Boundless Learning: Advancing Co-Teaching, Inclusion, and Achievement

Foundational Research Study

Lynne Harper Mainzer, EdD
Deputy Director
Center for Technology in Education
Associate Professor, School of Education

Andrea Schanbacher, MEd
Program Administrator
Center for Technology in Education

Tammy Devlin, MEd
Program Coordinator
Center for Technology in Education

Teresa O’Connor, MEd
Program Quality Specialist
Center for Technology in Education

 

Overview: What is Boundless Learning?

Boundless Learning is a structured cooperative learning approach that uses empirically-based instructional processes and team protocols to:

1) increase student achievement among students, including students with disabilities and

2) promote effective collaboration among general and special educators in co-taught settings.

Boundless Learning is broad reaching and has been used across virtually all grade levels (Prek-12) and content areas in urban, suburban, and rural settings reaching thousands of students, including those with disabilities, special needs, and English Learners. Boundless Learning equips general and special educators with practical methods specially designed to build positive, inclusive environments in which students work together to maximize their individual and team performance and reach achievement and behavioral goals.

Central to Boundless Learning is procedural facilitation. Procedural facilitators, often referred to as protocols, are cues, prompts, checklists, questions, and simple outlines to aid students as they engage and complete learning tasks (Baker, Gersten, & Scanlon, 2002). They help teachers and co-teachers establish student learning teams and deliver engaging whole class discussions and effective teamwork. As students become proficient in using the team-based protocols, their dependency on the teacher lessens and their skill as self-regulated learner increases.

The prompts and directions outlined in protocols add structure to cooperative learning group activities and a common language for promotive team interaction (Mainzer, 2011). Communication protocols establish user-friendly channels for feedback and peer learning support. Some team-based protocols provide a step-by-step plan of action to help students, particularly those with disabilities, organize tasks and resources.  Others are even more complex. For instance, Boundless Learning uses the six-stage Team-Based Cycle of Instruction (TBCI). Protocols are embedded within each stage to guide lesson delivery, promote student engagement, and facilitate productive team learning (Mainzer, 2011a; Mainzer, 2011b).

Augmenting cooperative learning with protocols also helps special and general co-teachers to seamlessly work together to create positive, inclusive learning environments (Mainzer, 2011). In these settings, Boundless Learning protocols are used to build high performing coteaching teams. General and special educators follow specific guidelines to develop co-teaching goals, fulfill role responsibilities, and track their level of performance as a co-teaching team (Mainzer, 2011; Mainzer, Nunn, & Mainzer, 2015). The explicit nature of the protocols provides a clear structure for special educators to follow when instructing students with disabilities in general education learning environments, whether individually, in a small group, or in a whole group.

Boundless Learning consistently demonstrates student achievement for gains across school settings, grade levels, and content areas—including increasing student achievement among students with disabilities and special needs.

 

Purpose of the Whitepaper

This whitepaper describes the foundational study for Boundless Learning: Advancing Co-Teaching, Inclusion, and achievement. The experimental research study, The Effects of Team-Based Procedural Facilitation on the performance of Students with Disabilities, examined the effect of structuring cooperative learning with team-based procedural facilitation (i.e., protocols), which is a core component of Boundless Learning. Team-based procedural facilitation incorporates a complement of protocols designed to improve teambuilding, engagement, learning, performance, and goal attainment of cooperative learning teams in general education settings. These protocols infuse the core principles of cooperative learning—positive interdependence, equal role distribution, individual accountability, social skills, and goal-setting. They prevent teachers from employing personalized construction of cooperative learning. These types of adaptations often lack the necessary elements for producing positive outcomes found in research, hindering cooperative learning effectiveness.  The intent of Boundless Learning team protocols is to provide sufficient structure within and between cooperative learning teams, so students, including students with disabilities, can work productively together and realize positive achievement results.

