short of using fully cohesivemodels such as duet teaching (Sands et al., 2000). Secondly, we wentthrough predictablestages of collegial growth from the developmentalThis content downloaded from on Tue, 18 Jun 2013 12:39:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
    • CO-TEACHINGINLANGUAGEARTS 791stageto the compromisingstage (Gately&Gately,2001),butstruggledtoachieve the third stage of collaboration due to some parity issues,insufficientplanningtime,and thebrevityof the project.I also identifiednumerous teacher-instigatedways of supporting learners with LD intheir literacy learning, including explicit instruction, an emphasis oncreative representationsof literacyas a bridge to writing, interactionalinclusion, and engaging students in prompting dialogues during mini-lessons.Takingthe Lead.In our initial planning session, I had a discussionwith Tinaon several co-teachingmodels that might structureour roles,and Tina chose two models that had components with which she wasalready familiar: one teach-one assist (Vaughn et al., 1997)wherein Iwould do the lead teaching the first week and she would assist andconduct mini-lessons among students requiring individual attention.We alternated the lead role from week to week. She also chosecooperative teaching whereby students worked in structuredaccountable groups of four to six while we circulated among them.Students requiringsupport would sometimes be grouped together andat othertimes were grouped heterogeneouslyaccordingto the languagearts task. However, I did not introduce cooperativeteachinguntil twomonthsintothe project.Although Tinahad initiallyelected to try the most structuredof theco-teaching models (one teach-one assist), within three weeks ourteaching evolved from one teach-one assist to tag teaching and one-speak-one chart (Sands et al., 2000).She felt most comfortablemakingthis shift afterhaving me takethe initiallead which providedher with asafe zone from which to observe my calibrating the language artsinstruction.This approachwas criticalto establishingan authenticandcrediblerelationshipwith Tina.Both of us displayed some uncertaintyand awkwardnessin the earlyweeks as we triedon new rolesand madesense of how best to structureliteracysupport.Gately and Gately (2001) describe this beginning stage asdevelopmentalin which communicationis often guardedand classroomteacherstreadmoreslowly to determineroleexpectations. Oneway thatI sought to teambuild and move past the awkwardnessof the earlydayswas forboth of us to shareincidentalanecdotesaboutour out-of-schoolThis content downloaded from on Tue, 18 Jun 2013 12:39:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
    • 792 RUTHANNETOBINinterests with our students. At first, Tina was reluctantto share briefstories from her life (for example, her experiences in overcomingobstaclesto make the nationalMastersSwim Team)but as she saw theinterest and feedbackfrom the students she became more relaxed andlooked fornaturaltransitionsto carryon our conversation. Thisbegan averbalrallybetween us which seemed to bringthe sixthgradersclosertous and reminded them that that their teachersencounteredchallengesnot entirelyunliketheirown. Italsocontributedto the developmentof acongenial professional relationship of mutual respect and openness,allowing for acknowledgement of inevitable slip-ups and subsequentcollaborativeproblemsolving.Compromisingstage.One issue on which we disagreedinvolved someof the classroom rules about how students could access help duringseatwork. I liked to be proactive and communicateavailabilitybeforestudents needed it and to stay within earshot, without hovering. In adebriefingwith Tina,she expressed concernsthat the students with LDneeded to get help in a way thatwould still makethem functionalwhensupportstaffwere not in the classroom,to learnto use the structuressetup for all learners. We worked out a compromise whereby Tinaacknowledgedthe meritin anticipatingchallengeswith thework and theinstructions and then moving in, so time was not wasted. Iacknowledged that delaying intervention until students had time tothink throughwhat was being asked of them in the assigned work wasequally important.Interventionsthat were either too early or too latewere both problematicand spoke to the degree of discernmentrequiredin the teaching role. This compromisingstage (Gately& Gately,2001),wherein we both began to see the benefits of one anothersperspectiveon classroomstructureand classroommanagement,representeda newlevel of comfortforbothof us.ClassroomStructuresand TrafficPatterns.The learning support wasalso facilitatedby classroom structuresfor accessing help through theuse of the Help Board,a comer of the chalkboardthatTinahad dividedinto two columns. When students were participating in writingworkshop activities,they could sign up for help under the column wehad labelled "Helpwith ideas and instructions"or the column "Helpwith editing."At othertimes,Tinalabelledthetwo columnswith eachofThis content downloaded from on Tue, 18 Jun 2013 12:39:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
