Maximizing Push-In Therapies For All Students

The push-in model of therapy, or having therapists work on specific goals for students with disabilities within the context of the general education curriculum and peers, is a popular method to support inclusion in schools. Many schools employ this method to some degree, and teachers and therapists, at best, are able to collaborate in order to support development across domains.

Sometimes, push-in therapies can look very obvious, and could possibly lead to singling students out among their peers.  However, other educators and therapists know that all students can benefit from an additional expert in the room, and come up with creative ways to maximize the impact a therapist could have on the classroom at large.

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Click here to watch the full video.

Here is a particular example of such collaboration. This short digital story showcases how the professional tasked with providing push-in speech therapy services in a Pre-K class leads a show and tell circle once a week. All students participate once a month, and the therapist and the teacher worked together to ensure that both individual and grade-level goals are being addressed via this engaging activity. Visuals, pre-teaching and priming, and differentiating questions help to make this an accessible activity for all students. Additionally, since the children are still young, parents are also involved with helping children choose their items to share, which are often connected to a relevant theme, skill, or content piece.

Looping parents in to this activity also can increase knowledge and buy-in for concrete inclusion strategies, such as this one. In the end, children are working on important social, emotional, language, and cognitive skills in a way that feels fun and engaging.

As you finish the school year and begin to think about service delivery models and requests for next year, consider how you can leverage push-in therapy times to something even more beneficial than the sum of its parts.

A New Look at Brainpop

The three principles of Universal Design for Learning (UdL) call for multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement. This means that the teacher who employs UdL principles is often seeking out new tools to provide multiple ways for students to access the what, how, and why of learning. One tried-and-true method is using video as a way to remove the barrier of text to access information. But what about providing multiple ways for students to process, connect, and share their learning?

Brainpop and Brainpop Jr have long been leaders in the industry, providing simple, accessible, and enjoyable videos for k-12 students. Typically known for their 3-5 minute animations on topics ranging from butterflies to Communism, many teachers call on Brainpop videos to explain complicated concepts, or simply provide additional, in-depth insight on a topic.

Yet recently, Brainpop has unveiled new, interactive features that make this resource much more of a web app than just a web site. The above video is a quick tutorial showcasing some new features, including an interactive writing and drawing platform for vocabulary exploration. Beyond the multiple-choice quizzes that have been offered for some time, Brainpop is now offering multiple means for students to show what they know- from concept mapping to joke telling- all in a simple, inviting format (for both students and teachers).  What’s more, most of the features offer varying levels of access and expression. For example, when making a concept map, one can choose from audio, text, and even images right out of the video.

As we have said on this blog before, using a screen is not enough to make something truly accessible and useful in the inclusive classroom. However, when something on a screen comes along that authentically applies research-based methods and principles for teaching and learning, it is a cause for celebration. Be sure to check out Brainpop’s new features, and happy planning!

 

 

Universal Design for Learning: Removing Barriers and Planning for All Kinds of Minds

irstAs an inclusion teacher, I have developed a sort of elevator pitch/soapbox story for why I do what I do. It goes like this: students who struggle with basic skills are often left struggling and denied access to grade-level curriculum and higher-level thinking. Unfortunately, these are the academic arenas in which they can not only survive but would probably thrive if given the proper supports. I think this is especially true for those with learning and attention issues, but I’ve seen this happen for many students across many settings. 

One reason I believe this happens is a confusion between Differentiated Instruction vs. Universal Design for Learning (UdL). Both are important, but they are not synonymous. As I develop my practice, I tend to lean on UdL principles when designing lesson plans. I would rather devise access points for all of my students to reach a common understanding, big idea, or experience, rather than pinpoint three or so levels of achievement for any given topic. In my classroom, more often than not, differentiation happens when we are working on specific skills, but UdL happens when it comes to “what we are learning about” in my classroom.

For instance, we are currently studying fairy tales. We spent all week reading different versions of Jack and the Beanstalk, and will do the same for another week. I do not think it is my place to determine how much any child can “understand” this story. However, I do know the interests, behaviors, and skill level of my students, so I developed several access points for understanding. All week, we listened to, acted out, and watched the story. We used puppets and props. We had art materials available and we planted beans. We made parachutes out of recycled materials for Jack to use when jumping down from the beanstalk. We estimated, counted, sorted, and patterned beans. We build castles out of blocks.Of course, I knew which child could continue an ABC or AAB vs an AB pattern, or who could 1:1 count to 40 vs. 20, and I provided opportunities for children to work on their own level (differentiation). However, I provided these opportunities as access points within a limitless context for understanding (UdL).