The random-control study described in this whitepaper examined the efficacy of the procedural facilitator, TeamView, which included embedded protocols designed to promote efficient teambuilding and high productivity of cooperative learning teams. The procedures integrated into TeamView helped students to routinely set goals and improvement targets. TeamView offered an additional, “built-in,” easy-to-access level of support for all team members engaged in instructional tasks. In essence, the protocols prompted students to assume responsibility for their own learning.

The results of the following study substantiate the use of procedural facilitators with embedded protocols to strengthen the implementation of cooperative learning in general education settings and advance achievement. The significant increase in math achievement among students with disabilities realized in this study demonstrates the power of team-based procedural facilitation with protocols to create the necessary conditions for strong student engagement and effective learning in cooperative teams. This evidence-based practice is a cornerstone of Boundless Learning and Boundless Learning Co-Teaching from which additional, robust team learning procedural facilitators and protocols continue to be developed, implemented, and evaluated.

 

EXPERIMENTAL STUDY SUPPORTING BOUNDLESS LEARNING AS AN EVIDENCE-BASED PRACTICE (EBP) 

The Effects of Team-Based Procedural Facilitation on the Performance of Students with Disabilities

The purpose of this experimental, random control trial (RCT) study was to assess the efficacy of the team-based procedural facilitator with protocols, TeamView, when added to cooperative learning on the achievement of fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students with disabilities in general education classes. The study assessed two conditions:

1) cooperative learning (CL) alone; and

2) cooperative learning with TeamView (CL + TeamView)

on the measure of achievement in mathematics. Sixty-four students with disabilities competed the study. The study took place in 10 general education math classes in a large suburban school system.

Random assignment of conditions (CL or CL+TeamView) to groups was used. District math assessments were used to measure achievement (pretest and posttest) in both conditions. The data were analyzed using an analysis of variance with repeated measures to compare group means on math achievement.

Results indicated that students in the CL+ TeamView group had significantly higher scores in math achievement than students in the control (CL) group over time. Based on the results of this study, it was concluded that the CL + TeamView treatment significantly improved the mathematics achievement of students with disabilities in general education settings. As a result of this study, a full complement of team-based protocols were developed within Boundless Learning and Boundless Learning Co-Teaching to establish and facilitate high performing student learning teams in general education, including co-taught settings.

 

Hypothesis

Students with disabilities in classes assigned to the CL + TeamView condition will have significantly higher achievement scores in math across time than students with disabilities assigned to the CL condition.

 

KEY COMPONENTS OF THE STUDY

Participants

The participants in the study were a) 5 elementary school teachers who taught math at the fourth- and fifth-grade level and 3 middle school teachers who taught math at the sixth-grade level and b) 64 students enrolled in grades 4, 5, and 6.

 

Characteristics of the Students

Sixty-four students with disabilities in grades 4, 5, and 6 from a large suburban school system in Maryland participated in the study. Randomization of intact classes among groups within schools resulted in 32 (50%) students assigned to the experimental group and 32 (50%) students assigned to the control group. Sample characteristics for all students are presented in Table 1.1. The distribution was as follows: 5 (16%) students were in the fourth grade, 21 (33%) students were in the fifth grade, and 33(52%) students were in the sixth grade. Further inspection of the characteristics of the participants indicates that 36 (56%) were male and 28 (44%) were female. Among the 64 participants, 19 (30%) were Black, 2 (3%) were Hispanic, and 43% (67%) were White. The students ranged in age from 9 to 13 years of age. Eleven (17%) students were 9 years of age, 18 (28%) were 10 years of age, 17 (27%) were 11 years, 13 (20%) were 12 years of age, and 2 (3%) were 13 years of age.

All students in the study were identified as having a disability. The specific distribution of disability condition among participants showed that 4 (6%) were identified as having an intellectual disability, 8 (13%) as having a speech and language impairment, 1 (2%) as having an emotional disturbance, 18 (13%) as having an attention deficit disorder, and 32 (50%) as having a specific learning disability. All participants in the study who participated in Time 1 (baseline) data collection were available for the Time 2 data collection periods.

Characteristics of the sample across conditions indicated homogeneity in relation to gender, grade level, ethnicity, age, and disability. (See Table 1.1 for characteristics of student participants).