    • Co-TEACHINGINLANGUAGEARTS 793our names, recognizing that some students were more comfortableasking a particular person for help. Interestingly, most of the regularstudents in the class used this structure, but of the three students withlearning disabilities, only Katelyn signed up, and then only irregularly.Tina also told students to "Ask three before me" which encouraged themto check with their neighbouring peers before using the Help Board. Wealso established a regular traffic pattern, an approach for helping, inwhich Tina took responsibility to engage reluctant writers in mini-lessons and I first engaged students with LD. This simple traffic pattern,in which we prioritized and assumed responsibility for particularstudents, reduced the amount of time that they were idle, increasing theamount of individual instruction during each instructional block whilestill allowing enough time for students to analyze the assigned work.Such explicitness in facilitating strategic help-seeking encouraged self-regulated learning. Butler and Cartier (2005) highlight the importance ofestablishing models of self-regulated learning that capture both thecharacteristics of the learner and the features of the context including thesupport structures, the expectations, and task demands.As the relationships between the teachers and between the teachersand students matured, we used a wider variety of co-teaching structures,such as one speak-one chart and co-operative learning. However, theseamless level of duet teaching (Sands et. al, 2000) whereby morespontaneous instruction might occur and teachers function as a seamlessunit never occurred. The literature suggests that such team workrequires a longer partnership than one semester so that mutual trust candevelop over time. This collaborative stage of co-teaching (Gately &Gately, 2001) involves a high degree of comfort wherein fluid movementbecomes unplanned and natural. To reach this level, both of us felt thatthe co-teaching initiative required more communication to make jointcurricular decisions and time by increasing the number of co-teachingblocks from three times weekly to five.Teacher-InstigatedWaysofSupportingStudentsLiteracyExplicit Instruction. When I started to co-teach the language arts, Istrove to fit in with Tinas language arts curriculum, which was focusedon a novel study of Me and the Terrible Two (Conford, 1974). SheThis content downloaded from on Tue, 18 Jun 2013 12:39:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
    • 794 RUTHANNETOBINfrequently integrated arts with language arts and often chose to havestudents anticipate, interact, or respond to the elements of a novel by, forexample, constructing a paper model of the novels neighborhood,filming a news report of events in the school, or writing letters andreports about characters and events in the story. Tina largely determinedthe content of the curriculum; I focused on differentiating the work forKatelyn, Sam, and Noah and a few of the other students. The integratedfocus of the curriculum appeared to motivate the students with LD, butthey struggled in particular with open-ended tasks and the writtencomponent of the unit. I routinely prepared prompt sheets for both of usto use in the mini-lesson with the students with LD and with a few oftheir struggling peers. The prompt sheet was then used to scaffoldinstruction and as a guide for the dialogues during mini-lessons. Ittackled the complexity of the literacy task, usually, by providing morestructure, making the task more concrete, adding more steps or fewersteps, increasing the number of known elements, or bringing the taskcloser to the text. The key goal was clarity and explicitness and at othertimes the prompt sheet simply served to get the students to elaborate ontheir ideas about their writing.Striking a balance between traditional literacies so that Katelyn,Noah, and Sam would be engaged in meaningful reading and writingpractices and also have opportunities to participate in the creativeliteracies was a source of tension and discussion between Tina and me,as this in-class exchange illustrates:Tina:Did you remindhim [Noah]thathe does have to actuallywrite a storytogo with his picture?Me:Ihavent,butIwill oncehe gets some of his ideasdown.Tina:Good,becauseI donthave enoughin his writingportfolioto writea reporton him. (classroomteacherandresearcher)We eventually agreed that although we needed to attend carefully totheir voiced ideas and aesthetic responses to the text, we ultimately hadto use their creative works as bridges to writing because without thisinsistence and support, Noah and Sam, in particular, would almostalways opt for a creative response and not persevere with their writing.We didnt always agree on the timing of when Noah was ready to write,Tina leaning toward spending less time on his creative work. MyThis content downloaded from on Tue, 18 Jun 2013 12:39:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
