Linda H. Sherwood
Inquiry into Teaching
The Good, the Bad, and the Really Uncomfortable
I thought that teaching for 18 years gave me the kind of background – repertoire
– that would make teaching just about any kind of student possible. After all, I‟ve
taught every grade level and every course my department offers (including an
ESL class) giving me exposure to all kinds of students, so I figured I reached the
point in my career where I had finally become one of those teachers (George
Ehrenhaft, Richard Ciotti, Lorna Minor) that I had once looked up to. I was sadly
At the end of last year my department chair asked me to teach the tenth
grade inclusion. I‟m pretty organized (I backwards plan each quarter and the
entire year focuses on a single theme), I‟ve been teaching tenth grade forever, and
I‟ve had plenty of special ed. students in my classes over the years, so I welcomed
the opportunity. I relished the idea of being able to co-teach with another teacher
(I love teaming), and I looked forward, a little bit selfishly, to that feeling we
teachers get when we feel like we „are making a difference‟.
Now, looking back over these months, what I‟m filled with (at best) is a
sense of frustration – but more importantly, after doing a great deal of research
on inclusion, I also feel resentment towards the policies that put me in this
position without proper training and without a tried and true model. According
to Lisa Dieker and Wendy Murawski, authors of “Co-Teaching at Secondary
Level: Unique Issues, Current Trends, and Suggestions for Success”, there are
specific elements, elements that could have been addressed, that affect the
success of inclusion classrooms including (but not limited to):
lack of skills of inclusion students
complex curriculum on secondary level
content specialists without strong content knowledge
classroom teacher autonomy
lack of common prep time
time spent on behavior/social issues, class size
too wide a range of learning needs
too many contacts
But at the same time, they offer possible solutions for these problems including:
time for discussions about curriculum/accommodations/assessment
teacher training in varying instructional practices
activity based classrooms
common planning periods
If I knew then what I know now…..
First let me say, it hasn‟t been all bad. I love my tenth graders, and I look forward
to periods 5 and 6 every day. I‟ve tried (and I‟ve actually gotten much better at it)
to differentiate my instruction and assessment and there have been a few things
that I‟ve stumbled upon that have worked with different degrees of success. After
a conversation with one of my APs about establishing goals for a unit (separating
content, skills, goals, etc), I planned out my poetry unit. For the final poetry
assessment, I „borrowed‟ a technique from a recently retired teacher. I had three
versions of the exam. If a student chose the hardest test, he or she got the grade
and +5. If a student chose the middle version, he or she got a straight grade. If
the student chose the easiest version, he or she got a grade and -5. (See Appendix
A attached) The students didn‟t love the idea when I explained it to them before
the day of the test, but they lived with it. This gave me the opportunity to really
challenge the high end students with a difficult poem and tough analytical
questions. At the same time, they felt rewarded by the five points. It also allowed
for the weakest students to achieve some level of success. It sounds great, right?
But here are the problems:
1. It took me three days to create three different, meaningful, comprehensive
tests. Three days. It cut dearly into my planning and grading time. This is
a type of assessment I probably wouldn‟t be able to do more than once or
twice per year.
2. Many of the weakest students still failed. It seems that when it comes to
poetry, differentiating assessment simply isn‟t enough. But, I really
believe that I couldn‟t have watered it down any more than I did without
making it meaningless.
The second thing that worked a little better was a written assignment. After
reading “The Body” by Stephen King, I took the students to the computer lab for
four days (it should have been three, some kids were done in two, but some
needed more time). In class we had covered the rules about newspaper writing,
and the students were required to create a comprehensive front page using desk
top publishing including two articles, pictures, etc. The assignment allowed for a
lot of leeway – and because I was in the lab with the inclusion teacher, a TA, and
the lab TA (four adults!), all of the students were able to receive a great deal of
individual attention. It was differentiated instruction at its best for me (a concept
I struggle with every day) because it also allowed for a great deal of creativity for
many of the students. The final products ranged from the very simple to quite
complex, but all students learned the basic skills necessary for both writing a
newspaper article (something they are often asked to do for task two on the
English Regents) and creating a document using desktop publishing software (a
real life skill). (See Appendix B Attached)
A third project that worked (mostly) involved a writing assignment for
East of Eden. I provided three options – each consisted of some pages to refer to
in the text, a series of questions to address, a pre-writing exercise, and a final
assignment. Each day in class we worked on a different task in groups,
individually, and with the help of the inclusion teacher and the TA. Ultimately,
the students chose the one they were most comfortable with, polished it, and
turned it in the following week. (See Appendix C attached) The weaker students
got a great deal of help, and the students on the high end were able to be
challenged by thinking and writing about all three. But…
…the grading is not equitable. So some kids did three essay, some did two and
some did one. How do I justify my grades? I told the students who did three that
they did them to grow as writers and learners. Most of them were furious with
me – they want a grade – credit – some sort of „real‟ recognition for what they
consider to be „extra‟ and better work (and I can‟t keep giving „extra credit‟
because the high end students will have averages over 100 and the low end
students will want to do „extra credit‟ too – but it‟s on a level that they can‟t do).
