Team Presents Co-teaching Research at National Forum

student and teacher

A primary objective of the MERGE research was to develop an integrated teacher education program for general education and special education teachers.

A faculty team from Radford University’s School of Teacher Education and Leadership (STEL) will travel to a national conference in Texas this week to present results of research that led to a new classroom model for children with special needs.

With funding from a $500,000 federal grant, Professors Elizabeth Altieri, Kenna Colley, Holly Robbins and Dana Rose have been collaborating since 2007 on Project MERGE: Merging Expertise for Results in General Education. A primary objective was to develop an integrated teacher education program for general education and special education teachers.

The researchers found that when teachers merged their expertise in academic content and teaching strategies to work with a class as a whole, rather than focusing separately on special-needs children and the general student population, all students benefited.

True co-teaching between general and special educators had been rare, Altieri said, in part because university teacher preparation programs had not given them the skills or even established the expectations for co-teaching. “We are doing that,” she said, “and our alumni are becoming agents of positive change in their schools.”

She attributed much of the RU program's success to an environment that values collaboration—STEL comprises program areas that are separate departments in most universities—and to the support of STEL Director Sandra Moore, whom Altieri credits with helping to overcome scheduling and other administrative hurdles.

By the 2010–11 academic year, two cohorts of elementary education-special education intern pairs were teaching in the same school and were taking the same weekly internship seminar. Each intern taught all the children in a classroom, sometimes with both team members in front of the class together, sometimes with interns leading different small groups, sometimes with one teaching while the other observed.

The general education teacher's content expertise combined with the special education teacher's knowledge of strategies to help struggling learners. The researchers discovered that many of the strategies used for students with disabilities are helpful to other students as well.

Researchers conducted interviews in December with current co-placed intern pairs. Several cited the positive impact that learning to communicate with each other, co-plan and co-teach had on them as emerging professionals and on the students in their classrooms. One pair said its students never realized that one was a special educator and one a general educator. All the students saw each of them simply as a teacher.

Altieri, Colley, Rose, Robbins and Moore will present a professional clinic, “Transforming Our Practice: Co-teaching, Co-placement, Collaboration,” at the national conference of the Association of Teacher Educators in San Antonio Saturday through Wednesday. An article with the same title by the five plus Leslie Daniel, of the special education faculty, and Kathie Dickenson, Project MERGE coordinator, will appear in the spring 2012 issue of The Teacher Educators’ Journal, a publication of the Association of Teacher Educators in Virginia.

Feb 9, 2012
Bonnie Erickson