By Cami Williams, M.Ed.
Supporting High-Quality Inclusive Math Instruction in Co-Taught Classrooms
By Cathy Buyrn, M.Ed.
In February of 2021, the Link Lines Administrator’s Corner offered considerations for Supervising High-Quality Math Instruction. The Educator’s Lesson in the same edition, Word Problems? No Problem! A Conversation with Dr. Sarah Powell, offered teachers proven alternatives to ineffective problem-solving strategies. It is important for administrators and teachers to revisit and reaffirm a commitment to eliminating ineffective and inefficient practices in favor of evidence-based practices in math instruction. Ineffective instructional strategies in the math classroom have a negative impact on all students, but students with disabilities can experience even greater achievement gaps leading to negative long-term outcomes.
In this edition of Link Lines, the focus of the Administrator’s Corner and Educator’s Lesson above is placed on the specific challenges presented by the co-taught math classroom. There are layers to the effective supervision and support of both general and special educators in the co-taught math classroom. In addition to making sure that general education math teachers are using the most evidence-based instructional practices with all students, administrators must also address the comfort level and mathematical knowledge of special educators. Special educators may have limited training in, and knowledge of, math concepts and strategies.
Administrators can ensure that co-taught math classrooms are effective for all students by facilitating collaborative conversations and productive co-planning habits with teachers. Assigning a special educator to an inclusive math class without expectations and structures for effective collaboration rarely results in improved outcomes for students with disabilities. While special educators are not expected to be content experts in all content areas, a special educator in a co-taught math classroom cannot provide effective specially designed instruction without developing some level of comfort and fluency with math concepts and strategies (Sheppard & Wieman, 2020). Special educators can focus on the skills and content that will best address individual student needs identified in Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs).
Administrators should consider the following in order to support and facilitate high-quality inclusive math instruction:
- Co-planning, co-teaching, and co-assessment training for both general and special educators
- Protected common co-planning time for both general and special educators
- Math concept training and practice for special educators
- Limiting special education teacher assignments to 1-2 content areas (e.g., math/science, reading/history)
- Consistent assignments for special educators from year to year
- Maintaining effective co-teaching partnerships from year to year
Effective co-teaching does not happen without common planning time for general and special educators. Both teachers need to design assessments and instruction collaboratively in order to meet individual student needs (Friend & Barron, 2021). Protected co-planning time will benefit the students in the co-taught class and can help improve overall math instruction in all classes as teachers discover effective methods for correcting math misconceptions (Sheppard & Wieman, 2020).
A special education teacher who does not understand a math concept or strategy cannot assist students with developing their own math confidence and competence (Sheppard & Wieman, 2020). Trust between the general and special educator in the co-taught math classroom is essential. Administrators should facilitate and support honest conversations about methods for developing the math skills and knowledge of special educators and the collaborative skills of general educators. Special educators who are assigned to too many content areas in a single year or from year to year will not be able to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to be an effective co-teacher in the math classroom. General educators who are paired with a different special educator too frequently will struggle to collaborate and develop trusting and effective partnerships. It is the administrator’s job to set co-teachers up for success by providing structures and supports in order to ensure positive outcomes (Friend & Barron, 2021).
Co-teaching in any content area can be one of the most professionally rewarding experiences of a teacher’s career. Teachers who experience successful co-teaching relationships are more likely to stay in schools where administrators facilitate and support conditions that allow them to be productive and successful. Creating a combination of expectations and supports for math co-teachers is a professional win for everyone and a long-term win for students lucky enough to have such teachers.
Administrators can point math co-teachers to the Virginia Department of Education’s Co-Teaching Mathematics Instructional Plans (MIPs) for examples of the Virginia Mathematics Standards of Learning (SOL) designed to be delivered through established co-teaching approaches. Other valuable math and co-teaching resources can be found on the page and can be used to help facilitate productive co-teaching conversations focused on math.
Friend, M., & Barron, T. (2021). Specially designed instruction for co-teaching. Marilyn Friend.
Sheppard, M. E., & Wieman, R. (2020). What do teachers need? Math and special education teacher educators’ perceptions of essential teacher knowledge and experience. Journal of Mathematical Behavior, 59. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmathb.2020.100798