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Collaborative Approaches in Special Education: Strengths & Limitations

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Collaboration activities can be difficult when involving special education students. Learn the strengths and limitations to consider in content, participation, and planning when collaborating with students and educators. Updated: 11/12/2021

Special Education

Sajanti is a new teacher, and she's very excited to be making a difference in children's lives. She will be working with students who need special attention because they struggle with academics and behavior.

Special education is the work to educate students with special needs. This could include students who struggle academically, such as students with dyslexia, or those who struggle behaviorally, such as those with ADHD. But special education can also include students who are academically gifted; they, too, often need things that are different from other students in the classroom.

Collaboration is a buzzword in special education. In fact, there is much collaboration that is done in special education. Students collaborate with each other, and teachers, like Sajanti, collaborate with other educators.

Despite having heard a lot about collaboration, Sajanti isn't sure exactly how it will play a role in her classroom. To help her figure that out, let's look at how students collaborate in a special education classroom, and how educators collaborate to bring special education services to students.

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  • 0:00 Special Education
  • 1:07 Student Collaboration
  • 2:38 Educator Collaboration
  • 4:32 Lesson Summary
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Student Collaboration

Sajanti has heard that having students work together on assignments or problems can be beneficial. In fact, it seems that it could really help struggling students to have another person working with them. But how should she set up collaboration?

The two biggest issues with collaboration in the classroom involve who is collaborating and what they are collaborating on. Let's help Sajanti understand each of these in turn.

The first thing Sajanti will have to do is to figure out how to form collaborative groups. Should she put students together in groups of two? Four? Eight? Studies show that small groups, such as two or three students, work better than larger groups, especially for students with special needs. This is for two reasons. First, in large groups, special needs students might feel intimidated or left out of the group process. Second, students are more likely to blow off their contribution and make their teammates do all the work when they are in larger groups. Because of this, Sajanti should keep her collaborative teams to just two or three students in each group.

After Sajanti has figured out who is collaborating, she still needs to figure out what types of assignments to give to collaborative groups. Rote learning exercises, like memorizing times tables or spelling words, do not work as well in collaboration as more complex, real world problems. For example, having students collaborate to come up with a solution to a real world problem, like lack of clean water in developing nations, can spark deeper conversation and lead to more gains for students.

Educator Collaboration

Sajanti is beginning to understand how to have her students collaborate. But she's still a little unsure about her own collaborations. She's heard that she'll be working with many different educators to provide special education services to her students. Who will she be collaborating with, and what will those collaborations look like?

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