    • Co-TEACHINGINLANGUAGEARTS 795experience with Noah led me to argue for more time because he oftenhad richer ideas for his initial drafts when he had been allowed to followthrough on his creative projects. On the other hand, who knows astudent better: A teacher who spends three hours per week in theclassroom or a teacher who spends three hours per day? (Tina taught arttwo hours per day in other grade 6 classrooms). Also, although I wasproviding input into the three students grades from the classes we co-taught, Tina had the responsibility of providing the final mark.PromptingDialoguesandInteractionalInclusion.One key advantageofhaving two professionals in the classroom was the opportunity to engagethe students with LD in individual dialogues and to prompt them intheir writing using a few simple techniques as they talked about theirideas such as scribing or generating a graphic organizer. For example, inone class in which we were working on developing descriptive writing,Tina gave the following directions to the students:You are going to choose eitheran amusing, exciting,or frighteningexperiencethatyouve had, but youre going to exaggerate... why I said choose somethingthat happened to you is because you can remember it well and you canbrainstormlots of ideas. (teacherTina)In this lesson, the differentiated support for the students with learningdisabilities involved two stages: an opportunity to first brainstormindividually with me as support teacher (whereby I would scribe somekey phrases about a students experiences and dialogue with the studentto elaborate on the key ideas); and the provision of a written example ofan exaggerated story.In addition to prompting students, I also used specific discoursepractices in my interactions with the whole class to both validate learnersand to position them and their at-risk peers as knowing classmates(Fairclough, 1995). For example in taking up questions, if I did notunderstand what one of the students said the first time, I would repeatpart of the statement, allowing the student to reformulate his or herthoughts, giving second opportunities to articulate meanings. Rex(2000), who describes this process as interactional inclusion, argues thatsuch effective discourse moves by the teacher can position vulnerablestudents for academic success.This content downloaded from on Tue, 18 Jun 2013 12:39:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
    • 796 RUTHANNETOBINStudentsCriteriaforAccessingHelpAlthough the second research question on how students accessed help ispartly answered in the first part of this paper, it has been largely writtenfrom the perspective of the teachers practices and initiatives. Yet whilewe were providing explicit instruction and prompting dialogues,encouraging multiple ways of responding to texts, and structuring helproutines, the three students with LD were gauging when it wasworthwhile, appropriate, and in their best social interest to ask for help.During the interviews, students initial answers about getting helpwere almost dismissive, as indicated in the examples below:Me:Whenyou need help,do you findit difficultoreasy to askforhelp?Sam:TheresnothingreallythatIneed help with in lots of situations.I got all thehelp Ineed andthatsit.Noah:Yeah,everyonehelps me.Itsno big deal.Katelyn:IfIreallyneed help,yeah. (interviewwith Sam,Noah,andKatelyn)As my questions became more specific, concerning when and underwhat circumstances they requested assistance, the answers revealedconsiderable reflection about when, in their view, it was most acceptableto ask for help. The students performed a type of risk assessment thatwas driven by four considerations.Foremost, they considered the level of difficulty of the work for theregular students. For example, when Noah was asked if he found it hardor easy to ask for help, he said:Itsdependingon my surroundings,actually.If the workis hardenough for therestof the class,then Imokay to put up my hand,but if the work is quiteeasyandIfeelImgettinga littlestuck,itssortof embarrassing.(Interview,Noah)Noahs response spoke to the importance of ensuring that the curriculumpresented was sufficiently robust.A second consideration related to an awareness of who was usingthe Helping Board or getting help most frequently. Here is how Samresponded to the query about whether asking for help is hard or easy:"Easy. I probably ask a neighbour for help first if no one else is asking, ifhe wasnt busy, or I would just skip until some other personThis content downloaded from on Tue, 18 Jun 2013 12:39:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
    • Co-TEACHINGINLANGUAGEARTS 797asked...someone whos not askingall the time" (emphasis added). Sam hadattached a stigma to asking for help from his teachers and did not wantto be among those asking all the time.A third consideration, common to all three students, was theavailability of an equally confused classmate as an asking partner. Forexample, in response to whether asking for help was easy or hard,Katelyn replied, "Easy. I ask my friend and if my friend doesnt knowthen we bothaskat thesametime."(emphasis added)As it became evident to us that Katelyn and several of the otherstudents liked to get help in pairs, we sanctioned this practice by tellingthem that they could sign up on the Help Board in pairs and formulatequestions together prior to meeting with one of us.The final consideration in asking for help was the physical proximityof the helping staff. In response to the question, "How do you get thehelp you need?" Noah responded:If you want, you can put your name up on the board under HELPMrs. T[SupportTeacher]or HELPMs. Tate[ClassroomTeacher]and thenyou wait forthem to come. Butusually, I dont get stuck,and if I do they just come aroundanyway after about five minutes and then you dont have to ask or put yournameon theboard.Itsbetterthatway anyway.(interview,Noah)Multiple approaches to accessing help were important to thestudents. Whereas Katelyn found that going to the Help Board with afriend and logging her request worked, Noah depended on the staffstraffic patterns and accepted help when staff "just happened to benearby." Sam preferred to wait until another student would ask first. Allthree students appeared cognizant of their borderline status in theclassroom and sought ways to maintain their dignity by carefullychoosing if, when, how, and to whom they would communicate theirneed for help.CONCLUSIONWe supported the students with learning disabilities by assumingspecific co-teaching roles and responsibilities and structuring specifichelping routines. We used mini-lessons to engage these students inprompting dialogues, provided them with explicit instruction, andThis content downloaded from on Tue, 18 Jun 2013 12:39:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
