Co-Teaching Proves Successful Concept

By Amy Sherrill

GREENWOOD – Students at East Hills Middle School are getting the extra help they need without having to be pulled from a classroom.

The school that houses the district’s fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders uses a co-teaching method throughout the building to ensure that all students are understanding class curriculum. That means a teacher whose specialty is special education would be in a classroom with a teacher who is math or literacy certified, and so on.

In years past, children with learning disabilities were pulled out of classrooms and put into a resource room for individual instruction. East Hills Principal Donnie Whitson said the old resource way wasn’t working.

“We’ve always had teachers who had to differentiate their instruction,” Whitson said. “That’s never going to change. With co-teaching, they may have to differentiate a little bit more because of needs, but that’s why the co-teacher is in there so we’re not just putting them in there without support.”

Learning disabilities can include autism, hearing and language impaired, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or attention deficit disorder, said Patti Allison, the district’s special education supervisor.

“A learning-disabled child has a true IQ ability that should be within the normal ranges, but there is a neurological difficulty that impairs their learning,” Allison said.

Children with extremely severe cases of learning disabilities are still taught in self-contained classrooms.

East Hills co-teacher Camille Monchamp, whose background is in special education, works with students every day who are not classified as learning disabled. She not only helps the students who are identified as needing help, she helps any student in a classroom who needs something explained or modified.

“Every day there’s always somebody who’s got questions or doesn’t understand something,” Monchamp said. “Usually you can see the blank look on their face. They’re just staring at the overhead, lost.

As Monchamp gets to know students during the school year, she can read their faces well and if she sees someone may not understand what a math, reading or social studies teacher says, she just pulls up a chair beside the student and begins reteaching the topic by rephrasing and putting things into simple terms.

Monchamp says that when a teacher hands a piece of paper to a student who has difficulty reading, all the student sees is the multitude of words. To help them, she draws a box around a paragraph and the task becomes less difficult for the student as it is broken into sections.

“When the teacher’s instructing, I usually try to sit back and stay in the back and be as less intrusive as I can, but when you see they’re not understanding, I just pull up a chair and just try to whisper,” Monchamp said. “The kids get used to it and they don’t care. They don’t seem to mind it at all.”

Laura Beth Anderson, whose son, Tyler Anderson, is in sixth grade at East Hills, needed help with reading beginning in third grade after childhood issues left him behind. That year, he was pulled out for resource class for extra help.

In fourth grade, Tyler was in a class that had implemented the co-teaching model, and he stayed in his class with his peers and received help at the same time. By the end of fourth grade, he scored proficient on the statewide reading exam.

Now, Tyler is reading at grade level, and he’s reading more than he’s ever read.

Anderson, who teaches alternative learning in kindergarten through second grade at Westwood Primary School, understands how important reading is for student success.

“It’s huge,” she said. “It’s everything. Reading is so, so important. It just affects everything, and now in math with all the reading word problems. You have to know how to read.”

Anderson said that in third and fourth grades when Tyler was struggling as a reader, “you just read what we have to read.” She described Tyler as dreading the experience.

That’s all changed now, thanks to his teachers, his mom said.

“Tyler reads (while I’m) driving down the road,” Anderson said. “If you have waited for that to happen. It’s a wonderful thing to see your child pick up a book. And that’s where we are now.”

He’s also on the waiting list at a local book store for the seventh Harry Potter book. He’s read the other six, none of which were required for school.

For Tyler, the co-teaching model can be summed up like this: “I get to stay at my own desk,” he told his mom recently.

Teachers also are making reading fun to encourage non-readers to become readers. East Hills Middle School teacher Ava Sanderson has a fishing boat in her classroom. Students get to take turns putting on the life jackets and sitting in bucket seats in the boat. Only one requirement, though. They must read.

Allison said that oftentimes a learning disabled student will gradually decrease the help they need. The student may need to hear his lesson on tape or he may simply need a copy of a study guide earlier than others.

“I think we are truly increasing the students’ knowledge base by not removing them, and if they need help, it’s right there to help them,” she said.

Whitson said students who needed resource help in the past can now be grouped with students whose ability level is much higher and take advantage of peer tutoring

“You’re going to see kids rise above where they’ve been before,” Whitson said.

He mentions a sixth-grade student who went from lower level reading to being the top reader in sixth grade.

“Some of these kids are the hardest workers you’ll ever see,” Monchamp said. “They’re little overachievers.”

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