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Co-teaching to expand at Horizon Middle School

MOORHEAD - Chelsea Keller and Amanda Mangel say one plus one has added up to better math instruction for the sixth-graders they work with at Horizon Middle SchoolKeller, a math teacher, and Mangel, a special education teacher, are co-teaching - s...

Special education teacher Amanda Mangel (holding computer). and sixth-grade math teacher Chelsea Keller (hunched over helping a student), co-teach a class at Moorhead's Horizon Middle School on Friday, May 26, 2017. Mangel says co-teaching helps make the transition into a core subject class more seamless for special education students and Keller says she hopes that the program is eventually expanded into the fifth- and sixth-grade Horizon West building this fall. (Photo by Helmut Schmidt/The Forum)
Special education teacher Amanda Mangel (holding computer). and sixth-grade math teacher Chelsea Keller (hunched over helping a student), co-teach a class at Moorhead's Horizon Middle School on Friday, May 26, 2017. Mangel says co-teaching helps make the transition into a core subject class more seamless for special education students and Keller says she hopes that the program is eventually expanded into the fifth- and sixth-grade Horizon West building this fall. (Photo by Helmut Schmidt/The Forum)
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MOORHEAD - Chelsea Keller and Amanda Mangel say one plus one has added up to better math instruction for the sixth-graders they work with at Horizon Middle School

Keller, a math teacher, and Mangel, a special education teacher, are co-teaching - sharing instructional duties as part of an effort to get more Moorhead School District special education students integrated into math, English, science and social studies classrooms.

"It actually makes the whole teaching process easier. The kids don't even see two separate teachers," Mangel said during a lunch break for their math class Friday, May 26.

"We love it!" Keller said.

Having an opportunity to get another teacher's take on how well a class is learning a lesson "gives us a whole picture to our teaching," Keller said. The students also get more teacher contact, she said.

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At the start of Friday's class, Mangel and Keller stood at the front of the class as equals, while Keller let the students know that they'd have the day to finish up their end-of-year project: designing a vacation and seeing how much money they could save.

The teachers then spent the next half-hour working their way around the classroom, answering questions.

"I just like being in the general class and supporting my students," Mangel said.

She said the special education students are learning they can succeed in a typical classroom, and "we also hit those kids with lower skills that don't have an IEP (Individualized Lesson Program).".

The Moorhead School District is finishing a pilot project involving 400 students and 24 teachers at Horizon aimed at improving the co-teaching skills of teachers. Co-teaching had been used for several years in the district, but observations in 2015 found that it only occurred in classrooms about 11 percent of the time.

For the pilot project, the district provided more training and planning time to improve co-teaching skills and develop trust between teachers sharing classrooms.

The success of this year's pilot will lead to its expansion next year, said Horizon Principal Jeremy Larson and Brandon Yoney, the district's secondary program manager for learner support services.

"The teachers were fabulous. They put in the extra work and the extra effort," Larson said.

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This year, four "pods" or groups of roughly 100 students in the seventh and eighth grades who take their core classes in one defined area of the school, were in the pilot project. Next year, six of seven pods at the school will have co-teaching.

"It's big now. It's only going to get bigger for the majority for our students at Horizon East. It's going to be the primary delivery method for special education services," Yoney said, adding that 550 to 600 students will be getting exposure to co-teaching.

Federal law requires a least-restrictive environment for teaching children in special education.

"We want kids with disabilities and without disabilities being taught together in the general education classroom," said Duane Borgeson, executive director of learner support services. He said it sharpens special education students' classroom skills.

"They learn more from their non-disabled peers and (it's) getting them ready for high school and beyond," Borgeson said.

Plus, the differentiated teaching two teachers can provide helps all students, he said.

"You get the old two heads are better than one ... to reach all kids," Borgeson said.

Other Horizon instructors agree.

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"It's a great way to reach all those different levels of learners and their needs," said special education teacher Miranda Jacobsen. "I think it just helps having an additional adult in the room."

Karen Taylor, an English language arts instructor, said the core subject teachers have expertise in their fields, but with co-teaching they can tap into the expertise of teachers like Jacobson to modify lessons to reach students on IEPs or who simply struggle with certain concepts.

"It's sort of a partnership that's the best of both worlds," Taylor said.

"The power of two heads is so incredible," agreed Dan Dooher, another English language arts teacher. It helps put together pieces "on how to best help the student. ... (and to better understand) the dynamic of the classroom."

Taylor said co-teaching also gives students more opportunities to connect with a teacher, especially if they are struggling. And it allows students to see adults model professional interactions and discussion.

"When the kids sense the adults in the room have a good relationship ... everything goes smoothly," Dooher said.

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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