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CASE STUDY Rachel and Leanne were expecting another great year co-teaching a combined 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade class with equal numbers of general...


Rachel and Leanne were expecting another great year co-teaching a combined 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade class with equal numbers of general education and exceptional education students. Many students were returning from last year, including Thomas, a 4th grader with learning disabilities and ADHD. When Thomas's mother has significant health problems, his behavior regresses and the whole class suffers.


Rachel Moore and Leanne Reynolds were happy and excited to be beginning their second year co-teaching at Hidden Stream Elementary School. Both were experienced teachers. Rachel had taught 3rd grade at Hidden Stream for five years and Leanne, new to Hidden Stream last year, was certified in behavior disorders and had six years experience as a resource teacher for students with learning disabilities. Rachel and Leanne shared a combined 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade class of 28 children with equal numbers of general education and exceptional education students. Six of the exceptional education students were identified as having learning disabilities, six were identified as having emotional disabilities, and two were identified as having specific language impairment.

Rachel and Leanne clicked from the beginning and both felt their teaching skills had improved as a result of their collaboration in the classroom. Last year all of their students made progress in both academic skills and emotional growth. It was a cohesive group of children who were respectful of the individual differences in learning and behavior represented in the classroom. Both teachers were looking forward to another year of success for their students, many of whom were returning.

The two teachers had worked very hard to come up with a class behavior plan that would accommodate all of their students, including those who had difficulty with self-control. Their plan consisted of a five-step system that was represented by five different colored cards for each child, displayed on a wall chart. Children began the day with a blue card signifying good behavior. If a rule was broken, offenders would get a verbal warning and their card would be changed to yellow. If they continued to be off task, they would be asked to go to a safe space (an isolated desk) where they were given a chance to refocus and continue their work. At this time their card would be changed to orange. Another infraction changed their card to purple and they were sent to the Think-Tank, which was a designated area of the classroom. Before they could return to their seat, students were required to write down the rules they had broken, what would have been better behavior choices, and how their behavior had impacted the class and themselves. This log was signed by the teacher and student, and sent home to be signed by the parents at the end of the day. Continued acting out or being off task resulted in a red card and a phone call to parents. As a last resort, if the behavior persisted, students were sent to the office with an official behavior referral, which the principal handled. It was rare for most student's in Rachel and Leanne's class to get beyond the purple stage.

Leanne and Rachel modified the class behavior plan occasionally for individuals with special behavioral needs.

Thomas, a 4th grader identified as having learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was returning for his second year in the class. His pediatrician had prescribed medication last year to improve Thomas's ability to focus and attend in the classroom. Both teachers believed that the medication had helped. A year ago Thomas had entered the class two grade levels behind academically and displaying a number of disruptive behaviors such as loud angry outbursts, chair kicking, pushing, hitting other students, running from the classroom, hiding, and noncompliance. Even with the behavior plan modifications, he often reached the red card - call home step and occasionally office referrals were necessary.

Rachel and Leanne enjoyed a good relationship with Thomas's family. His parents were supportive of Thomas and appreciative of Rachel and Leanne's attempts to improve both his behavior and his reading and writing skills. 

As the new school year started, Rachel and Leanne were hopeful that Thomas would continue to make progress and that his old behavior chart would no longer be necessary. By the end of the first week, however, they were shocked to find that Thomas's behavior had regressed, and that he was talking baby talk and sucking his thumb. He was also more defiant, yelling at Rachel and Leanne when he disagreed with a class activity or direction. He quickly progressed through the steps of the behavior plan to the red stage. Rachel and Leanne decided it was time to call Thomas's mother.

Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse. Thomas made loud animal noises during a lesson, kicked a chair, and belligerently yelled at Leanne when she directed him to his safe space. Tommy has been increasingly disruptive the past few months. He has verbal outbursts and pushes classroom materials onto the floor after being given an academic task during quiet work time. His verbal outbursts include yelling that he is not doing the assignment, telling a student to shut up, using profanity, and calling student's names. 

Thomas is a 10 year-old boy who enjoys baseball, swimming, and baking. He does not like art activities or large crowds. Tommy has a good sense of humor but he can be irritable. He is fearful around new people and may become quiet and more reserved in those situations. His parents and teachers talk him through exposure to new people. Tommy is highly verbal and speaks in sentences. According to Tommy, he dislikes writing. Most of his writing is simple sentences with a great deal of grammatical errors and little detail. He also struggles with math, in which he is approximately 2 grade levels below. He loves baseball and all topics related to the sport.


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