Collaboration Observation Essay, Research Paper
“Collaboration and Cross-Age Peer Tutoring for Lucy”
Collaboration provides many potential benefits and few drawbacks for parties involved in the Lucy’s education. Mr. Allen’s first grade class achieve educational goals as well. Mr. Allen and Ms. Harris have joined forces to form an educational environment that facilitates learning for both the first grade class and Lucy. The objective is to provide a win-win situation for everyone involved. The obvious benefits are areas of academic enhancement. Particularly, language arts areas include story grammar, comprehension, identification of sight words, acquisition of vocabulary, and general reading skills. Mostly positive results were found for both short- and long-term cross-age peer tutoring. However, although some benefits of cross-age peer tutoring are not necessarily considered “academic”, they are nevertheless important for a child with moderate cognitive disability and for children without cognitive disabilities. The cross-age peer tutoring model appears functional for all students involved. More importantly, integral work between teachers makes Lucy’s educational network a possibility.
Teachers consider several factors before developing a strategy like cross-age peer tutoring. Lucy has strengths and weaknesses that contribute to her overall consideration for cross-age peer tutoring. Obviously, teachers try to focus on strengths while improving weaknesses. Because Lucy is moderately retarded, she may exhibit learned helplessness to some degree. The MR label in itself can contribute to learned helplessness. If Lucy exhibits this behavior, cross-age peer tutoring could teach her be more confidant when approaching a task. Lucy’s time in the first grade classroom also gives her a chance to move away from outer-directness as a way of problem-solving. She will gain confidence from feedback of the students and teachers that serve as positive reinforcers for her to make decisions by her own motivation and choosing. Research shows that high-needs students benefit significantly from cross-age and peer tutoring in areas including self-esteem, locus of control and social skills. If Lucy’s attitude toward school is positive, she is also more likely to graduate. Some or all of these benefits could have played some role in the collaborative effort to enhance Lucy‘s education by cross-age tutoring.
Lucy’s teachers collaborate to try to provide the education she needs without the stigma of being different. A resource room is always a stigma of sorts. While in the classroom, Lucy provides a cyclical relationship between herself and the younger students. In the cross-age tutoring model, Lucy can further benefit from the repetition needed to tutor her first grade tutees. Repetition is important for MR students and those learning a new skill. A repetitious schedule, reading materials, classroom activities, etc. promotes memory retention for MR students. Lucy learns to stay on task as she monitors the younger students being on task. Cross-age tutoring works because tutors and tutees speak a more similar language than do teachers and students. Unlike adult-child instruction, in cross age tutoring the “expert” party is usually not very far removed from the novice party in authority or knowledge; nor has the expert party any special claims to instructional competence. Such differences affect the nature of discourse between tutor and tutee, because they place the tutee in a less passive role than does the adult/child instructional relation. The students without high-needs accept Lucy because she is on their level of cognition; thereby, improving social relations between students with and without disabilities. Being closer in knowledge and status, the tutee in a peer relation feels freer to express opinions, ask questions, and risk untested solutions. This is why conversations between peer tutors and their tutees are beneficial even though the relationship is not exactly equal in social status. Both Lucy and the first graders have gained academically (repetition and practice) and socially (self-determining behavior and social acceptance) in the cross-age tutoring model.
Although many educators favor and embrace cross-age tutoring model some criticism still remains. More specifically, criticisms of students with high-needs as tutors are noted: (1) Strategies utilizing students with disabilities as tutors were insufficiently developed and validated; (2) peer tutoring procedures other than “specific cooperative learning strategies, cross-age tutoring, the tutor ‘huddle’ and classwide peer tutoring” were insufficiently validated; (3) the fidelity of peer-tutoring interventions had not yet been examined carefully enough; (4) few peer-tutoring procedures had been compared to alternative teacher- or materials-mediated procedures; and (5) there were “no commercially available peer-mediated curricula.” In other words, some think convincing scientific research is not yet available. Another reason cross-age and other forms of peer tutoring is still not widely used may be that, as Damon and Phelps put it, “Virtually all schooling, in this country and elsewhere, is structured around the traditional belief that knowledge is best transmitted from adult to child in linear fashion” (1989b, p. 136) However, aside from the argument not to break with tradition, little criticism remains for cross-age tutoring, from the scientific community or otherwise. Damon and Phelps conclude:
The case for children’s peer relations has been made repeatedly and conclusively in developmental theory and research . . . Repeated studies have shown that peer interaction is conducive, perhaps even essential, to a host of important early achievements: children’s understanding of fairness, their self-esteem, their proclivities toward sharing and kindness, their mastery of symbolic expression, their acquisition of role-taking and communication skills, and their development of creative and critical thinking. (1989a, p. 135)
Still, the most commonly sited reason for deficient or inferior efforts in collaboration is schedule conflicts of available professionals (i.e., special education teachers, general education teachers, administrators, community leaders, etc.) All of the following have also been cited as obstacles: tradition, teacher resistance, possible disadvantages accruing to the tutor, possible tutor impatience, implications of tutor selection, parent cautiousness, implications for school organization, variable suitability of different subjects for peer tutoring, and possible lack of expertise on tutors’ parts. Others have speculated that peer tutoring may not be more widely used partly because of “the demands placed on teacher time” (Giesecke, Cartledge, and Gardner 1993, p. 34). These authors note that teachers may lack the skill to train their students properly to be tutors, they may be concerned about possible disruptive behavior in tutoring pairs, and they may question the quality of instruction offered by students, particularly high-needs students (p. 34). Foot has also indicated that teachers tend to be concerned about the time and effort needed to train tutors (1995).
The point of collaborative teaching is to integrate resources for students with special needs and otherwise, while simultaneously strengthening skills of all students involved. Inclusion is more than mere classroom placement. It is the quality of the events inside that classroom and what is retained outside the classroom that is important. Normalization is the point of collaboration. Although idealistic, the goal is to efficiently facilitate learning for all students who are part of the collaborative effort. Nirje describes normalization as follows:
Normalization does not mean normalized; it does not mean that anyone’s behavior should be forced to conform to any particular standard (e.g.. what 51% of one’s neighbors do or what experts feel is best): it does not mean that mentally handicapped persons are expected to be made normal or to act like other people.”
Normalization means the acceptance of persons with their handicap within “normal“ society, with the same rights, responsibilities, and opportunities as are available to others.”
Collaboration is at best a successful result of normalization. Schools have a social strata and students are part of that. Acceptance of the mentally retarded with their handicap is important to that social structure just as other students are. Although Lucy participates only three hours per week, she gains invaluable social skills, learns an internal locus of control and exhibits self-determining behavior. In that three hours, Lucy receives what no text book, adult teacher or lesson itself provides her: being accepted into a group without regard for her handicap.
Observation of collaborative teaching for Lucy (moderately cognitively challenge) who helps with first grade class as a peer tutor;
Ms. Harris is Special Ed teacher
Mr. Allen is first grade teacher