Technology is another way teachers can provide multiple means of access. Below, I’ve shared an example of a short “podcast” I recorded of myself retelling The Three Billy Goats Gruff. By recording myself rather than providing a text, I have made this material accessible to most of the students in my class. I recorded this podcast directly in to Soundcloud and it was easy! I did this in an evening. Of course, my intention is to provide another material for my students to listen to with their families. Podcasts are even better than audio books because as you’ll hear, I was able to interject questions that mirror the scaffolded questions I’ve been asking in our circle times. This easily involves families and helps empower them to be partners in this learning. Not every question is intended for every student (differentiation), but every student in my class can access the story (UdL).

(I do not have children with hearing impairments in my classroom- so I think it’s important to own the limitation of this format. Next week, I will try out a screencast and see if that can be even more accessible).

I truly believe inclusion benefits all students, and this is a prime example. All students benefit from creative lessons and individualized instruction. Inclusion is not about access to the general education classroom (that’s a common misunderstanding- inclusion is not a place!) Inclusion is about believing that all children have the right to learn alongside their peers and to have their individual needs considered in order to access the grade-level curriculum. When creating your inclusion toolbox, be sure to fill it with plenty of UdL strategies.

 

 

 

 

Choosing an Inclusive School: Benefits for Typically Developing Children

“Why Rise? Because appreciation of human difference is a core value for our family. At Rise, our children have the opportunity to develop empathetic hearts and an open minds right from the start.

This is the foundation of all education. “

-Quote from the mother of two typically developing children at The Rise School of Austin. 

Spring is here, meaning many families are making decisions about schools-especially preschools and child care- for the coming school year. Here in Austin, Texas, we do not have universal preschool, so many families pay high tuition costs for private schools and day cares. There are many choices, but only a few inclusive schools. One school that offers a fully inclusive program is The Rise School of Austin.

Many families with children who are developmentally delayed are clearly drawn to inclusive preschool environments. The option of being able to send your children with and without delays to the same school is attractive (you can see the story of Rise here), and many inclusive schools, such as Rise, will often roll therapy costs in to the tuition. Therapies are also often play and classroom based, meaning children will practice skills needed to be successful in Kindergarten.

But what about families with typically developing children? When given so many options for preschool, why might a family without ties to special needs choose a school designed to meet the needs of children who have developmental delays? The numbers seem to say a lot. At Rise, you can find:

  • a 3:1 student to teacher ratio
  • a teacher with a Master’s degree in every room
  • all teachers are first-aid certified and collect at least 54 hours of professional development each year
  • therapy enriched classroom environments and lesson plans
  • a campus that includes three playgrounds and a sensory gym
  • classrooms equipped with the latest technology, including interactive whiteboards

Additionally, the social and emotional benefits and 21st-century skills children learn

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Learning together at The Rise School of Austin.

in an inclusive school, from empathy to communication skills, are invaluable. The staff at Rise cultivate a daily practice of inclusion, meaning that they believe all people learn differently, that we are all unique, and that everyone’s education should be special. An inclusive school does away with the idea that one child’s education needs to be more special than another, rather, an inclusive school reinforces the idea that all children deserve the best and most personal education among their peers and friends.

The bottom line is that with an inclusive school has benefits for every child. You can also consider finding an inclusive school using the SWIFT network of schools.

 

Monthly Reminders

Conscious Discipline: strong name, excellent social-emotional curriculum resource.

The long stretch between President’s Day and Spring Break can sometimes feel like the longest time of year. In February, kids are getting antsy for breaks, and if you teach in a public school, state testing is just around the corner.  In order to make this time as smooth as possible, we suggest:

-Cover your testing bases and begin to prepare for success.  Most teachers don’t love state testing, but it is a fact of life in many classrooms, so every child deserves their best chance.  Make an inventory of students who have test modifications/accommodations on their IEPs and 504 plans, and start taking steps to make sure everything is in place.  On that note, also make a list of students who might benefit from modifications/accommodations but don’t currently have them documented.  Talk to your special education or testing coordinator and see what can be done, and begin to gather the necessary documentation. Remember, even with testing, inclusion is about equity. If people in your community push back against testing accommodations and modifications, Not everyone needs to get the same thing in order for things to be fair. Fair isn’t everyone getting the same thing, it is everyone getting what they need to succeed. Check out Understood.org for any resources you may need.

-Prepare kids for break.  While many teachers and kids love breaks in the school year, many other students find the change in schedule and lack of structure to be challenging.  Reach out to kids and families and see how you can support them in their time off (with, for example, visual schedules, checklists, goals, or even work!) ensuring all kids come back rested and refreshed. Understood.org can again can help you out with examples to work from.