The students who got a great deal of help, and did modified work, sometimes
received high grades. How do I explain two B+ grades for the same assignment
when the assignment wasn‟t really the same at all? In Chapter 11 of Fair Isn‟t
Always Equal by Rick Wormeli, he believes that this issue can be dealt with if
the report card allows teachers to indicate that a grade needs
to be interpreted in some way when reading it – that is, the
grade does not indicate the same level of mastery as that
same grade earned by other students – then the regular
education teacher can relax: He‟s not giving a false A
because it was an adjusted curriculum…If this is not
possible, however, the regular education teacher is going to
be frustrated. (Wormeli 150)
Like many of the other researchers in this field, Wormeli offers solutions.
He believes that there are two easy ways to „fix‟ the grading problem. The first is
too put a specific course tite such as “Honors, II, or Remedial near the regular
course title” (174). The second is for the teacher to “to place an asterisk next to
the grade (or a checkmark or an “X” in a box for this purpose) indicating that the
viewer of the report card should access a narrative comment recorded about that
grade” (Wormeli 174). This comment doesn‟t have to be specific to inclusion – it
could be that a student missed class due to an illness and his or her grade doesn‟t
reflect the capabilities or maybe a student moves mid-year. An asterisk could be
positive or negative – and for an inclusion student the comment could be as
simple as “this 90% is a reflection of Susie‟s growth, effort and development in
English this year. It is not an exact assessment of her content knowledge.”
When I began this inquiry project, my goal was to look at the research and
use what‟s out there to develop lesson plans and maybe even a model that would
work in my classroom. Instead, what I discovered is that there is no definitive
research out there for how inclusion works, or even if it works, on the secondary
level. The article “Case Studies in Co-Teaching in the Content Areas: Successes,
Failures, and Challenges”, the authors cite research done by Weichel in 2001 in
ninth grade English. Weichel compared the academic performance of students in
co-taught classrooms, mainstreamed classrooms, general education classrooms,
inclusion classrooms and core classrooms and found no statistical differences.
Laura Idol in her article, “Toward Inclusion of Special Education Students in
General Education: A Program evaluation of Eight School”, found that on the
secondary level the overall class grade on standardized statewide performance
tests was lowered by 3 to 7 points. And the majority of the research I looked at
(provided to me by Annie Zimmer and found through ProQuest by Tina Pantginis
– see works cited page) actually had very little to offer the secondary school
teacher. The majority of the current inclusion research work is being done on the
elementary classroom level.
So, I tried my colleagues. What I discovered is a group of frustrated
teachers. Like me, they have found certain things that work, but overall, not one
of them considers the program „successful‟. According to Nancy Rice, author of
“Opportunities Lost, Possibilities Found”, the main reason for these negative
outcomes and levels of frustration is that schools move forward with inclusion
models without having the necessary elements in place to promote success. She
states that the majority of the research has been on the elementary level, and that
it‟s harder in high school because high school teachers are generally content
specialists who focus on curriculum over skills. Our classrooms are often
teacher-centered (because they have to be) and we are held accountable for our
students‟ successes and failures. She also believes the heterogeneity is too broad.
The Really Uncomfortable:
We need proof that this model is viable. I won‟t volunteer to do this again until
someone can show me that it legitimately accomplishes something for the
students who are inclusion, and those who aren‟t. I have heard on more than
one occasion from my regular students that it “isn‟t fair”. And the reality is, it
isn’t fair (my inclusion kids averaged 27/30 on the modified version of part one of
the mid-term, my regular kids averaged 21/30). These students get so many
accommodations and modifications that they end up doing less work and getting
higher grades than the students with whom they will be competing for college.
The colleges don‟t know that Student A only did 20% of the vocabulary, had a
detailed study guide, and got help in his special setting. All the college knows is
that Student A got an 80% in Mrs. Sherwood‟s English 10 class and Student B got
a 74%. On the flip side of this, I have students with 99% averages this year.
