Brittney Shepherd
EDU 713
October 13, 2010


Robinson, L., & Buly, M. (2007). Breaking the Language Barrier: Promoting Collaboration between General and Special Educators. Teacher Education Quarterly, 34(3), 83-94. Retrieved from ERIC database.
Collaboration between professionals is becoming more and more relevant in order to establish effective teaching environments. With this increasing effort to collaborate, comes challenges and differing perspectives between special and general educators. The topic of this research article is focused on the communication barriers that exist between special and general educators, including all levels of education preschool through college. The main hindrance that the authors discuss is the overwhelming deficiency of a shared language. According to the author’s research, general and special educators, within their university’s education department, use the same terminology but in different ways; therefore, causing a chasm in their collaboration efforts.
The Project
Robinson and Buly conducted research within the College of Education at Western Washington University and observed the similarities and differences among the higher education level and public school environments. To begin their project they carefully listened in on departmental faculty meetings for what language was being used, and in what context it was presented. While one author is in the special education department, the other is in the elementary education department. Each had her own list of common terms or phrases used in their own respective faculty meetings. After collecting initial data to support their hypothesis, they went to an outside source to get further opinions from professionals. Each author attended a conference within her own specialty. This included the Council of Exceptional Children and the International Reading Association. During these conferences, the topic of disjointed collaboration due to language barriers in education was presented and discussed. When even further understanding of the current state of collaboration between educators was brought to light, they went a step further in their research. Upon returning to their workplace they asked faculty leaders to participate in a discussion pertaining to their own beliefs and perspectives on general and special education. Varying definitions of common educational terms were discussed and effective collaboration was achieved.
The authors of this research tested their hypothesis in three different environments with educators of all different levels. In all three scenarios the authors introduced common terms used among educators that may have varying definitions, such as fluency, direct instruction, and diagnosis. After confirmation was received from the first two settings, they tested their hypothesis in the third setting by structuring a discussion between special education and general education teachers to establish a shared language. This discussion was formed through self-selected articles that described their pedagogical beliefs. Three articles were then selected overall and discussed in detail throughout the meeting.
The differences between educational departments and their practices became discernible during their collaboration. The ultimate realization came when “participants realized that what was perceived as differences in pedagogy, learning theories, and assessment were actually a misunderstanding around language used within each discipline.” The majority of the participants in the discussion left feeling that they gained a better understanding of the opposite educational department. A shared language was not necessarily agreed upon, however, a clearer picture of the terminology being used was established.
Discussion, Implications, and Recommendations
Toward the end of the article the authors examine in detail some of the key terms and definitions that were questioned over the course of their research. They focused on diagnosis and its ever growing importance in the general education classroom, the difference between evaluation and assessment, explicit versus direct instruction, and fluency. All areas proved to have varied definitions that, although sound, were being used in completely different manners within the general and special education classrooms. The authors noted that the National Reading Panel gave their insight on the diverse definitions of fluency between special and general educators. It was made clear that the definitions were synonymous but no clear definition was given, which reiterates the lack of a shared language. Robinson and Buly stress the need for ongoing dialogue between special and general educators. They list six suggestions to achieve a more effective level of collaboration, which include read to learn, begin dialogue, research and write together, attend a conference, co-teach, and program change.
My Thoughts
The article speaks strongly of the need for collaboration between special and general educators. In particular, collaboration is needed to come to an agreement on commonly used terminology so that educators are on the same page. The authors recognize that discussing among educators the definitions of educational vocabulary will not cure all the drawbacks involved with collaboration; however, it is a starting point and one that is necessary. One limitation to the research conducted is that it only took place in one part of the country. The implication is still probably true in most school settings but the brevity of their research was surprising.
I wonder if they considered entering more information regarding the public school setting into their article. The results from their observations would have been more telling for educators in the public education field. Perhaps the feedback from a higher education level was more persuasive and accessible.
Connections to Course Materials
In the article, the authors actually quote Friend and Cook (1996) and surprisingly the information they referred to was similar if not the same as the information gained from this course. I made connections right away to the authors’ search for a shared language and Friend and Cook’s mention of shared accountability. To hold each other accountable for the success of all students, special and general educators have to utilize common terminology for an overall understanding. Before meeting, educators need to agree on creating the shared language by setting a mutual purpose for their collaboration to have a better chance at success. This is mentioned in the article as well as in Crucial Conversations (2002).