Co-teaching Interventions for Students with Special Needs

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The following will discuss the social model perspective as a theoretical basis for the intervention of mainstreaming students with disabilities to traditional classrooms. In analyzing multiple studies critically, sampling, methods, results and limitations will be discussed at length in order to review the appropriateness of this theoretical basis for inclusion into the proposed problem intervention. This critical intervention analysis will provide the reader with a comprehensive and thorough development of the social model perspective and how it can be effectively applied to improve how special needs students are handled. While impairments can provide setbacks, they should be viewed as an issue to work around rather than writing off the people affected by it. The social model perspective provides a significant foundation for how managing impairments with teaming and co-teaching would improve student development and provide society with a more appropriate route to addressing the issues while maintaining social inclusion and limiting categorization and separation.

Theoretical Basis

From the beginning of the disability movement and the social model perspective, the difficulties encountered by disabled children have increasingly been viewed as the result of the failure of social structures to include them, rather than as the result of their impairment (Shah, 2007). This model or theory postulates that it is society which restricts disabled persons by producing social and environmental factors that create disadvantages (Rubin & Roessler, 2008). The origins of the social model perspective can be tracked back to the 1960’s, when the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation publically exclaimed that “disability is something imposed on top of our impairments by the way we are unnecessarily isolated and excluded from full participation in society" (UPIAS, 1997). In separating the concepts of impairments and disability, this organization laid the foundation for the social model perspective, focusing on how society can find a way to better integrate those with impairments so that they will not be discounted as a functional part of society (Gable, et. Al, 2004). As this statement was the first time the public was urged to reconsider their perspectives on the impact of impairments on functionality and inclusion in society, it created a prime foundation to shape and develop the history of the issue.

In the social model perspective, disability is viewed as an element forced on top of an individual’s already existing impairment. It is exhibited by the way students have needlessly been isolated in special schools and classrooms away from the mainstream population in the past (Shah, 2007). Instead of attempting to integrate these students into normal classrooms, they are set apart without allowing them to learn to manage their impairment without special treatment. The crux of this perspective is that Impairment and disability are significantly different concepts, not synonyms or euphemisms for one another. When an individual exhibits a physical, mental or sensory function loss or limitation on a long-term or permanent basis, he or she is considered impaired by definition (Carter, et. Al, 2009). However, suggesting or labeling an individual as disabled, does not allow them the opportunity to be able to take part in standard day-to-day life on an equal level. Physical and social barriers from outside of the individual’s impairment affect their ability to be productive members of society and the community when this opportunity is taken away (Anastasiou & Kauffman, 2013). This model views the structures and institutions within society as the crux of the problem. As a result, a heavy load is placed on school district teachers and administrators, who often bear the majority of the responsibility and consequences when impaired students do not graduate or have significant problems within classroom settings (Shah, 2007). Much less accountability is placed on caregivers, family members, or the students themselves as a result of the institutional focus of the theory.

Critical Analysis of Intervention

Collaborative teaching practices are widely recommended and have been adopted as a best practice to address the needs of a growing number of students with disabilities in general education environments. Rao (2007) discusses how collaboration and co-teaching could be used to prevent students from being placed in special education. In her analysis she advises that along with the issue of impaired students being included in general education classrooms, teachers are also find it challenging to employ best practices regarding them. This review addresses best practice education approaches relating to teaching, student programs, classroom procedures, and methods and strategies that have been proven to result in positive outcomes consistently. This idea is further supported by the research completed by McCammon (2011), which determined the effects of teacher collaboration and co teaching by monitoring elementary aged students with learning disabilities. This sampling consisted of three impaired students in the second grade as well as their special education teachers and general education classroom teachers. Each of these individuals was from a metro school district in north Colorado. The method of the study incorporated a multiple-baseline approach, starting with evaluating the students’ still levels in literacy using various monitoring assessments. These assessments included DIBELS oral reading fluency test, CBM Word Reading Assessment and the Dibels test of Nonsense Word Fluency. In addition, Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening was used to further assess and evaluate reading levels among the students in the sample. Literacy intervention with collaboration from special education teachers and general education teachers was initiated and the students were re-evaluated and tested. Results show that of the three students, one regressed, one improved, and the other stayed the same. The results do not present a fair position for collaboration intervention because they are marred by significant limitations. First, the sample size is very small, limiting the ability to incorporate anomalies or outliers. Secondly, while the study focused on collaboration, the teachers asserted that scheduling co-teaching opportunities and finding the time to work together limited their ability to fully impact the students with the intervention. As a result of the small sample size and the inability of the teachers to collaborate as effectively as the study intended, this study results a neutral outcome related to the critical analysis of collaboration and co-teaching as an effective intervention.