-Set aside time for some love!  In the heart of winter, warm up your classroom with some community building.  Have kids make and share sentiments about how they feel about their class and each other.  Conscious Discipline is an outstanding, research-based social-emotional curriculum and their website is a great place to start.

 

 

Don’t Limit Us

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The point of inclusive schooling is to prepare students for a more inclusive society. Megology.com, a small business founded and run by Megan Bomgaars, exemplifies what can happen when inclusion is the goal.

I recently came across this article from September on Edweek.org: Studies Flag Potential Downside to Inclusion, By Carmen Constantinescu & Christina A. Samuels. As an advocate for inclusion, I am always trying to stay aware of the opposing viewpoints out there. I respect that not everyone has the same ideologies and philosophies, and I think discourse is a path that has and will continue to make our education system better. So, I decided to see what this article is really all about. Additionally, this article is not an opinion piece and has ties to research, so I wanted to see what sort of data support this headline.

That being said, I actually find this article quite hopeful. Although the piece lead with this:

In looking at a nationally representative sample of students, researchers have found that the young children who shared a classroom with pupils who have emotional and behavioral disabilities had more absences, lower math and reading scores in kindergarten and 1st grade, and were more likely to act out in the classroom or struggle with social skills.

The article then rounds itself out, quoting one of the biggest researchers in the field, Michael A. Gottfried, an associate professor of education at the University of California, Santa Barbara, saying:

Gottfried cautioned that the results are preliminary, and that future research should dig deeper into the issue, looking at factors such as the severity of a child’s disability, the backgrounds of students both with and without disabilities, the level of support available for teachers, and how inclusion is actually being implemented.

If policymakers and school officials just focus on exclusion, he said, “I think that readers are missing the point. The point is, here is a situation that we have and what systems of supports can improve outcomes for everyone?”

I appreciate this idea. Anyone who has ever taught a student with emotional and behavioral disabilities will know that you want to be flexible in the educational program for the child, and you want to provide the most options you possibly can.

One very striking part of this article comes from a different researcher, Jason Fletcher, who talked about negative “spillover effects” of educating students with disabilities alongside their typically developing peers.

Fletcher found that the negative spillover effects were more “robust and larger for reading” and had more of an impact on African-American and Hispanic nondisabled students in low-income schools. Fletcher also reported that score gaps between Hispanic and white students were larger at the end of the school year in classrooms with students with emotional or behavioral disabilities than they were in demographically similar classrooms without such students. The same pattern held for the gaps between white and black students.

To me, this seems to point to a  much larger problem with schools generally struggling to meet the needs of many marginalized populations, not just students with disabilities, and that pointing to inclusion as a negative practice seems counter productive to Gottfried’s point of creating a system that can “improve outcomes for everyone.”  In an ideal world, we would be providing access and equity to all of our students, not perceiving that one group is being prioritized over another.

In the end, as the article speaks to, the problem may very well lie not in this idea of inclusion-which by the way is a philosophy and a practice but not a specific place or classroom-but rather with teacher preparation. As the article states, many teachers feel underprepared to take on the many different needs that will inevitably show up in any classroom, but especially an inclusive one. I think Megan Bomgaars says it best herself of what all students need from their teachers. 

We’re Back!

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This gorgeous painting, called “Rise,” was made by Austin artist Starla Michelle for The Rise School of Austin. The Pre-K class of 2016 painted the canvas with the artist, and she turned it in to a masterpiece. The painting was eventually donated to be auctioned for the school.

 

It’s been over a year since a new post has shown up here! Our apologies for the lapse- but we have been up to some good work. Rachel has taken on a few different jobs, including a position with Johns Hopkins University and has been coaching teachers in Arkansas, leading them towards more collaborative and inclusive classrooms. Hannah, who will be taking over the writing for this blog, has been working as a Lead Pre-K teacher at the Rise School of Austin!

We also presented for a second time at SXSWedu last year, and will be speaking for a third time with professors from New York University. You can find out about our session- From Preschool to Pre-service: Expecting Inclusion- here.

If you are a local to Austin, or will be in town for SXSW, please consider attending our session or reaching out to us  for a coffee and a chat! Otherwise, stay tuned for more posts to come soon! Our new content will feature up-to-date strategies, research, and other happenings all about inclusion and collaboration to support students with special needs.

In the meantime, please check out this video showcasing The Rise School of Austin. It is pure inspiration about what inclusion can look like in early childhood.