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What Does Exemplary Co-Teaching Look Like in Today’s Progressive Classrooms?

Categories: Assistive Technology, Education & Teaching, Funding & Awards, Learning Disabilities, Student Centric Learning, The Great Reading Games, Webinars

By Valerie Chernek, Education Writer for Learning Ally

Inclusion, Diversity, Acceptance…. is the motto of the students and faculty at Grayslake North High School District 127, in IL, and where you will find two exemplary educators Elizabeth Hauser, a Special Education Reading Specialist, and Kathrine Young, a Speech and Language Pathologist. Kat and Liz are the recipients of the 2018 Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Excellence in Teaching Award given by Learning Ally.

This dynamic duo teaches students in high school who have learning and physical challenges. Their ability to collaborate to create many new best teaching practices has helped more students reach new levels of academic achievement and learning confidence, while making an impact on student advocacy.

In the afterglow of their celebration, we sat down with Liz and Kat to find out more about their innovative teaching best practices and this is what we learned.

Doing Things Differently

Students and a Smart BoardIn the beginning, Liz and Kat performed their instructional duties in a silo fashion at school; not uncommon in their field. They met monthly to discuss students’ progress but knew they could be more effective if they pooled their expertise to tailor learning in a more individualized way. Their students required in-depth reading assistance and resources based on their IEP or individualized education program. Services may include speech and language therapy, reading instruction, a reading accommodation, and motivational behavior analysis. “The goals of a reading specialist and an SLP are tightly woven together,” said Kat. “Yet, prior to working in Grayslake, I spent much of my time in my office working one-on-one, rather than a hands-on approach in the classroom. Liz and I decided to work as a team so I could jump into the heartbeat of instruction. We wanted to see how closely we could get to creating the ideal reading resource learning setting for our students.

Teaching Approaches Based on a Set of Beliefs

  • Teaching should be less generalized and more personalized.
  • Progress monitoring takes place every two weeks and adjusted as necessary.
  • The ways to increase students’ academic performance is through steady progress using technology, a balanced literacy approach and motivation.
  • Students can and should be encouraged to attend general education classes.
  • College and career readiness are as important as academic aptitude. 
  • Institute “The Kindness Factor,” and new book topics each month.

In addition to teaching reading comprehension -- how to make inferences; identify main ideas; proper grammar; developing sentences in paragraph structure, and building strong vocabularies, Liz and Kat encourage kindness and acceptance. For the month of March, their literacy team announced a schoolwide, diverse book for reading. Their students also perform random acts of kindness in their school and community.

Authentic Voices Help Students Visualize Characters and Storyline

Reading is a tedious task for Liz and Kat’s students, especially for those with dyslexia and learning differences. Liz says, “They have a big challenge to read on grade level. Our primary instruction focuses on word visualizing and verbalization and Learning Ally is a great resource to emphasize this technique and boost reading engagement.”

As students listen to books read aloud by human narrators, they follow along with highlighted words. They hear proper word inflection; intonation and the story unfold in authentic context. The teachers agree that human-narration takes a story to a new level of student appreciation. In graduate school, Liz examined research on reading aloud. She says, “There is a lot of evidence that suggests audiobooks improve comprehension and vocabulary.

Her class finished Harry Potter, Prisoner of Azkaban and are currently reading Wonder. The students really love the characters because the narrators make the stories come alive. After each chapter, students discuss the story in class.

Lapp and Fisher (2009) suggest creating student-centered book clubs. This allows the students to select their own text, make connections to the text, and then share their experiences with their classmates.

Progress Monitoring Data Serves Many Goals

According to Melekoglu (2011), “Students with significant reading problems at younger ages lag behind peers and continuously struggle with reading difficulties at older ages.

In Liz and Kat’s classes, students are reading below grade level. One student was hesitant to read anything. After receiving access to Learning Ally, she read four audiobooks. She liked that her teachers knew how many minutes and pages she read, and what she liked to read personally.

They followed this student’s progress easily on the Learning Ally teacher dashboard. Both agreed that the data comes in handy to reinforce students’ internal learning compass, as well as their academic potential. This information helps Liz and Kat prepare for IEP meetings with parents and staff and in some cases provides evidence to reluctant parents who believe that audiobooks are a learning crutch for their child. Some students have crossed into general education English classes. Liz and Kat work directly with the English teachers to ensure that students get the audiobooks they need to keep pace and read on grade-level.

Books Based on Movies Excite Reluctant Readers

According to Powell-Brown (2006), “The hallmark of professionals’ attempts to interest reluctant readers is high-interest/low-vocabulary books.” Liz believes that motivation is the key to success with struggling adolescent readers. She says, “Motivation along with a variety of text options allow readers to gain independence and confidence.

In Paige (2011), “Students who are extrinsically motivated attempt to achieve in reading in order to gain public recognition or to earn incentives or some other type of reward.

To get more nonreaders to buy-into reading Liz and Kat assign a book about the latest movies out in theaters. “This is always a crowd pleaser,” they said. “Learning Ally helps to create movies in students’ mind. We teach word visualization so that students recognize the shape of a word, size, perspective, and sounds.

The teachers also believe that students need extrinsic motivation. Through Learning Ally’s rewards-based reading competitions, their students get several opportunities to shine. Liz says, “This is where a leveled library and a sustained silent reading program comes into play. Learning Ally is an incredible resource because students have choices, along with appropriate reading level of text to limit frustration.

Katherine Young and Elizabeth Hauser have transformed their expertise in many ways to ensure that more students with print disabilities can study in mainstream education classes and reach new levels of academic achievement, learning confidence and reading independence.


Join Katherine and Elizabeth on April 11th, 2018 at 3:00 pm EST for a webinar to discuss,  "College and Career Ready! Motivate and Empower Struggling Readers in High School."  This is a no cost, CE credited webinar for educators. Sign up now!

Cited References 

  • Humphrey, J., & Preddy, L. B. (2008). Keys to successfully sustaining an SSR program. Library Media Connection, 26(6), 30.
  • Lapp, D., & Fisher, D. (2009). It is all about the book: Motivating teens to read. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(7), 556-561. 
  • Melekoglu, M. A. (2011). Impact of motivation to read on reading gains for struggling readers with and without learning disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 34(4), 248-261. 
  • Paige, D. D. (2011). Engaging struggling adolescent readers through situational interest: A model proposing the relationships among extrinsic motivation, oral reading proficiency, comprehension, and academic achievement. Reading Psychology, 32(5), 395-425. 
  • Powell-Brown, A. (2006). Why can't I just see the movie? Fostering motivation in children who struggle with reading. Intervention in School and Clinic, 42(2), 84-90.

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