A current conversation in the educational world is about inclusive practices. The focus has been on merging the skills of the general education and special education teachers to teach the child in one classroom setting. Instead of removing the child to teach a skill within a different context, why not teach that skill with the necessary modified support within the same classroom context we want the child to be applying it? Makes perfect sense, right? Of course within that conversation there are so many points to consider, including having enough certified staff to make this a reality across all grade levels. There is also the point of maintaining a continuum of services. The least restrictive setting will not be the same for every single child. It is not always realistic, or in the best interest of the child, to make them adapt to the classroom curriculum. Sometimes, they benefit more from a structured curriculum that targets their learning styles. I want to recognize those areas of the conversation before I jump into this topic of integrated services. Not every child needs the same type of support…I am in full agreement with that! But what about those kids that can handle the integration of services? Is there at least one grade level, one group, one child, one teacher that would benefit from this idea of “co-teaching” instead of always pulling out to do isolated or related activities? How will this apply to speech/language therapy? This has been on my mind for several years. I have always been a huge supporter of integrated services and have been applying this model in the self contained classrooms for years. However, taking the leap into a general education classroom feels intimidating. This year, I have made this a priority. I’m starting with small, yet meaningful steps. The services I am providing in classrooms are certainly on a continuum themselves…two situations are true to the co-teaching styles and two are integrating into the environment.
I have done a lot of reading on this topic over the years. I have attended many workshops organized by Marilyn Friend, who is a national leader on this topic and a consultant with my district. Judy Montgomery has always been a go-to source for me on vocabulary and language, and now she is a voice in the inclusion conversation. I really like the term “integrated services” and it helped me envision my role in a classroom. I’m not on one extreme co-teaching the academic content nor am I on the other extreme walking around the room feeling like a bystander who has much to contribute without the opportunity. Instead, I am integrating into the academic content to teach concepts and strategies to improve the child’s comprehension and recall. In some situations, I’m able to influence the choice of materials or style of language instruction. Within the context of the classroom!! This has such a positive impact on our children in that it is not requiring them to balance two sets of activities, stories, vocabulary, methodologies, or work products.
As I discuss the implementation of integrating services with other therapists, I often hear one or more above obstacles. Do any of these apply to your situation? This year I found myself at the point where I understood WHY, I knew WHO, and I had identified WHAT I could contribute. I opened up dialogues with teachers and found some who were interested in me integrating into their general education classes (or they were at least willing to give me a chance!) If you are looking to integrate your services but are experiencing some road blocks, here are some ideas that have helped me:
Use existing supports
- Push in during a specific time (morning calendar, literacy lesson, science/social studies, balanced literacy independent work, independent math work)
- Ask for general lesson themes and content goals to incorporate
- Utilize teacher, assistants, OT to collaborate with different approaches
- Piggy-back on current classroom stories, themes, instructional targets
Share plans ahead of time and ask for input
- “I have an ambitious craft today, I could use an extra set of hands”
- “We’re focusing on XYZ goals. Do these overlap with upcoming class lessons?”
- Share what you are seeing and ask about their observations throughout the day; Praise their use of communication strategies
Bring visual examples to the IEP meeting
- Share the choice boards and visual cues you use, bring in the visual structure you use to guide your conversation about carryover for skills
- A picture is worth 1,000 words…I’ve noticed an increased interest in my goals with this strategy. Also, teachers and parents understand what I’m doing and recognize parallels to their goals/interactions
- Don’t think “all or none”. It won’t always be appropriate and that’s okay.
- Choose one teacher that you can collaborate with and expand from there
Judy Montgomery gives the advice to “Build it in your building”. Assess the tools you have in your environment, know your school, know your resources, and think about existing relationships. This year I am integrating into a 5th grade science class and a 2nd grade math class. These are the two situations where I am in the classroom environment trying to blend in to the class lesson while incorporating language strategies. There have already been successful moments for carryover that I would not have had in my therapy room. I also have a few opportunities that are co-teaching environments. I am continuing to work with the three self contained classrooms and integrate my services into their literacy classes. They have a new curriculum this year using Unique Learning Systems so we are trying out some new lessons. I have also teamed up with a 3rd grade teacher and one of our EC teachers to integrate into a 3rd grade literacy class. I am super pumped about this collaboration! We each have three unique perspectives that we are blending together to implement into one dynamic instructional period.
As the year progresses I will continue to share my experiences integrating therapy services. What obstacles are you currently facing? What opportunities are you taking advantage of to integrate into the classroom? Are there resources you are looking for to make your experiences more meaningful?