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December 1, 1994
Vol. 52
No. 4

Not A Way Out: A Way In

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Satisfied parents, students, and teachers know that with the Team Approach to Mastery, inclusion isn't a dream or a fad. This system has nearly 20 years of research and development behind it.

Instructional StrategiesInstructional Strategies
For nearly 20 years now, the Christina School District of Newark, Delaware, has been building and evaluating an inclusive classroom model, Team Approach to Mastery (TAM). Before the advent of TAM in 1975, students with disabilities were periodically taken from their regular classroom and placed in a resource room—where, along with other children with disabilities, they received individualized instruction for a part of the school day. In TAM classrooms, students with disabilities are educated alongside their nondisabled peers throughout the entire school day; there is an average ratio of two nondisabled children to each child with a disability. Back when labeling children was a common practice, our department of special services stressed two crucial points. “Labels are not to be used to identify students, but solely for administrative purposes outside of the classroom; and nondisabled students are to be randomly assigned in order to prevent the development of nonheterogeneous classes.”
Initially, this bold departure from traditional special education classroom models faced skepticism. The parents of disabled students worried about acceptance. Some parents of high-achieving students doubted that their children would receive adequate instruction. TAM now has the support of parents of both disabled and nondisabled students. “I feel this program is responsible for my child's improvement in self-esteem and her attitude toward her studies,” as one parent of a disabled student put it. A parent of a nondisabled student said that “the individual attention given my son by the teachers in the TAM program has allowed him to better understand the subjects he is being taught.”
Today, our district, with more than 20,000 students, has no resource rooms at all. More than 100 TAM classrooms serve students ages 3–21. TAM's integration of children with disabilities into the regular classroom offers them not a way out of general education, but a way in.

A Method for Mainstreaming

Throughout the past two decades, we have refined the TAM model and expanded its use. At the heart of TAM are seven practices that offer a structure for full classroom inclusion: team teaching, learning centers, ego groups, direct instruction, positive approach, point cards, and teacher cadres.
These core practices—plus a combination of research and supervision—have generated a continuing spirit of growth and renewal within our district.
Team teaching. Many experts have observed that in successful schools and programs, teachers work collaboratively (Little 1987, Fullan and Miles 1992). In TAM classrooms, two teachers—one certified in special education, the other in general education—jointly instruct both nondisabled children and children with disabilities. A paraprofessional is assigned to each classroom on a part-time basis. In addition, related services staff (for example, speech and language pathologists) provide instruction within the classroom.
All staff members are involved in joint planning and decision making. And most important, teachers are prepared to teach all children effectively.
Learning centers. From the beginning, we knew a one-size-fits-all approach would not work with TAM: a teaching method that is effective for some may be ineffective with others (Dunn and Griggs 1988). For disabled students to succeed in a general education setting, their individual learning needs and styles must be addressed. Thus learning centers play a crucial role in TAM classrooms. Each day, a block of time is set aside for work in the classroom learning centers. During this period, students work in small groups to develop skills in writing, thinking, attention to task, and eye-hand coordination.
Ego groups. As social-comparison theory (Festinger 1954) and subsequent research (Coleman 1983, Renick and Harter 1989) have suggested, merely including students with disabilities in the regular classroom does not, in itself, enhance their self-concepts. In TAM, a session at the beginning of each school day—called Ego Group—focuses on issues related to self-esteem.
One Ego Group activity is “Star of the Day.” Students are given the opportunity to be the star on a rotating basis. Teachers encourage students to express positive feelings and perceptions about their classmates. Teachers write on the Star Card all of the comments made about the star, who takes it home for his or her parents to see. This helps reinforce positive traits.
Direct instruction. It didn't take long for us to ask the extraordinarily complex question: How do we provide quality reading instruction within a general education classroom setting to low-achieving students? TAM teachers found, as research suggests, that whole language and/or conventional basal reading programs are not always effective for low-achieving students (Meyer 1983, Gersten and Keating 1987). The majority of low-achieving students need review, practice, clarity, and systematic feedback (Gersten and Carnine 1986).
Research pointed to direct instruction as an effective instructional strategy for this group. The expanded use of direct instruction in the basic skills—along with whole language instruction and an integrated curriculum—helps all students reach their highest possible academic performance.
Positive approach. TAM stresses the ethic of “catching students being good.” The staff and other students praise and support one another. Consistent with this approach is systematic use of a discipline plan to acknowledge appropriate behavior. As Canter (1989) stresses: “Teachers will never get to the content unless they know how to create a positive environment in which students know how to behave.”
Point cards. One way we create a positive environment in TAM is through the Point Card. First developed by four teachers in our district in 1975, the Point Card system gives students the opportunity to earn credits during each period for appropriate behavior and completion of assignments (Crow et al. 1975). Reward activities are provided based on points earned during the day. Used properly, the Point Card establishes expectations for behavior, giving positive reinforcement on a consistent basis throughout the day.
Teacher cadres. Studies have demonstrated the value of collaborative relationships among teaching professionals (Glickman 1990, Shulman 1986). The TAM model includes the development of teacher cadres: a group of trained, experienced TAM teachers who are released from their classroom responsibilities twice a month to work with other teachers in their classrooms. Teacher cadres seek to provide other TAM teachers with peer assistance aimed at two goals: (1) feedback about instructional skills, and (2) peer dialogue to develop greater awareness and more reflective decision making (Schon 1987, Garman 1990).

