Special Education in Collaborative Classrooms

Sweet Down Syndrome boy working on flashcards with teacher
asiseeit / Getty Images

In special education, the term "collaboration" refers to a team teaching approach. In addition to the regular classroom teacher and the special education teacher, a collaborative team may also include speech, occupational, and/or physical therapists. Today, more special education students are taught in regular classrooms, and collaboration is increasing. Collaboration helps to ensure children with learning disabilities get a free appropriate public education, including specialized instruction, in a regular classroom.

There are several ways to ensure students get the instructional support they need. Collaboration provides options to allow students to be educated (as required by American law) in the least restrictive environment.

The Lead Teacher Collaboration Model

In classrooms with a lead teacher, often the regular classroom teacher delivers the instruction in the subject area. The special education teacher is an observer who works with children after instruction to provide specially designed instruction, ensure understanding, and to provide adaptations and modifications.

The Learning Centers Collaboration Model

Each teacher is responsible for instruction in a specific area of the room. Students are assembled into groups that rotate through the centers for instruction. Special education teachers may deliver instruction in areas of their certifications and may also serve as support to other teachers without a special education background.

The learning center collaboration approach is particularly appropriate for younger students, for whom center-based education is more typical.

Pull-Out Collaboration Model

In some settings, rather than having special education teachers or therapists "push into" general education classrooms, students are "pulled out" for services. In such situations, students might leave the classroom for therapies or particular subjects, and then return to the general education classroom. When this occurs, the general education teacher collaborates with the special needs professional to be sure the student's needs are being met.

Alternative Collaborative Setting

Partially or entirely separate educational settings are relatively rare, even for students with significant learning or developmental challenges. A substantially separate setting is designed specifically for students with particular disabilities; for example, some classrooms are set up to serve students with autism while others are set up for students with speech and language disabilities, etc.

Students work one-on-one or in small groups with a special education teacher and possibly with instructional assistants for all or part of the instructional day. Even when students are placed full time in special education classrooms, teachers may communicate with each other to ensure students' programs include appropriate instruction.

Separate settings are typically used with students who have a more significant need for direct instruction.

Team Teaching

Team teaching involves general education and special needs teachers working together simultaneously to teach a classroom of students. Either teacher who has the necessary background knowledge in the subject introduces new concepts and materials to the class. Both teachers work as a team to reinforce learning and provide assistance to students as needed. Special education teachers provide specially designed instruction to students with IEPs, and regular education teachers can assist with this as well.

Consultation Models of Collaboration

A special education teacher may provide some instruction to students, but the majority of service is indirect. The special education teacher mostly provides guidance to the regular education teacher on how to modify instruction to meet the student's needs.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. García-Carrión R, Molina Roldán S, Roca Campos E. Interactive Learning Environments for the Educational Improvement of Students With Disabilities in Special Schools. Front Psychol. 2018;9:1744. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01744

  2. U.S. Department of Education. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): Statute and Regulations.

  3. Kohli A, Sharma S, Padhy SK. Specific Learning Disabilities: Issues that Remain Unanswered. Indian J Psychol Med. 2018;40(5):399-405. doi:10.4103/IJPSYM.IJPSYM_86_18

  4. Wei X, Wagner M, Christiano ER, Shattuck P, Yu JW. Special Education Services Received by Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders from Preschool through High School. J Spec Educ. 2014;48(3):167-179. doi:10.1177/0022466913483576

By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.