 

Assignment to Conditions

Respecting the request from the school principals, the study did not interfere with students’ current class schedules and placements. Students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers were scheduled into math classes in the beginning of the school year in accordance with the previous year’s recommendations. Therefore, due to the intact nature of these fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classes, stratified random assignment of classes to conditions was used. Participating fourth, fifth, and sixth grade math classes within each school were randomly assigned to either the experimental or control condition.

A simple procedure was used to randomly assign the classes. First, each school was numbered (1, 2, 3). Then, participating classes within each school were assigned a number (01, 02, 03, 04, etc.). Information for each class was written on a separate card (e.g., the number 101 on one card represented school “x” and class “a,” while the number 202 on another card represented school “y” and class “b”). Using the cards, a pool of classes for each school was formed. Next, random drawings for each school were conducted to assign the classes to the condition. The first card drawn was assigned to the experimental condition. The second card was assigned to the control condition. This process continued until all classes within the school were assigned.

 

Settings

The settings for this investigation were the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade mathematics classes within three public elementary schools and one middle school in a large suburban school system. All schools in the study were targeted by their district as performing below expectations on state assessments and received Title I funding to address instructional challenges. Two of the schools were among the five lowest performing schools in the district in relation to state assessment results, suspension rates, and attendance rates, Approximately 20% of the students at each school were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, an indicator which identifies students who may be at-risk for performing below expected standards.

The percentage of students receiving special education services at the schools ranged from 13% to 17%, exceeding the school district’s average of 12%. One of the schools ranked second among all elementary schools in the district in both the number and percent of students receiving special education services. Across the participating school, only 2% of the population of students with disabilities were receiving Tier 3 (pull-out) services for part of the school day.

 

General Education Instruction in Mathematics

Typically, the teacher followed a six-part instructional routine that included: 1) an introduction presented by the teacher of math concepts; 2) guided instruction and practice in which students generally worked in cooperative partnerships and small groups with hands-on-manipulatives to complete instructional task; 3) a weekly quiz of math progress; 4) daily homework; 5) unit tests that were generally administered after two or three weeks of instruction; and 6) a comprehensive assessment at the end of a marking periods.

 

Independent Variables

Two conditions were compared during the fourteen-week study: 1) cooperative learning alone (CL), the control condition, and 2) cooperative learning with TeamView (CL + TeamView), the experimental condition.

 

Cooperative Learning (CL)

Teachers in the CL condition routinely employed basic cooperative learning principles and practices. Students in each class were organized into heterogeneous cooperative learning groups. Initially, teachers ranked the student in relation to math achievement determined by grades and math assessments. Teachers used this ranking to create cooperative groups that included one student who was high achieving, two students who were average achieving, and one student who was low achieving in mathematics. Other factors, such as the students’ academic performance, motivation, disability, gender, race, ethnicity, and absenteeism, were considered by the teachers when forming the cooperative groups. Students remained in these cooperative groups for the duration of the 14- week study. Students in the control cooperative learning groups did not employ structured teamwork procedures and protocols (see Table 1.2). For instance, teachers did not have students create specific team standards, names, and logos; apply a specific processing technique for assessing team and individual performance or use a team and class reward system. Instead, students were taught to use a variety of basic cooperative learning methods, such as Think-Pair-Share, Numbered Heads Together, Roundtable, and Pairs Check to support learning activities (

 

Cooperative Learning with TeamView (CL + Team View)

The teachers selected for this condition employed the basic principles and practices included in the CL condition. In addition, they implemented TeamView procedures and protocols daily.

The TeamView procedural facilitator included six basic protocols to: 1) establish heterogenous cooperative learning teams with goals and roles; 2) activate prior knowledge using Set-up Directions, 3) use the TARGET protocol, which cued students to remember and execute their team goals and responsibilities daily; 4) implement individual quality checks using three level performance rating—High Performing, OK, and Try Harder; 5) rate team performance and share results with the learning community, and 6) recognize high performance with class rewards. (See Table 1.2).