    • 798 RUTHANNETOBINencouraged creative responses to text as a bridge to writing. Despitethese teacher-initiated efforts, the students with LD sometimes wentwithout help if they perceived that it was not in their best social interestto ask for it. We concluded that to proceed with future co-teachinginitiatives, we would need more planning time, and additionaladministrative support. In addition, we concluded that adapting theclassroom curriculum as we did in this case study may not have been themost beneficial way to proceed. Our approach contributed to parityissues because most of the curricular decision making was the classroomteachers responsibility. We may also have contributed to the threestudents sensitivity about soliciting help because we mainly adaptedinstruction and work products for them and for two to four otherstudents in the class. An alternative would have been to adopt adifferentiated approach to language arts instruction for the whole class(Tobin, 2005; Tomlinson, 1999). Under such a model all students needs,interests, and profiles become the key components in planning a range oflearning activities for all students, not just those with individualeducational plans.Because this was an exploratory case study over a short period oftime, more investigation with more co-teachers over a longer duration isrequired to further understand how co-teaching may support the needsof students with learning disabilities in language arts. First, scholars inthis area frequently recommend that teachers engage students ininteractive scaffolding dialogues. Such support often requiresdifferentiated materials, processes, and content as well as individualstudent attention, strategies that are more likely to occur with twoprofessionals in a classroom who can engage students in meaningfuldialogue thus scaffolding the task at hand. In the early weeks of thestudy, we, as co-teachers, did not achieve this end because of ourmisconceptions about what it meant to co-teach. In the absence ofsufficient professional preparation of the co-teachers, we found that timeand resources were under utilized. However, as the co-teaching rolesand responsibilities became more delineated and as a result of thehelping routines, such as the Help Board and co-teaching traffic patterns,we could free time and attention for the students with LD. Foundationalto effective inclusion for students with LD are teachers skills inThis content downloaded from on Tue, 18 Jun 2013 12:39:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
    • CO-TEACHINGINLANGUAGEARTS 799classroom engagement, or what some prefer to think of as skills instudent engagement (Weiner, 2003). In our case, the classroom routinesand structures, which the classroom teacher established very early in thesemester, contributed to our ability to teach the range of studentsenrolled in this class.The students with LD expressed concerns about how they wereperceived by their peers and tended not to use the more overt helpingstructures as much as their classmates did. Instead, they developedcreative ways to ask for help. They accepted assistance primarily whenthe teachers came to them, and secondarily through other students.Ultimately, the critical judgments made by teachers in helping learnerswith LD -- when to speak, what to say, and when to turn a blind eye --are borne from subtle understandings of the complexities and nuances ofteaching and learning. Such judgments can only be developed throughextensive professional development and experience in co-teaching, asreflective practitioners develop commitment to, and responsibility for,inclusive practices that support students literacy learning.NOTES1Ethicsclearancewas received from both the University and the SchoolDistrictto conducttheinterviewsandthe recordedparticipantobservations2Toreceive this designation, students were of average to above averageintelligenceand scoredat two standarddeviationsbelow the mean on academictestsin readingandwriting.31Ihaveused pseudonymsfornamesof theteacher,students,andschool.REFERENCESAbadiano, H. R., & Turner, J. (2004). Expanding the writing process toaccommodate students with learning disabilities. The New EnglandReadingAssociationJournal,40(1),75-79.Angelis, J.I. (2003). Conversationin the middle school classroom: Developingreading, writing and other language abilities. MiddleSchoolJournal,34(3),57-61.Baker,S., Gersten,R.,&Scanlon,D. (2002).Proceduralfacilitatorsand cognitivestrategies: Tools for unravellingthe mysteriesof comprehensionandThis content downloaded from on Tue, 18 Jun 2013 12:39:52 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
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