Tales From a Fourth-Grade Classroom Collaboration Brings Personal Satisfaction, Improves Scores School Matters
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School Matters  |   February 01, 2005
Tales From a Fourth-Grade Classroom
Author Notes
  • Susan Boswell, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at sboswell@asha.org.
    Susan Boswell, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at sboswell@asha.org.×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / School Matters
School Matters   |   February 01, 2005
Tales From a Fourth-Grade Classroom
The ASHA Leader, February 2005, Vol. 10, 18-20. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM2.10022005.18
The ASHA Leader, February 2005, Vol. 10, 18-20. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM2.10022005.18
What’s a speech-language pathologist doing teaching a fourth-grade social studies class?
Last fall, Ryan Bianchetti, along with special educator Jessica Forman and classroom teacher Jennifer Zarnoweicki, found that a mutual friendship produced a synergy of teaching styles that brought better results for their students and a greater awareness of SLPs at Fort Hunt Elementary in Fairfax, VA.
The three became part of a growing number of education professionals who are co-teaching to meet the requirements for inclusion under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The arrangement began when Jennifer Zarnoweicki looked at her class list and realized that one-third of her students had Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). The classroom composition was by design. After six years, Zarnoweicki had left special education to meet the needs of these students as a classroom teacher. “I felt there was a need for teachers who were ready to have special education students in their class and willing to do inclusion,” she said.
The large number of students with disabilities grouped into a single class-many of whom were receiving services for both speech-language disorders and learning disabilities-provided the perfect environment for co-teaching. Students wouldn’t need to be pulled from other fourth-grade classrooms or spend a lot of time out of the classroom to receive special education services.
As the trio met weekly to plan services, they decided they could make a bigger impact by infusing services into the social studies curriculum focused on Virginia history. Fourth-graders are also tested on social studies as part of the statewide Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. These annual high-stakes tests are used to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress requirements of NCLB, and, beginning in 2004, student performance on the SOLs became linked to graduation.
Co-Teaching in Action
While co-teaching is typically thought of as a partnership between two educators, the collaboration proved that three’s company in the classroom by recognizing the unique area of professional expertise and different teaching style that each individual brought to the team.
The level of trust and collaboration among the team allowed them to alternate between taking a larger and smaller role in classroom teaching, and to shift among co-teaching models depending on the instructional goals. “We mixed and melded until we had a co-teaching model that worked best for us,” Bianchetti said.
As the classroom teacher, Zarnoweicki set the pace and determined the social studies content that would be covered during the week. On alternating days, Bianchetti and Forman joined her in the classroom and used parallel teaching to reinforce what was taught and to make the content more accessible. Students with language and learning disabilities might not be able to read the entire chapter, so the co-teachers would work from a chapter summary.
“We did a lot of vocabulary pre-teaching. We worked on summarizing the main idea of the chapter, on timelines, and on sequencing information,” Bianchetti said.
Each Wednesday featured a half-hour curriculum extension activity, developed by Bianchetti, which included:
  • Mnemonics-a “password” helped students remember key phrases or historical figures.

  • Singing-a song about the branches of government helped students learn.

  • Games-a version of “Simon Says” helped students learn the five regions of Virginia and could be played while students were in line for lunch.

  • Trading cards-to learn about bartering in Colonial America, students traded cards with pictures of chickens and cows. Like the colonists, the students used tobacco leaves to get credit that couldn’t be obtained through trading.

“I tried to come up with lesson plans that would be engaging to help them remember the content, and go across sensory modalities to have additional input for cognitive processing,” Bianchetti said.
The curriculum extension activities also drew kudos from Zarnoweicki and Forman who were inspired by Bianchetti’s creative lesson plans and multisensory approach. “Co-teaching gives teachers new strategies and provides the opportunity for special educators and SLPs to model behaviors so teachers can see how to implement them,” Forman said.
Zarnoweicki said she tries to incorporate techniques modeled by Bianchetti into every lesson she teaches. “The directions she gave to the students were very sequential, and she always had visuals on the board as well as in front of the children,” Zarnoweicki said. “She repeated the directions, and had them on paper as well.”
A Passing Grade
At the end of the year, everyone involved was satisfied with what had been accomplished in the classroom-a success that did not go unnoticed by Fort Hunt Elementary School Principal Carol Coose. “The principal was very pleased with what she was hearing about the fourth grade classroom and the lessons that were going on,” Bianchetti said.
The scores from the high-stakes SOL tests substantiated their success. The entire class had a 100% pass rate-including all of the students in special education. Altogether, the pass rate was 97% for all fourth-grade classrooms.
Reflections on Co-Teaching
A friendship outside of the classroom allowed the educators to work through many stumbling blocks that co-teachers face: responsibility for students, grading, classroom management, and space. But one common hurdle still remained-planning time.
The three tried to meet for a half-hour twice a week, but planning often occurred after school hours-and occasionally didn’t happen at all, leading to some spontaneity. The time crunch also limited their ability to evaluate progress, Zarnoweicki said.
While SLPs have long recognized the importance of inclusion and collaboration with families and teachers, co-teaching is a delicate balance that brings unique challenges-and rewards. “I learned that I really had to be mindful of the responsibilities of the classroom teacher so that I was not overstepping bounds or stressing someone,” Bianchetti said. “While I’m responsible for providing services to children on my caseload, the classroom teacher is responsible for 28 students and the entire curriculum.”
Even if SLPs are not co-teaching in the classroom, collaboration with other educators is essential, Bianchetti said. “When you work within the curriculum, you’re fostering and enhancing relationships with other school-based professionals.”
Co-Teaching: Learning From Experience

SLP Ryan Bianchetti, special educator Jessica Forman, and classroom teacher Jennifer Zarnoweicki offer these tips for SLPs who are interested in co-teaching:

  • Start the conversation. “Find people who are interested in co-teaching and want to learn more,” Forman said.

  • Research the various co-teaching models. “The model used for co-teaching may become more integrated as the level of trust builds between two education professionals,” Forman said.

  • Start small but think big. “Co-teaching is a challenging process. Start slowly, working it out with one person to get a rhythm in the classroom. Success will open up more opportunities for co-teaching,” Bianchetti said.

  • Respect roles. “As important as your role is as an SLP, you have to remember that there are other teachers providing services, and be mindful of what they need to accomplish,” Bianchetti said. “You are all working toward the same goal.”

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February 2005
Volume 10, Issue 2