Students in cooperative groups using TeamView engaged in a series of activities that included: a) sequenced teambuilding and behavior management procedures; b) a six-step learning protocol to launch lessons; c) daily performance ratings; and d) a protocol for using individual, team, and class rewards. TeamView procedures structured team interaction to ensure all team members had equal opportunities to engage in learning activities, evaluate their individual and team performance, and set explicit academic goals. Each member of a team was assigned a role (i.e., facilitator, coach, recorder, supply manager, or data manager) that rotated weekly.  For instance, during the first several minutes of a daily lesson, team members assumed their designated role to complete the protocol for getting ready for the start of a lesson. In teams, they reviewed class standards, examined team goals, and checked homework, preparedness, and attendance.

 

DEPENDENT VARIABLE

Math Achievement

For the purposes of this study, math achievement was assessed using the school district’s 4th, 5th, and 6th grade district math tests for the content addressed during the duration of the study. The tests were administered to student in both the CL and CL + TeamView conditions at the beginning (pretest) and end (posttest) of the study.

 

Summary of Results

The hypothesis stated that students receiving the CL+ TeamView intervention would have significantly higher achievement scores in math than students in the CL condition. Pretest (Time 1) and posttest (Time 2) means of math achievement for CL + TeamView are presented in Table 1.2. The scores on the school district’s 4th, 5th, an 6th grade math tests were used to compare the students’ performance at posttreatment.

The hypothesis was tested using a one-way ANOVA with repeated measure comparing math achievement scores by group, across time. As shown in Table 1.3, the repeated measures ANOVA indicated a significant main effect the for the time variable F (1, 62) = 9.25, p < .01, but not for the main effect group, F (1, 62) = 2.02, p <.05.

Results indicated a significant interaction effect between group and time at posttesting, F (1, 62) = 5.21, p < .05). Therefore, Tukey post-hoc analyses with group were used for further analysis of the result of the interaction. While pretest scores indicated no significant differences in measures of achievement between CL and CL + TeamView conditions, post hoc analyses indicated that the CL + TeamView group had significantly higher mean scores in achievement  (p < .01) at posttest compared to the CL group. A chart representing group pretesting and posttesting mean scores is presented in Figure 1.1. Furthermore, the effect size, which is the proportion of a standard deviation by which an experimental group exceeds a control group (Slavin, 1990), was +.78, a substantially large effect size.

 

Major Conclusion

The purpose of this investigation was to determine the efficacy of a team-based procedural facilitator with embedded protocols, called TeamView, when used with cooperative learning on the dependent variable, math achievement. The results indicated that the experimental procedures included in the CL + TeamView intervention had a positive treatment effect on students with disabilities in general education classes in relation to academic math achievement.

Since students in the CL + TeamView condition had significantly higher achievement scores in math at posttesting than students in the CL condition, the research hypothesis was supported.

There are two implications for research associated with this peer reviewed* study. The first implication relates to the differentiation of cooperative learning approaches with respect to the needs of students with disabilities. There is considerable variation among researchers and developers in the criteria used to classify group work as cooperative learning. Lack of clarity in defining essential elements and practices of cooperative learning hinders researchers from finding conclusive evidence as to what methods are effective in addressing academically diverse learners. In other words, research related to cooperative learning may yield more useful information by using less generic definitions of cooperative learning, particularly when investigating topics concerning students with disabilities. Accordingly, this investigation clearly delineated components of cooperative learning in the control as well as the experimental condition in order to determine the effects of the two cooperative learning approaches on students with disabilities.

The second implication for research is associated with the integration of specific protocols. Protocols may be that “special” ingredient that advances students who are working together from a group to a higher performing learning team. Team learning protocols, such as those in this study, provide clear directions and guidelines for each on how to be a productive team member. Their main purpose is to build promotive interactions among team members, so all members are committed to achieving their individual best and helping one another to realize team learning goals. Further research in this area may unveil other protocols that strengthen implementation of cooperative learning teams across grade levels and content.

 

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*Peer-Reviewed by Johns Hopkins University School of Education Dissertation Committee