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Collaborative and Inclusive Strategies

The Transdisciplinary Model

Since the inception of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which mandates placement in the least restrictive environment, inclusion (or the regular education initiative) has become the predominant model in special education placement. Effective educational programming in an inclusive setting requires intensive and ongoing collaboration of all members of a student’s educational team. There is movement away from the traditional multi-disciplinary model, where experts work independently (and usually on a “pull-out” basis) on assessment, development of separate goals, and instruction related to their particular area of expertise, meeting occasionally to report progress to the team.

Advantages of the team approach

Many professionals believe that the transdisciplinary teaming model, with integrated special services occurring during the regular program in the regular classroom, is the most effective way of delivering instruction. In this model, everyone works collaboratively on the same goals, sharing responsibility for assessment, planning, sharing of information, problem solving, and decision-making. Experts in each area are responsible for reporting and monitoring progress in goals most related to their area of specialization, as well as “role release”, or training of other team members in the best practices of their specialized area as they apply to an individual student.

Inclusion in the regular classroom provides a continuity of curriculum for the student, with fewer interruptions in the day. The student can readily compare his or her skill level and achievement to that of his or her peers. Instruction in compensatory skills, such as the use of adaptations or assistive technology, is more effective and generalized when taught within the regular curriculum, in regular classroom activities. In addition, when a student attends his or her neighborhood school, he or she is more likely to be a part of the greater community, participating in community activities where functional application of skills will take place.

When a student is enrolled in mainstream classes, both special and general educators have increased opportunities to observe academic and social progress in order to make valid comparisons with peers, ensuring that the student’s development is age- and ability-appropriate, It is the ideal way to determine if the student is using time and assistive devices appropriately, and whether he or she is using effective notetaking strategies. There is the opportunity for teachers to combine expertise in order to teach more effectively.

Inclusion eliminates the problem of quality (or perceived quality) of mathematics instruction from a special education teacher, and reduces the issues created when a mathematics teacher is not versed in accommodations and adaptations for blind students. At the elementary level, inclusion also eliminates the inconvenience, to the classroom teacher, of having to send the student out of the classroom for mathematics instruction at important times of the day. This is particularly important when the schedule changes and the student misses a different class activity in order to receive mathematics instruction.

Implementation of the team approach

Implementation of the transdisciplinary teaming model requires training in collaboration and team teaching techniques. Regularly scheduled, frequent (at least weekly) time for planning and reviewing progress, airing problems, and discussing different approaches and instructional strategies is essential. There is a need to teach strategically, providing support groups or individualized additional instruction for students who need more time to practice facts, or who could benefit from enrichment or an extension of the curriculum. Meeting individual needs for methods or materials based on their particular learning style and/or strengths will help students build successful experiences in mathematics, and improve their confidence in mathematics-related skills.

In the ideal teaming situation, teachers share in planning, presenting lessons, and checking assignments. It is vital that students (as well as teachers) view both classroom and special educators as teachers, rather than one as a teacher, the other as a helper. Professionals share personal and professional strengths, and appreciation for each other’s expertise. Both teachers assume responsibility for instruction and for all students, including sharing success and frustrations, planning, evaluating, and problem solving. The teachers move back and forth between direct and indirect support. This system helps improve instruction by working collaboratively with strengths, joint efforts to solve problems, generation of creative methods, reduction of professional isolation, increased understanding of roles of different professionals, and a reduction of the stigma of special education (Pugach & Johnson, 1995).

Mathematics teachers are the specialists in mathematics, particularly in middle school and high school. Once a student masters basic concepts, including the Nemeth Code, then the mathematics teacher should teach mathematics, while the teacher of visually impaired students is responsible for teaching any new code information, and transcribing materials into braille, raised line drawings, and tactile graphics. Each uses his or her particular expertise, working closely together to facilitate learning. In high school, while co-planning and teaching may be impractical, it is vital that the special educator facilitate an ongoing system for communication with the mathematics specialist. This may take the form of memos, telephone contact, regularly scheduled tutoring sessions, or perhaps assistance from the teacher of visually impaired students in the administration and evaluation of tests.

Strategies for team teaching

Cooperation between grade level classroom teachers and special education personnel, including paraprofessionals, is necessary for inclusion in mathematics to succeed. Small homogenous groups for instruction in at least part of a lesson enable the teachers to adjust content according to ability levels while implementing modifications or adaptations. A small group also enhances student involvement and immediate feedback from the teacher. Large, heterogeneous groups are usually effective for introducing a new concept or skill. Grouping decisions should always be viewed as temporary (dynamic, or contingent, or flexible grouping), depending on the nature of the lesson and individual needs of the students.

There are a variety of effective methods for co-teaching. Different strategies should be used for different circumstances, depending on which would be most effective for a particular lesson. Some of the possibilities include:

Activities for teaching in an inclusive setting


Pugach, M. C. & Johnson, L. J. (1995). Collaborative practitioners, collaborative schools. Denver, CO: Love Publishing Co.