Learning as We Teach

Continuous program evaluation and a powerful staff development program have provided the necessary tools for TAM's acceptance, growth, and renewal.
Program evaluation. An innovative program means little unless the district can determine its effects on students. Hence, research and evaluation became critical to the TAM model. Over the past 18 years, we have monitored the achievement gains of disabled and nondisabled students in TAM. And we have regularly conducted attitude surveys among teachers, parents, and administrators.
Repeatedly, we have found the achievement of nondisabled students in TAM to be as good as—and in some grades, significantly higher than—nondisabled students in other general education classes. The most recent study (Bear and Proctor 1990) reported that on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, 3rd grade nondisabled students in TAM classes performed significantly better than nondisabled students in other general education settings. On the total battery of tests—including math, reading, and language—they averaged 7 normal curve equivalent units more than their peers in regular classes.
What do teachers like about working in a TAM classroom? “Having been in the district for 21 years, I feel that we finally have a program that best serves both the disabled and nondisabled students,” said Pat Martin. A 1993 district survey of TAM teachers' attitudes showed that the most frequently cited comment was: “In TAM there is a greater opportunity to meet individual needs and learning styles.”
Staff development. In a cohesive and coordinated program such as TAM, preservice and inservice education programs become vital and powerful experiences. Preservice helps prospective teachers acquire content knowledge and pedagogical techniques collaboratively (Edmonds 1979, Goodlad 1982). Inservice is necessary if teachers are to grow and improve.
Creating such a framework requires more than a single presentation—or even a series of infrequent meetings with experts (Berman and McLaughlin 1975). Thus we provide workshops throughout the school year and during the summer. There, teachers, district staff, and consultants participate as valued partners.

The Proof of Experience

Districts often assume that new findings require an “out with the old, in with the new” approach—fostering swings between extremes (Brophy 1992). But TAM classrooms present a sustained effort to incorporate new teaching strategies with the old. The TAM model resulted from a sustained effort over a number of years and the thoughtful integration of proven educational methods. Its positive effects are measurable in the academic and social success of students both with and without disabilities, as well as in the attitudes of parents, teachers and administrators. In the words of one principal, “I wish all classrooms were TAM classrooms.” TAM not only embodies the spirit of inclusion—it also supplies the structure necessary for it to happen.
References

Bear, G., and W. Proctor. (1990). “Impact of a Full-Time Integrated Program on the Achievement of Nonhandicapped and Mildly Handicapped Children.” Exceptionality 1: 227–238.

Berman, P., and M. McLaughlin. (1975). Federal Programs Supporting Educational Change, Vol. IV: The Findings in Review. Santa Monica: The Rand Corporation.

Brophy, J. (1992). “Probing the Subtleties of Subject-Matter Teaching.” Educational Leadership 49, 7: 4–8.

Canter, L. (1989). “Assertive Discipline-More than Names on the Board and Marbles in a Jar.” Phi Delta Kappan: 57–61.

Coleman, J. (1983). “Self-Concept and the Mildly Handicapped: The Role of Social Comparisons.” The Journal of Special Education 17: 37–45.

Crow, F., D. Johnston, M. Meeks, and P. Wilson. (1975). “Punch Me, I Earned It.” Teaching Exceptional Children 8, 1: 13–16.

Dunn, R. and S. Griggs. (1988). Learning Styles: Quiet Revolution in American Secondary Schools. Reston, Va.: National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Edmonds, R. (1979). “Effective Schools for the Urban Poor.” Educational Leadership 37, 1: 15–24.

Festinger, L. (1954). “A Theory of Social Comparison Processes.” Human Relations 2: 117–140.

Fullan, M., and M. Miles. (June 1992). “Getting Reform Right: What Works and What Doesn't.” Phi Delta Kappan: 745–752.

Garman, N. B. (1990). “Theories Embedded in the Events of Clinical Supervision: A Hermeneutical Approach.” Journal of Curriculum and Supervision 5, 3: 201–214.

Gersten, R., and D. Carnine. (1986). “Direct Instruction in Reading Comprehension.” Educational Leadership 4: 70–78.

Gersten, R., and T. Keating. (1987). “Long-Term Benefits from Direct Instruction.” Educational Leadership 47, 6: 28–31.

Glickman, C. (1990). Supervision of Instruction. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Goodlad, J. (January 28, 1982). “A Study of Schooling.” Paper presented to the Stanford Teacher Education Project, Calif.

Little, J. (1987). “Teachers as Colleagues.” In Educators' Handbook: A Research Perspective, edited by V. R. Koehler, pp. 143–156. New York: Longman.

Meyer, L. (1983). “Long-Term Effects of the Direct Instruction Project Follow Through.” The Elementary School Journal 84: 380–394.

Renick, M., and S. Harter. (1989). “Impact of Social Comparisons on the Developing Self-Perceptions of Learning Disabled Students.” Journal of Educational Psychology 81: 631–638.

Schon, D. (1987). Educating the Reflective Practitioner. New York: BasicBooks.

Shulman, L. (1986). “Those Who Understand: Knowledge Growth in Teaching.” Educational Researcher 15, 2: 4–21.

Dede Johnston has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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