Damore and Murray (2009) explored factors that contributed to success, and highlighted the importance of understanding how teachers within urban settings viewed the practice of collaborative teaching models. Findings suggested that teachers valued inclusive practices, although special educators had higher ratings than those of general educators regarding inclusion. Special educators also placed higher value on interpersonal constructs such as positive attitudes and communication. A Meta-Analysis of co-teaching research by Murawski and Swanson (2001), finds that co-teaching is moderately effective with strong improvements in language arts, moderate effects in math, and negligible effects for social outcomes” (Murawski & Swanson, 2001). In this study, six out of eighty nine students provided enough data for effect size calculation. These six sampling subjects formed the basis for the meta-analysis results. These students ranged in grade level from kindergarten to 12th grade, eliminating 7th and 8th grade students with learning disabilities spanning from emotional disturbance, deaf and hard of hearing, intellectual disability and low achieving students with English as a second language. The research seeks to address the question of the general effectiveness of co-teaching models as well as the effectiveness of co-teaching with a variety of student variables such as grade level, gender, and type and severity of impairment. The method of study involved an intervention where co-teaching occurred every day for at least one hour. Students who participated were co-taught by both special education and regular teachers. Most of the studies lasted the entire school year. The outcome of the study found that co teaching is effective because the overall mean effective size for reading and language arts was 1.59, and the math achievement was a moderate improvement of .45 (Murawski & Swanson, 2001). The method of meta-analysis is a systematic search strategy that provides clear criteria. As a result, results can be statistically incorporated into the overall effect size of multiple variables. Despite the consistent methodology and the positive results, this study also has limitations. The sample size is still relatively small. Despite the accuracy of meta-analysis, it is recommended that more research is done to continue to support co-teaching and collaboration among impaired students in the school system. This would include more experimental control groups to compare co-teaching with other alternatives and an evaluation of outcomes as it is related to gender, grade, and disability. Lastly, a synthesis on qualitative information could be collected to strengthen this study, exposing noticeable limitations.

Through teaming, two educators as equal partners are able to develop a more comprehensive program that could adapt to the needs of all students, provide needed support to one another, help eliminate feelings of low-efficacy, and potentially increase their knowledge bases through shared experiences (Hansen, 2009). Nickelson’s (2010) study founded in qualitative single-case study helps to interpret how the co-teaching relationships develop and benefits students. The review sampling included anonymous students’ five schools from a Midwestern state near a metropolitan city. This sampling included 1,347 students, who were primarily of Caucasian descent with less than 10% of students comprising of Hispanic, African American or other nationalities. The methods of study were observation interview and focus group in order to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the impact. Study participants were exposed to both special education and general education teachers who worked with each of them. The data collected during the interviews were recorded with digital voice recorders and transcribed verbatim for data analysis. The results of the study showed an increase in student achievement when students with impairments were co-taught. They also reached higher levels of comprehension, consistent across the classrooms. These achievement levels were significant, asserting the importance and benefit of collaboration and co-teaching. The limitations of the study is that teachers were challenged by scheduling time to work together as well as the small possibility that interviewees were not fully honest. However, because of the increased size of the sample, it is more likely that the results as a whole are accurate.


These studies show that the effectiveness of intervention is increased by proper teacher training and time management. While studies supported the collaboration and co-teaching intervention, the small sample sizes presented limits to drawing more broad conclusions that could be applicable to entire populations. This intervention warrants further study in order to review consistent outcomes with larger sample sizes. It will also be helpful to address further research which breaks up the student impact by age, grade level, and severity of disability in order to provide more detailed and anecdotal recommendations

In conclusion, the intervention of co-teaching and collaborating is an effective approach for students with impairments. Based on the social model perspective, this research material supports the idea that society, not disabilities serve to handicap learning and development in the educational system.


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Damore, S. J., & Murray, C. (2009). Urban elementary school teachers’ perspectives regarding collaborative teaching practices. Remedial & Special Education, 30, 234-24

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