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.


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.





The Third Teacher: Mindful Classroom Design at the Rise School

First we shape our buildings. Thereafter they shape our lives.

-Winston Churchill

abc beads basket

In the Reggio Emilia approach to education classroom design is considered the Third Teacher (the first 2 are instructors and peers). Here at Teaching2gether we agree wholeheartedly. Teachers convey critical messages to their students by way of the prepared environment.

When we label materials with pictures and text we provide access for all our students: readers, non-readers, English Language Learners and any visitor to the classroom.  When we post a schedule on the board it calms our students with attention-based disabilities, provides modeling for children with executive functioning needs, gives the class a sense of where we’re headed in our day, and holds teachers accountable to stay on task. When we provide differentiated materials we allow students to make conscious decisions about what helps them learn.

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Collaboration Toolbox

You’ll find examples of little visuals like this to use in your classroom to build community and independence.
Visual created by Natalie Dean,
3rd grade teacher, Brookline, MA

When we begin to work closely with at least one other adult in the room, we have to communicate and agree on just about every little detail of our day.  All of a sudden we have to think about brand new questions like: Who is going to be in charge of which lessons?  What should transitions look like? Do we both have to take conference notes? Should we use Station Teaching? What IS Station Teaching?  Where did that kid go?  

As long-time co-teachers we have developed lots of theoretical ideas about working together to create successful inclusive classrooms, which you can read on our main page. But we also want to provide the much-needed nitty-gritty tips on how to make your classroom function effectively with two adults, service providers coming and going, and about a thousand different kids’ needs.

Our advice is spend time at the beginning (or now, right after winter break) to answer these questions by putting in place a few simple systems to foster teacher cooperation and student independence in your classroom. Enter, the newest section of our blog, the Collaboration Toolbox. Here we will provide real-world examples (Pictures! Printables!) of effective and efficient ways to make your classroom flow smoothly, including:

  • detailed explanations of several co-teaching models
  • samples of great visual supports from real classrooms
  • handy co-planning tools
  • tried-and-true adaptive materials
  • other goodies

The honest truth is that it takes more legwork and a bit more laminating to set up a successfully co-taught classroom, but in the end, we think it’s worth it.

“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my own ship.”

-Louisa May Alcott

Make that a “we,” Louisa, and we’re on board.  You can start today by checking out the Collaboration Toolbox!