When more that 30% of my class is Special Ed., how do I design a curriculum that
will challenge the high end student? I worry every day that they are bored (or at
the very least not being challenged or pushed they way they should be, and they
are definitely not being prepared for honors next year). If and when I do
design something that works, how do I justify demanding a higher level of
thinking and production from higher end students without any reward except
that they are learning more? How do I teach high end analytical and abstract
concepts without losing the interest of the low end students?
I do see some possible solutions:
1. Our department bought into the heterogeneity model about 15 years ago. It‟s
time to abandon that. We need two tracks (and maybe even three) in the tenth
and eleventh grades. There has to be a B track that moves slowly and
deliberately. There needs to be a regular 10 for students who can read faster and
write better and understand things on a deeper level. And, with more and more
students being permitted to take AP, there needs to be an A track for the students
we are preparing for this. (I haven‟t done ½ of the preparation activities I‟ve
done for this cluster of students in the past). (Please note that since I wrote this,
our department is in the midst of adopting a Project Prepare for 11th grade).
2. The inclusion students should get a grade of Pass/Fail (or use one of
Wormeli‟s options – he has more than the two I suggested above) If the
assignments are modified, and the goal is simply „learning‟ – educators can
concentrate on that without the frenzy that accompanies „the grade‟. This, to me,
would be the “least restrictive environment”. We could then, in good conscience,
use literacy circles, modified vocabulary, etc. How are we supposed to help them
grow if everything is „modified‟ to the point where they get it? Where‟s the
challenge? Where‟s the development?
3. Teachers need training.
4. Teachers need fewer inclusion students per class to even see if this model our
school has adopted makes any sense at all (because as far as I can tell it doesn‟t).
5. There needs to be planning time built into the schedule and the summer. I
came up with some ideas to try out in the third quarter before mid-terms. My
inclusion teacher and resource teacher and I are meeting today (2/1) 8 th period –
it was the first time in 10 school days we were all available. The curriculum must
move on. So, not only have we never co-taught a class, they have had no input in
the planning, development or execution of the next unit.
As the year comes to a close, I‟ve developed a few strategies to help assuage my
angst over inclusion. Do I feel like my best students have been cheated? A little
bit. Do I feel like the weaker kids have learned all they can? Not really. But at
the same time, everyone has gotten something from the course. I‟m not teaching
inclusion next year – I‟ve applied (and gotten) for a job in APPLE where I‟ll have
a class of 15 seniors instead. While I realize that this will pose a series of
challenges on an entirely different level, I believe it‟s a challenge I‟m up for –
after all, now I‟ve been teaching for 19 years……
Dieker, Lisa and wendy Murawski. “Co-Teaching at the Secondary Level: Unique
Issues, Current Trends, and Suggestions for Success” in High School
Journal. Apr/May 2003. Vol. 86, Issue 4, pgs 1 – 13.
Fink, John. “Conclusions on Inclusion” in The Clearing House. Washington:
Jul/Aug 2004. Vol. 77, Issue 6, pgs 272 – 275.
Idol, Lorna. “Toward Inclusion of Special Education Students in General
Education: A Program Evaluation of Eight Schools” in Remedial and
Special Education. Austin: Mar/Apr 2006, Vol. 27, Issue 2, pgs. 77 – 95.
Lam, Lamson, T. “Test Success, Family Style” in The Association for Supervision
and Curriculum Development. May 2004. pgs 44 – 47.
Mastropieri, Margo et al. “Case Studies in Co-Teaching in the Content Areas:
Successes, Failures, and Challenges” in Intervention in School and Clinic.
May 2005. Vol. 40, Issue 5, pgs 260 – 270.
Rice, Nancy. “Opportunities Lost, Possibilities Found: Shared Leadership and
Inclusion in an Urban High School” in Journal of Disability Policy Studies.
Austin: Fall 2006. Vol. 17, Issue 2, pgs. 88 – 101.
Short, Christina and Barbara N. Martin, “Case Study: Attitudes of Rural High
School Students and Teachers Regarding Inclusion” in The Rural
Educator. Fall2005. Vol. 27, issue 1, pgs 1 – 8.
Spencer, Sally. “Lynne Cook and June Downing: The Practicalities of
Collaboration in Special Education Service Delivery” in Intervention in
School and Clinic. California: May 2005. Vol. 40, Issue 5, pgs. 296 – 300.
Wormeli, Rick. Fair isn‟t Always Equal: Assessing and Grading in the
Differentiated Classroom. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishing, 2006.